A Night with a Box Jellyfish

This was all because I didn’t check the ‘Jellyfish Timetable‘- Box Jellyfish arrive in Waikiki and other parts of the Hawaiian Islands based on the lunar cycle- they come to shore 8 to 10 days after each full moon and are particularly abundant in the early hours. There was also a noticeable lack of warning signs. I guess this was why the flights were so cheap!

Lesson learnt - don't go in the sea at night in Hawai'i
Lesson learnt – don’t go in the sea at night in Hawai’i

***WARNING: If you are stung by a box jellyfish you should seek medical attention immediately, this post here is a silly example of a very VERY lucky girl! But I may not have been, so it is vital to heed any warnings you see on the beach/ from lifeguards and check with your hotel for any conditions that may have changed. I survived, but I was lucky and my symptoms stayed with me for many years after!

Well, this certainly was an interesting evening after a very eventful day! A late night stroll along the beach had resulted in the discovery of a bright green rubber ring. Too beautiful for us to resist, we decided a little paddle in the ring was the best way to finish the night, we both ran into the shallows and waded out up to our chests. It just felt like a very light brushing of a stray hair or piece of seaweed over my arm and down my leg, but my surprisingly quick mind (for this time of night) told me my hair was tied back, and there was no seaweed around, I knew something was wrong. Ten seconds later and my whole body felt like it had been injected with hot acid; I began wincing, flailing and yelping in pain as the venom began to take hold, beginning in my leg and arm muscles and working its way up my spine to my brain, I normally have a high pain threshold so this was really worrying!

My friend dragged me to the shore as I had lost mobility in my leg and arm- which had a tentacle still wrapped around the elbow! We brushed it off and I begged my friend to pee on me as I had heard this helped. Before he had a chance a large beach guard ran up and insisted there would be no peeing until I had been seen by the ambulance who would be here in five minutes…’FIVE MINUTES’ I barked and choked? That five minutes seemed like a lifetime as I began drifting in and out of consciousness, convulsing, barely able to breath and eventually unable to move as the venom had sent my body in to rigid shock. I was convinced I was going to die, on Waikiki Beach, stuck in a bright green rubber ring!

I was lucky tho, the ambulance told me they had never seen anyone who, after being stung by a box jellyfish and presenting symptoms of Irukandji Syndrome, then gets up and walks away from the ambulance without spending two days in hospital- they even prepared me for defibrillators as my heart beat was becoming irregular and unstable! The conclusion as to my miraculous recovery was either I was stung by a baby jellyfish, had some strange immunity to them- only really seen in natives of the islands, or…had not been peed on! Out of the 19 (approx) different species of jellyfish in the pacific, some of them it may help to apply urine to the sting, but others should be doused in vinegar- either way, you’re going to stink and you often don’t know which method you should have done until it’s too late! There is no known cure or treatment for stings, but what is known is that medical attention should be sought straight away, and even if there are no signs it will be worth checking with a beach guard as to current conditions.

I was convinced my turnaround was down to a breathing technique I had learnt to combat asthma many years earlier. Soon as my breathing and heart rate had become erratic and unstable I began doing the breathing exercises with the aim of calming my system to try and return it to normal. The ambulance staff did admit they were baffled as this was the first time they had ever witnessed someone stable their breathing and heart condition as a result of a breathing technique!

My limbs all wrapped in vinegar soaked bandages, with severe cramps in my joints, various organs pulsing and still suffering mild palpitations, I stumbled back to my hostel with the aid of my friend. Too afraid to sleep I made him stay up, and as dawn began seeping into the sky we started planning what to do with the rest of the trip until he finally dozed off.

After being released from the ambulance...smiling again!
After being released from the ambulance…smiling again!

UPDATES: Two months after writing this post I still had small black dots on my arm where the dead tentacle spikes had stayed under my skin- it was still red and swollen and I still suffered numbness and stiffness in my arm and leg as well as stomach problems. Three years on- 2011 and I still have a numb sensation in my left arm and right foot and only towards the end of 2013 has regular sensation finally returned to my arm!

After numerous doctor visits back in the UK the conclusion was that whatever venom/ poison was injected into me via those tentacles had permanently damaged my nerves in those limbs and feeling may only return if the nerves could recover or re-grow. A mistake who’s results, up until recently, I thought I would have for life.

Author: ellecoco

A buckaneering chocolatier, fuelled by chocolate, powered by adventure...

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