As soon as Bruce pulled the anchor and I turned the Freedom X Bay Scout toward Port Royal Sound I knew I was heading the wrong direction. Bravado can often cause a guy to make exactly the wrong choice. The pain that had started in my right foot had spread to the inside of my knee and then to my thigh and was almost certainly heading toward my heart and would cause my imminent demise. After all, we all know what happened to Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter).
A few minutes earlier during an otherwise pleasant afternoon of Hilton Head fishing I had made a real “bonehead” move. Having left the landing net in the garage, I swung a small Stingray on to the deck of the boat and attempted to immobilize it with my foot – a maneuver I’ve probably performed a dozen times in the past without incident. Looking back, I’ve never tried it with the Stingray flopping around on its back, and NEVER wearing Keen sandals! Before you can say @#$@ the irate Stingray had planted the barb of its tail in the side of my foot, right between the leather straps of the sandals. Let’s just say the language that followed was nearly as colorful as the mixture of my blood and the stingray’s on the white boat deck. Bruce managed to get the stingray back into the water and then asked me what I wanted to do. At this point my foot hurt, but not intolerably, and I replied (see Bravado above) that I wanted to keep fishing. We pulled the anchor and headed north, the opposite direction from Skull Creek Marina.
It took a few minutes to Google “what to do when stung by a stingray” while steering the boat through Fisherman’s Cut toward the Sound. The pain seemed exponentially greater when the most common result came back “seek immediate medical attention”. “Maybe we better head back – and maybe you could drive me down to Hilton Head Hospital…just to be safe,” I said to Bruce. The marina was only about ten minutes away but, by the time we got the boat back and secured at the dock, paid for our gas and carted our gear to the car, I was glad the hospital was only a couple of miles away. Janet met us there looking, at first concerned, and then just a little ticked off when she realized I was not dying and my stupidity was going to cost us all the rest of a beautiful Sunday afternoon and most likely several hundred dollars. We spent the next 1/2 hour becoming a part of the hospital’s database while the wound started to feel like a raging brush fire was consuming my leg.
“You need to learn the ‘shuffle,'” the nurse knowingly told me as she led me back to an exam room. “On a boat?,” I quickly replied. “This happened on a boat? Most people we see with this injury have stepped on one in the water at the beach.” Shuffling, I learned, is the recommended method of walking around in the ocean so a stingray will be scared off before being stepped on. When I explained how I had been stung, I definitely had the feeling I had failed an IQ test. A few minutes later the nurse returned carrying a green 5 gallon bucket with “STINGRAY” stenciled on it in black letters.
“What’s in there?,” I nervously asked. “Scalding hot water; stick your foot in it,” she ordered. By now I was thinking the objective was to replace stingray pain with 2nd degree burn pain, but I was willing to try anything.
The doctor who examined the wound a few minutes later explained that the almost instantaneous relief I had experienced when I “poached” my foot in the hot water was the effect of a protein that stingrays inject being neutralized by hot water. He helped restore a small part of my manhood when he related to Janet that he had been stung once and the pain had been worse than when he had broken his collar-bone. After a couple more buckets of hot water the pain subsided enough to put my sandal back on and limp to the car. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic as insurance against infection and warned that about 30% of the time a followup X-ray might be required to determine if part of the stinger remained in the wound.
When we got back to the house I spent a couple more hours with my foot in hot water and my hand near a cold beer. The pain was soon almost gone and that same afternoon the incident began its inevitable transition, like all good fish stories, from truth to partial truth. In time, the stingray will double in size, the nurse will take on the name Cratchet with forearms the size of tree trunks, and eventually the treatment will have included a defibrillator! It took about 3 weeks for the swelling and bruising to disappear but fortunately there was no latent stinger to deal with. If you fish the inshore waters around Hilton Head, particularly with live bait, stingrays and sharks are a common nuisance. My new rule is that neither will ever see the interior of a boat I am on. Take it from me, it’s far cheaper and quicker to just cut the line!
John’s article was published in “South Carolina Wildlife Magazine.” Click here to read it!