A backpacker feared she might never be able to dance again after being bitten by one of the world’s deadliest spiders while hiking in Mexico.
Iona McNeil, 38, initially thought an itchy red mark on her leg was a blister but then began to feel faint and noticed two fang-like marks appearing.
She was later told by doctors that she’d been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider and the venom was ‘eating her body tissues.’
After being flown home to be treated at a London hospital, she now credits the experience as helping to get her life back on track.
Iona, from Lewisham, initially didn’t realise anything had happened when she was bitten while climbing the 330ft tall Monkey Mountain.
She first noticed a circular red spot on her left ankle on the way back from her hike in Nayarit, Mexico but she brushed it off.
‘I didn’t want to worry about it being anything more sinister, just best to ignore it and it will all go away,’ she said.
‘I figured I’d just sleep on it. I woke up at 6am in the morning the next day in pain, I couldn’t walk too well on it and I felt nauseous.
‘I joked to one friend that if I died then can he make sure that people wear bright colours to my funeral.’
The Brown Recluse is in the top ten of the most dangerous spiders on the planet.
Also known as the violin spider – due to their bodies being shaped like the musical instrument – their bites can lead to death if left untreated.
They like to hide in buildings including in attics and ceiling voids and are found across North America. The tiny killers are usually only an inch long.
Iona’s leg started to swell and turned purple so she took herself to hospital – fainting twice on the way.
She said: ‘As soon as I got to the hospital, it was like I was finally allowed to surrender to it.
‘I sprawled out onto the waiting room chairs and my body started trembling violently.
‘I was uncontrollably shaking from head to toe because the poison was taking over me.
‘At the time I wasn’t in any panic – I just entered into the process willingly.’
Doctors diagnosed the spider bite and told Iona the venom was ‘eating her body tissue’ while she was also suffering from a bacterial infection.
She was experiencing a severe reaction to the venom – being violently sick, uncontrollably shaking and switching between sweating hot and freezing cold.
Medics hooked her up to a 24 hour IV drip and diagnosed antibiotics and painkillers to ease her aches.
They told her she needed to be cared for in a bigger hospital so she faced the choice of staying in Mexico or returning home to England.
She decided to cut her travels short and was flown back to the UK, where she was taken to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London.
Iona said: ‘A specialist in insect bites was there who was knowledgeable about it.
‘He was curious it was a brown recluse spider as they are, the clue is in the name, reclusive – they don’t go out of their way to bite you.
‘But it made sense that, as I didn’t feel the bite, the symptoms kicked in eight hours later, including the red blister having distinctive fang marks in it.
‘It went white first and then eventually purple. Luckily the venom that had attacked my nervous system was out of my body now, and what I had to contend with next was the bacterial infection – cellulitis.’
Iona spent Christmas alone in the infectious diseases ward but then finally started to show signs of recovery.
‘I felt like a pin cushion, being injected with tetanus, a daily injection to prevent blood clots, a cannula for my antibiotic delivery, and daily blood samples were taken,’ she said.
‘I hadn’t really moved much in the last six days and the painkillers I’d been given had made me very constipated, which added to my discomfort.
‘There was a moment around midnight on Christmas Day when suddenly what I had been through the last week just came to me all at once. How traumatic it had all been.
‘The fevers, the delirium, the plane journey, the feeling of being a burden to others, what could have happened if I hadn’t made it to hospital, the not-knowing, the still not-knowing.
‘Being alone in hospital and looking at the horror show that was my foot tipped me over my edge.
‘I completely erupted and cried my eyes out. A nurse came in and I was completely irrational and couldn’t be settled. I screamed at her about my worst fears – amputation.
‘As I couldn’t feel pain in my foot anymore, I thought it must mean that my nerves have been destroyed by the venom through necrosis, meaning “death of body tissues”.’
On the fourth day of her stay at the London hospital, her condition began to improve and she is now well on the way to recovery.
This was not her first travel blunder – Iona broke her ribs in Thailand, got mugged in Colombia and caught a hookworm from living on a deserted island in Costa Rica.
She now sees the bite as something of a ‘divine intervention’ that was what she needed to return home after months on the road.
‘As strange as it may sound, I am so grateful for this episode in my life – it has been a test and all part of my destiny,’ she said.
‘The result is that now I am having some time to rest, do a lot of reflection and go inwards, which is what I really need.
‘I was meant to be home at Christmas with my family, I was meant to get my career back on track, get serious, and not carry on travelling forever.’