Fiction: Crawley and the mysterious allergic reaction


October 31, 2018

Publisher’s Note: This series — “The Adventures of Crawley McPherson, Bug Man” — is a work of fiction. Crawley McPherson and all other characters in this series are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All names, places, locations and incidents are entirely fictional, and any similarity to places or people living or dead is purely coincidental.

Illustration: Leo Michael

Author’s Note: In this story, Crawley administers an epinephrine auto-injector (a common brand name is EpiPen) to a person having an allergic reaction. In no way does this imply that pest management professionals should attempt this or any other first aid on an ailing customer. That decision should be based on company policy and applicable state and local laws. In this case, Crawley lived and worked in Tennessee, where there is a “good Samaritan” law (TN Code 63-6-218) that protects people against legal liability from administering first aid to a victim. It could be argued that administering epinephrine to a person known to have a history of severe allergic reactions constitutes “first aid.” Furthermore, as noted in this article, Crawley had been certified in proper use of an epinephrine auto-injector, and thus was a “trained non-medical professional.”

Marci Ainsworth woke up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. Her stomach cramped violently. What’s going on? Her breathing became increasingly labored, accompanied by wheezing. She stood up from the bed; the room swirled. Marci reached for the wall to stabilize herself. She somehow found her way to the bathroom sink and looked in the mirror. Her eyes were swollen almost shut and her lips were turned inside out.

“I must be dying!” she thought.

She reached for her phone to call her sister, Donna, the only family she had in town. If she could only make the call before passing out!


By mid-morning the next day, Marci was finally conscious enough to perceive her surroundings. Best she could tell, she was in a hospital. Machines whirred; IV pumps pumped; heart monitors beeped. She looked around. Her vision was blurred and her mind groggy. Someone was slumped in the chair beside her bed, either asleep or dead, Marci couldn’t tell which. She tried her best to examine herself — was she injured? Had she been in a car accident?

The slumped-over woman must have noticed Marci’s movements because she raised up, wide-eyed. “Marci, thank heavens you’re awake.”

Then Marci realized it was Donna. “Am I dead?”

“No,” Donna smiled. “You’re in the hospital. You had a severe allergic reaction last night. Don’t you remember calling me?”

“No. I can’t remember much of anything, to be honest.” She looked around the room. “I guess it’s a good thing I did call you, huh?”

A young man in a lab coat tapped on the door and walked into the room. “Ms. Ainsworth, I’m Dr. Jones. How are you feeling today?”

Marci shook her head trying her best to smile, although her lips were still swollen. “OK, I guess. What happened to me? Why exactly am I here?”

The doctor looked toward Donna. “When your sister brought you in last night, you were in full-blown anaphylactic shock. A systemic allergic reaction.”

Marci tried her best to recall the event. “What caused it? What am I allergic to?”

“To be honest, we don’t know. You’ll need to see an allergist to determine that.”

“When do you think I can go home?”

The doctor walked closer to the bed. “We’ll see … maybe this afternoon or tomorrow morning. But one thing’s for sure, I’m not letting you leave this hospital without one of those emergency self-injectable syringes of epinephrine. We can’t risk you having another reaction like that again. Next time, you might not be so lucky.”

Keep reading… (Part 2)
Illustration: Leo Michael

Illustration: Leo Michael

Three weeks later, Marci sat on the back porch of her home drinking coffee and enjoying her view of nature. Her house was located on five acres along the west edge of town, in the rolling hills overlooking the nearby national wildlife refuge. She often spent time outdoors watching birds or butterflies, or simply soaking up the sights and sounds of nature. Marci inhaled deeply, drawing in the cool September air. She couldn’t help being thankful to be alive after her terrifying allergic reaction a few weeks ago.

Marci felt in her sweater pocket for the epinephrine pen. Good. Her visit at the allergy clinic yesterday had been helpful, but still no one could promise she wouldn’t have another episode. The doctors still didn’t know for sure what she was allergic to. It could have been a food allergy, they told her. They had taken blood samples to send off for analysis and scheduled her for skin testing.

Just then, her chocolate lab, Buster, came around the corner of the house, tail wagging wildly. A broad smile erupted on Marci’s face. “Hey Buster! There you are.”

As she petted the dog, she noticed two large ticks in his ear. “Stupid ticks!” she said, trying to pluck them off. “I’m tired of you guys getting on me and my dog so much lately.”

