How a stingray ended my vacation

How a stingray ended my vacation

I have a story to share with you that is a little different than what I usually share on my blog. While on vacation at the end of August, something crazy happened to me! Maybe you can relate to it or perhaps I can help you avoid pitfalls if something like this happens to you. Read on to find out how a stingray ended my vacation!

One of my top 5 favorite places to visit with my family is Wildwood, NJ. We love all the activities available there like biking, mini-golf and playing games on the boardwalk. On the last day of our trip, were taking one more opportunity to play and relax on the beach. The sun was shining and I was enjoying all the sights and sounds of happy families. While wading in shallow water in my pretty turquoise bikini, I watched my kids surf the small waves on their boogie boards. I had just pushed my son off to ride a wave when I felt a sudden sharp stab at my ankle. Ouuucccchh! What the heck was that?! I thought I stepped on a sharp shell or rock, or maybe a fish nipped me.

Things Got Serious

I quickly realized, as a pain shot up from my ankle to my brain, that my situation was serious. My fear instinct kicked in. I needed to get my kids and myself out of the water ASAP! The nearest lifeguard was over 100 yards away, I couldn’t just stay in the water waiting for help to come to me. I took a quick look down at my ankle and didn’t see any blood, so I felt slightly relieved. However, the closer I got to the shoreline the more the pain ramped up and the blood started to flow from my foot. My body was not happy. I immediately called to my husband Jason to get help.

Lifeguards Step In to Help

The lifeguards ran over to me, followed by their emergency truck. I hopped up on the tailgate and I could clearly see my ankle had a deep puncture wound. Blood was gushing out and the pain had quickly become excruciating. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but this was extreme! I felt a constant burning and throbbing, intense pain was shooting up the back of my hamstring to my gluteus. On a scale of 1-10, my pain ranged up to 9. I can compare it to a wasp sting on steroids combined with a terrible Charley horse spasm.

The lifeguards casually talked with me while they cleaned me up. My ankle was doused with peroxide to wash away sand and bacteria. I wasn’t able to identify what caused my injury and they could only speculate as well. The guard wrapped up my injury so I could travel for further treatment. It would need to be my choice where I would receive further medical attention and I had to transport myself. The lifeguards could only take me to the edge of the beach! My thoughts of how my care would play out were mistaken. Fortunately, our car was only a 5-minute walk away. The lifeguards were kind enough to drive us to our car so I wouldn’t have to walk. The pain was very intense at this point. I couldn’t imagine having to walk farther than a few feet!

Off to Urgent Care

My husband drove me to Urgent Care since it was closer than the nearest ER. When we arrived, the waiting room was full of people. It would be at least a 45-minute wait to be seen by a doctor! Uggghh! I wanted pain relief immediately! I was not screaming or carrying on, but I was certainly in a lot of pain. And since we rushed off the beach to seek treatment immediately, I had no belongings or clothes with me beside the bathing suit I wore to the beach. I began to think back to other times I was in an extreme amount of pain. Nothing else compared to how my body was feeling from this injury- not even recovering from the cesarean delivery of my children’s birth! How could something as small as this puncture create so much pain? Not fun. Not at all.

Finding the Calm Amidst Uncertainty

It felt like forever before I was able to see a doctor. There was still a long day ahead of me and my husband was not allowed to stay with me. In between seeing doctors, waiting, talking to the nurses and waiting some more, I began to do my own research. I wanted to know what caused my injury, how long my pain would last, and if it would get worse. I had so many questions that the doctors couldn’t answer with 100% certainty. Doing this research while I waited helped me feel calmer. I believe I was stung by a Cow-nosed stingray. Many things came to light from my research, for one, there isn’t a lot of information to be found for people who experience an injury like mine. I’m sharing my story to help others stung by a stingray or find themselves in a similar situation.

I am not one to go to the doctor for minor injuries and illnesses. I typically feel well, heal relatively quickly and maintain healthy habits. It is good, however, to know when to go to the doctor rather than just “toughing it out”. I was one of three people that day who went to that Urgent Care for an injury at the beach. I am sure there were others who went to the ER as well. Here are my suggestions to help you navigate a situation like mine.

