Amy Reed knows a lot about calling attention to potential dangers, and a fair amount about spiders.
So Tuesday night, when she unwrapped a package of organic grapes from BJ's Wholesale Club in Langhorne and discovered a black widow spider, she knew what to do.
Call BJ's. And call the media.
Reed, 42, an anesthesiologist on leave from the University of Pennsylvania, and her husband, Hooman Noorchashm, 43, a cardiac surgeon at Jefferson University Hospital, routinely talk to journalists as part of their highly effective campaign against a gynecological surgical device. (They also are frequent contributors to this blog.) Two years ago, the device, an electric morcellator, spread her hidden uterine cancer during her hysterectomy. She recently was treated for her third recurrence of the aggressive sarcoma.
Needless to say, the couple's concept of safety has changed. Still, even her husband thought Reed was overreacting to the spider.
"I'll be honest," he said. "I would have just squished the spider and thrown it out."
As a kid, Reed spent time on her grandmother's farm. She recognized the black widow by the distinctive orange hourglass shape on its abdomen. The mother of six knew that a bite could be serious for small children, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems - like her.
As National Geographic Magazine explains, "In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea, and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult.... Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are nonaggressive and bite only in self-defense, such as when someone accidentally sits on them."
BJ's told the couple - and The Inquirer - that it would take appropriate measures.
"All of our clubs follow very strict food safety procedures," the store said in an email. "We are aware of the black widow spider... We have inspected all other grapes and discovered no spiders or other insects. We are taking this matter extremely seriously and working with our vendor to take appropriate measures."
That vendor, who grew and packed the organic grapes in California, called Reed and Noorchashm at their Bucks County home to make sure everyone was OK.
The grower said these spiders are common in California," Noorchashm said. "Rarely, they end up travelling with the produce. He said they do their best to make sure it doesn't happen."
Noorchashm chuckled ruefully, noting that a local TV station had come to the home to talk to Reed about her close encounter with the arachnid.
"Amy and I were laughing," he said. "It took three months to get the media on to the morcellation story. We call them about a spider and they're here."