As much as she didn’t like killing things, she knew there was a point at which one had to use pesticides to bring down out-of-control bug populations. She went back inside to look for paperwork from the pest control company that had performed her termite inspection when she purchased the house two years ago. Perhaps they could come spray the yard.

Keep reading… (Part 3)
PHOTO: Center for Disease Control , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Amblyomma americanum is also known as the Lone Star tick. PHOTO: Center for Disease Control , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Crawley McPherson was at work early on Tuesday, which just so happened to be the official first day of fall. He often came in early to get paperwork done before other people began showing up. The rapidly shortening days were difficult to adjust to, but Crawley loved fall, especially the holidays. This, in spite of the fact that he was alone — no family nearby, no girlfriend, no nothing.

About 7:30 a.m., he heard Margie the office manager coming down the hall. She had a distinctive shuffling gait, which Crawley hated to hear because he knew she was probably looking for him. She was always nagging about something.

“There you are,” she snapped like a drill sergeant, handing Crawley a slip of paper. “Here’s a service call for you. Ms. Marci Ainsworth, 2996 Shenandoah Drive.”

“What kind of service is she’a wanting?”

“General pest control. Ticks mainly, best I can tell from her phone call. But you can ask for more detail when you go out there.”

Crawley looked out the window at the dried and yellowed fall vegetation. “They’re not many ticks active now. Wonder which ones are bothering her.”

“Well, that’s for you to figure out,” Margie said as she turned and walked away.

Crawley studied his desk calendar to see if he could get out to the Ainsworth property today. Just then he heard a familiar voice: MJ O’Donnell. His heart skipped a beat.

“Hey there, Crawley!” she said, entering the office. “I’ve been looking for you. Seems like you’re never here.”

“Working, MJ. Just working.”

She sat down and patted the top of the desk emphatically. “I’ve been meaning to ask if you’ve considered going to the national pest control meeting with me next month. Remember me asking you about that?”

A storm of emotions suddenly swirled inside Crawley. “Uh, I don’t think so, MJ.”

“Why not? They’ve got all kinds of educational sessions. You would love it.” She paused. “You understand all that technical stuff better than any of us.”

“No, I can’t go. Too busy,” he replied.

“You’re not busy and you know it,” she said firmly. “Now, look at me and tell me the truth. Why won’t you go?”

Crawley stood up. “I’ve got to go out to a new account this morning. We can talk about this here later.”

MJ stood, blocking the door. “You and I have been friends for a long time, Crawley.” She pierced him with her eyes. “Now tell me the truth.”

He finally gathered enough courage to glance up at her. “Truth is, I’ve talked myself outta it.”


His palms were suddenly sweaty. “I gotta go, MJ.”


Crawley was impressed with Marci Ainsworth’s place. It was certainly not like most of his accounts, which were houses carefully arranged in neighborhoods to best utilize space. This house was located by itself on the edge of town, reminding him of country houses he had seen perched at the base of mountains in East Tennessee.

She met him in the driveway and extended a hand. “Hi, I’m Marci. Thanks for coming out.”

After a rush to reciprocate her handshake, Crawley felt for the pesticide cans on his service belt for reassurance. “Yes’sum. I’m here to take care of your pest problem. Where they at?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly where they are. It’s mainly ticks I called about. They’re eating up both me and my dog and I’m tired of it.”

Crawley looked around at the expansive yard. “I don’t see a fence. Does your dog run free?”

“Why yes, it’s not right to restrict animals. We don’t own them, you know.”

“Mmm. A free-ranging dog can bring ticks up to the house, you know. How many acres you got?”


His eyes were wide behind his glasses. “I can’t spray five acres, ma’am.”

“I didn’t ask you to spray all five acres. How much can you spray?”

He turned to go toward the truck. “First, we gotta find out where they’re at. I’ve got a tick drag cloth I can pull around in the yard and try to figure out the hot spots. Then, I can spray in those spots only.”

Marci smiled. “That makes sense. That way, you don’t have to spray unnecessarily.”

Within a few minutes, Crawley was pulling the cloth around the property. The tick drag consisted of a heavy wooden dowel with a one-meter-square piece of white corduroy cloth attached to it. The dowel held the cloth outstretched while he pulled it with a short rope. Every few steps he would stop, flip the cloth over, and look for attached ticks.

He caught nothing in the open yard, but by the edge of the trees where the forest intersected with the yard, he began noticing numerous tiny, brownish specks on the cloth which, upon closer inspection, were moving.

