Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stingray 1, me 0

It’s been one month and I still cannot wear shoes. I have been living in my Locals, the only footwear that does not touch, rub, or irritate my right heel. A stingray stung me.

February is the dry season in Nicaragua and San Juan del Sur is the place to be, with offshore winds created by Lake Nicaragua and southwest swells. I hitched a ride from the Pan American highway to the Pacific Coast, planning on catching a few waves. I checked into the family owned Joxi Hotel, located on Main Street, and headed off in the bed of a pickup truck to Hermosa Beach, a few kilometers south.

Hermosa Beach has 2 kilometers of dependable sandy left and right beach breaks at the end of a long, unpaved road, accessible by 4x4. It is pristine, almost untouched, except for a couple small huts selling beer, fish tacos and board rentals. The guys running the huts are more interested in surfing than selling, and loaned me a boogie board and wetsuit gratis. But no fins; I was going to have to kick and paddle to catch waves. With high tide the waves were growing from two to four feet. Perfect.

The Nicaraguan waters are cool, compared to Costa Rica, but warm to my Californian skin. I caught at least two waves and was pretty stoked, with a big fat smile plastered on my face and my eyes all Eastwood squinty against the blazing sun. I saw my friend Andy on the beach, timidly retreating from the rising tides. I rode in and started running, forgetting to shallow shuffle my feet. BAM! In the foamy waters, red salt water sloshed around my ankles. My brain registered “Stingray, damn it. I forgot to shuffle.” “Andy, get my board, I got sting rayed!”

As I sprinted toward the beer huts, the pain began to flow into my veins, from my foot up my leg, blood dribbling a trail in the sand. A stingray has a barb at the end of his tail, which can puncture and release venom as a self-defense mechanism. The protein-based venom breaks down tissue and causes severe pain, swelling, muscle cramps, and loads of other potential symptoms.

“Sit here, give me your foot!” ordered one of the local Nica surfers, pointing to a tree stump. I sat, and immediately two surfers started rubbing down my leg from the top down, squeezing and compressing the venom out of the deep puncture wound. The venom looked both pussy and clear, mixed with blood that would not stop. “Boil water! She needs boiling water.” That was going to take a while. The beer huts were not kitchens, and hot water is not common on the beach. Medical treatment was going to be improvised, without supplies, other than strong hands, hot water and cigarettes. And rum.

Some one brought me a glass of rum and a beer. Another surfer distracted me with stories of other beaches around the world. I laughed and rode the waves of pain and pressure, and the new pain of boiling water. My foot was placed in a bucket of boiled water, creating a poison blood foot soup. Heat breaks down the proteins found in the venom, the only known way to neutralize the toxins. After about an hour, my “doctor”, surfer Manuel, decided to deal with the excessive bleeding. Compression was not working, and no needles, thread or bandages were around, but plenty of smokables and lighters. Old school it had to be. It took two cigarettes to artfully coach the wound closed. United States medical professionals would not approve of this method, I was sure. By this time, the makeshift liquid Tylenol had kicked in, and I was feeling fine. For the next 48 hours I did not have to pay for my own drinks and I was treated like a real surfer, not the Kook I really am.

As prescribed by Doctor Manuel, I went surfing the next day at Playa Maderas, and getting stoked was the best form of medicine and recovery.

Post Script:

It has been one month since the sting and I am back in the USA. I am going in for an MRI. My wound is not healed, got infected etc. I am scheduled to run a half marathon April 8 and a full marathon in July. Looks like cross training on the rowing machine will be my new best friend.

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