Joshi had waded into the sea with his dad up to his waist and was playing with the boogie board which his grandpa had given him for Christmas. After a few minutes of catching some waves he suddenly started screaming in pain. Simon, only a couple of feet away, whisked him up into arms. His foot was bleeding badly and Simon, who’s also a scuba instructor, suspected something worse than a sharp shell. As the water cleared momentarily, there it was – a young stingray.
I was relaxing under a tree with friends at the time, unaware of the drama unfolding, when Simon appeared carrying Joshi. Joshi was howling and his foot was a mess. My heart was going a hundred miles and the mamma adrenalin cut in. It was awful to see my little boy in such shock, pain and distress.
My aquatic hubby pointed out that a sting-ray injury is venomous. As if being spiked by one of these swimming dinner plates isn’t painful enough, the venom can be absolutely agonising. The pain from the venom can be managed by submerging the wound in water as hot as you can bear, but there was an ER close by and no hot water at the beach we were at. We left everything and drove straight to ER in our swimmers. There I was, sat in the back of the car with Joshi – his mouth wide with agonising cries, tears streaming down his little face, towel wrapped around his wounded foot. So much for a relaxing day down at the beach.
Amazingly, after 10 minutes in the car the crying subsided. What a relief – clearly the pain was subsiding and he obviously hadn’t got much, if any, venom in his little body.
I’m not one for distracting a cry because I think crying’s so important for releasing whatever needs to come out, but once Joshi’s crying had subsided I asked him what had happened. He told me how he’d got stung standing in the water. We went over the experience again in detail, step-by-step, including how scary it must have for the stingray when he saw this boy’s foot coming down on top of his body. And we agreed that if we’d been the stingray lying on the bottom of the ocean and a person had come along and almost stood on us we’d probably have stung them too. That’s what you do when you’re scared – you do what you can to protect yourself and feel safe again. Joshi’s eyes were alert and curious and by now he was very calm even though he said his foot still hurt. We looked at pictures of stingrays on my phone and made up a song about being bitten by a stingray, which got a few laughs. I was so relieved to see him calm and smiling again.
At the hospital, the nurse cleaned Joshi’s foot and as she bandaged it told us how this was only the 2nd time she had ever seen a stingray injury – the first patient was a grown man carried into ER screaming in agony. An x-ray confirmed there was nothing of the barb remaining in Joshi’s foot and a tetanus shot drew almost as many tears as the sting-ray. After that Joshi was discharged to go home and got to show off his bandaged foot to his anxiously waiting Nanna.
Note: If you’re planning a beach holiday to Australia, please don’t be put off. (It’s the spiders, snakes and crocodiles you really need to look out for! Ha ha!) Stingray injuries are really rare and stingrays will only sting if they feel threatened. Simon, who’s been diving with them for 15 years, has never heard of anyone actually getting injured (other than Steve Irwin of course). Although your chances are probably higher of being seriously hurt by a vending machine you can lesson the odds further by just shuffling your feet in the water which will make the sting-rays aware of your approach and they’ll probably swim away. As with being pierced by anything, if any foreign object is stuck in a wound, don’t attempt to remove it yourself – it could be preventing a bad bleed. Get yourself to hospital.
It’s now a few days after the accident, and I’m really happy to say that Joshi is back in the water happily catching waves again. Happy summer everyone!