Crawley whipped out a hand magnifying lens and examined the tiny bugs — seed ticks! Then he fished around in his pocket for a vial of alcohol to put them in.

Back at the house, he found Marci sitting on patio furniture in the back yard. Beside her on the table was a canned drink, a bound journal and an epinephrine pen. Crawley knew about epinephrine auto-injectors because his cousin was severely allergic to peanuts and almost died one time. Wonder what she’s allergic to?

He showed her the ticks he had collected. “Those are ticks?” She seemed surprised. “I’ve never seen any that small.”

“Yep, first stage of ticks. People call ’em seed ticks.”

“Is it unusual to encounter ticks this late in the year? I thought ticks were a warm-weather pest. It’s fall.”

“These are babies of the Lone Star tick,” Crawley entered lecture mode. “It’s the most common tick in Tennessee. The adults are reddish-brown, with long mouthparts and have a white spot on the back of the female.”

“Can you get rid of them? That’s all that matters to me.”

“Not all of them, but we can sure reduce the population tremendously. I found some areas over by the tree line where there’s lots of them.”

“OK, please spray thoroughly,” she said. “I’ll be sitting right here on the back porch if you need anything.”

“Mmm. Let me get my backpack sprayer out of the truck and I’ll get started.”

“Surely you can’t cover much area with just a backpack sprayer.”

“You’d be surprised, ma’am. It’s a 5-gallon battery-powered thing. I can set the nozzle on fan spray and spot-treat those areas where I caught the baby ticks. We only spray where needed.”

“Can you come back and see if they’re gone?”

He stopped. “Yes, probably a week or so to re-treat if needed.”


Keep reading… (Part 4)

The following Friday, Crawley sat in his office at the Peace-of-Mind headquarters eating lunch, which consisted of a honey bun and a can of cola. He had finally caught up on all his accounts.

MJ appeared at his door. Crawley could instantly tell she wasn’t her usual bubbly self. “Hey, Crawley.” She paused awkwardly, as if wanting to say more.

He had no idea what to do or say, so he put down the soda can and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. “Uh, you alright, MJ?”

She eased into the chair opposite his desk. He could tell she’d been crying. “No, actually not. I just found out my aunt died today.”

“Uh, sorry about that. Where’d she live at?”

“Boston, where all us O’Donnells are from … other than originally from Ireland.”

“Were you and her close?”

“Very.” MJ wiped her eyes. “Aunt Tilly just about raised me after my mom died when I was five. She was a saint.”

Crawley couldn’t imagine losing his mother at that young age. Now his dad, well, that would be a different story. Again, he had no idea what to say. “Uh, they gonna have a funeral?”

As soon as he said it, he felt like an idiot. Of course, they’re going to have a funeral.

“My uncle said he’d let me know when the memorial service is. Probably at her church middle of next week.” She looked away. “I probably can’t go.”

MJ stood up and composed herself. “Thank you for listening to me, Crawley. I can always count on that.” She looked at the service calendar on his desk. “Maybe we could go do a job, what do you say? That might help me get my mind off things.”

“You could help me check for ticks at the Ainsworth residence. I told the woman I’d be back in a week or so to see if my spraying worked.”

A weak smile appeared on her face. “Let’s do it.”


There was no sign of Marci Ainsworth at her house. When no one answered the door, Crawley and MJ got two tick drag cloths out of the truck and headed around the back of the house.

“C’mon, we can sample anyway,” Crawley said. “It don’t matter if she’s here or not.”

MJ started down the tree line on the west side, while Crawley began by the house.

When he rounded the corner by the back porch, he heard moaning. Where’s that coming from?

Just then, Buster ran up to him, barking and whining. The dog didn’t seem angry … more like alarmed.

Then Crawley saw why the dog was so upset: Marci Ainsworth lay sprawled on the porch! He hollered as loud as he could for MJ, and ran and knelt beside the woman. “Ms. Ainsworth, you all right? What’s wrong?”

No response, just a low moan. Crawley quickly assessed the situation. Her face was badly swollen and she seemed to have difficulty breathing. The patio furniture had a plate on it containing leftovers from breakfast — steak and eggs. He looked up at the sun. It had been several hours since breakfast. He looked back at the yard, and at Buster.

It made perfect sense. He had a pretty good idea what was going on.

MJ gasped when she rounded the corner. “What happened, Crawley?”

“It’s Ms. Ainsworth. She’s collapsed. Call the 911.”

MJ knelt beside her, making the call. Crawley quickly searched the table and surrounding patio chairs for a purse, and not finding one, began to feel inside Ms. Ainsworth’s pockets on her person.

“What in the world are you doing?” MJ said sternly when she hung up. “You shouldn’t be doing that!”

“I think I know what it is, MJ.” Then from a right side pants pocket he pulled out an epinephrine pen. “Aha, I knew it was somewhere around here. She’s having an allergic reaction. It’s gotta be the red-meat allergy.”

“Whhaat? Red-meat what?”

There was no time to explain. “MJ, she’s having symptoms of anaphylactic shock and we gotta give her this here shot.”

“Shouldn’t we just wait for the EMTs?”

“No, can’t wait.” Crawly removed the protective covers off both ends of the epinephrine pen, placed it tightly against Marci’s outer thigh, and pushed the button.

MJ knelt over Marci, looking back and forth between Crawley and the unconscious woman. Marci’s lips were swollen so bad they were turned inside out.

She grabbed his forearm. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Crawley. You sure that’ll help her?”

He stood up. “Not absolutely sure, but I think it’s the right thing to do. She seems to be having anaphylactic shock and there’s an injector pen in her pocket. That’s gotta be it.”

MJ leaned over the sick woman, stroked her forehead, and whispered reassurances in her ear.

Marci’s eyes fluttered open and she gasped for air. It was labored breathing, but breathing nonetheless.

MJ sat back up. “She’s breathing harder … I guess that’s good.”

“Let’s try to put a pillow or something under her head,” Crawley suggested. “That might help.”

Then they heard sirens in the distance. “That’s the emergency vehicles coming,” MJ said. “I’m gonna call Jack. He needs to know about this.”

While she did that, Crawley waited to direct the EMTs to Ms. Ainsworth.

In a few minutes, two firefighters and two EMTs surrounded Marci, putting an oxygen mask on her face, starting an IV, and assessing her vital signs. She was still mostly unconscious, but beginning to revive. A woman firefighter searched Marci’s phone and called the “in case of emergency” contact number. After that, MJ tried to explain what had happened.

When she finished, one of the EMTs turned toward Crawley. “You administered the auto-injector?”

“Yes, sir. She seemed to be having an allergic reaction and she had the pen in her pocket. I know about that sorta thing. My cousin had real bad allergy to peanuts and me and some other family members agreed to go to the training session on how to use ’em.”

The EMT turned and said something under his breath to one of the other first responders. That made Crawley nervous. Maybe they didn’t believe him. “I think she’s got the red-meat allergy.”

“What do you know about red-meat allergy?” one of the firemen asked.

“I know it happens several hours after eating meat like steaks, and it’s from Lone Star tick bites. And they’s a lot of them ticks out here at this place, believe-you-me. That’s why me and MJ was out here anyways — we’ve been treating her place for ticks.”

MJ seemed bewildered when hearing Crawley talk about auto-injectors, epinephrine and red-meat allergy.

Presently, a cloud of dust could be seen as a second Peace-of-Mind truck made its way down the driveway.

“Here comes Jack,” MJ said.

Donna’s car soon followed.

The EMTs explained to Jack and Donna what had happened. They were confident Marci would be OK, but she would need to be taken to the hospital.

As the EMTs worked on strapping Marci on the stretcher to transport her to the hospital, Jack stood by, feet wide apart and arms across his chest.

Crawley figured he was angry. He’s gonna fire me for sure.

When they loaded her into the ambulance, the main EMT turned to the group. “Donna, you can follow us to the hospital. It’s the one on Chambers Drive and Tenth Avenue.” Then he paused and looked at Crawley.

“I just want you to know, sir, you saved this woman’s life. You got it right. That epinephrine shot was exactly what she needed. Red-meat allergy causes anaphylactic shock three to eight hours after eating meat, and its ultimate cause is tick bites.”

Donna ran over and hugged Crawley. “Thank you sooo much. I am forever grateful to you for saving my sister.”

Jack took it from there. “Yes, Miss Donna, that’s why we’re the best. I make sure my technicians are the best trained and knowledgeable anywhere. If you ever need any pest control services, just let —”

Donna didn’t have time for a sales pitch. She turned and ran toward her car to follow the ambulance.

Crawley shook his head: Jack was taking the credit again!


Leave A Comment

Comments are closed.