What does cow-nosed sting ray injury look like?

Be Your Own Advocate

I do recommend doing your own investigating and speaking up when you have questions or when something doesn’t feel right about your treatment. For example, when the lifeguard wrapped my ankle too tight and made a twist over the wound, which exacerbated the pain, I asked him to stop and wrap it more loosely. While researching whether or not to cover this type of puncture, I found that it is better to let it keep bleeding to allow your body to eliminate the venom. According to emedicinehealth.com “Do not cover the wound with tape or close it with stitches. Apply pressure to stop the bleeding.” I helped speed up my healing by listening to my body. If I had covered the wound and not allowed it to drain the way my body was meant to, the healing process may have taken longer or the wound may have even worsened.

Know Your Pain Tolerance

There is a time and a place for composure and a time to let your emotions roll.  Because I remained composed,  the doctors examined other patients before me even if they arrived after I did! I actually prolonged the amount of time I needed to be in pain. What did I learn about triage in ER or Urgent Care? If I had carried on, screamed, or cried, I would have been seen faster. I work with a client who is a scientist and works in hospitals. She says “Be the squeaky wheel”. While I’m not suggesting you “fake it”, it is better to be vocal about your pain to avoid prolonging it.

Be Prepared for Accidents

Accidents can happen anywhere and at anytime. Having a basic knowledge of first aid will help you keep a calm and confident mindset in an emergency situation. This can also help you communicate more easily with medical professionals. In turn, helping you get the best treatment as quickly as possible and promote your recovery. Take immediate action in an emergency and get medical assistance quickly, stay calm in the situation, and apply relevant treatment as directed by professionals. Consider keeping a first-aid kit in your car, along with a “go-bag” containing helpful items like a change of clothes and an extra personal I.D. Add a few hot packs to your emergency kit. I sure wish the lifeguards had a few on hand!

You May Be Asking:

What caused this injury?

Due to the size and location of the puncture wound, and the effects I felt afterward, I believe I was stung by a Cow-nosed Stingray. There were several of them swimming in the area the day I was injured. Most people on the beach said they were Skates. Though they look similar, skates have shorter, fatter tails. Cow Nosed stingrays have longer thinner tails. They are typically docile animals, but they can sting you with their tail barb if cornered or stepped on.

Are Cow-nose Stingrays dangerous?

Yes, Cownose Stingrays can be dangerous to humans as their tails have venomous skin and stings. Make sure to stay away!

What you could experience if you are ever injured by a stingray or other marine life?

Treatment that didn’t help? I tried submerging my foot in cool water and warm water as suggested by medical care professionals. Both did nothing to alleviate the pain.  Pain medication including Tylenol with 400 mg Codeine and 600mg Advil had no benefit either.
Treatment that helped? Submerging my foot in very hot water, using heating pads on the injury, and giving my body time to heal were the only things that helped the pain subside.

How long did it take to feel comfortable walking after being stung by a stingray? 

I walked right after I was stung, but it was very painful. Walking without pain took about 6 hours afterward. My foot remained very swollen for an additional 24 hours. I had swelling on and off for 7 additional days, along with an odd feeling of weakness walking downstairs. Two weeks later the wound finally scabbed over and was no longer oozing fluid.

What aftercare is recommended?

My doctor prescribed antibiotics and an ointment to save me from infection.  All medical practitioners recommend completing the entire cycle of any prescribed medication, even after you feel better.  Doctors recommend using sunscreen because some antibiotics may cause sensitivity to the sun.

How to avoid being stung by a stingray:

It is good advice to avoid any contact with wild animals if you can help it. Marine experts recommend bathers do the “stingray shuffle,” when walking the sandy ocean bottom. Shuffle your feet in the water to scare them away. Doing this alerts the rays to move away. 

Please note: This was my experience of how a stingray ended my vacation. Please do not use my story in lieu of treatment. Get medical attention if you are stung or in a similar emergency,

4 Comments
  • Joan Arata
    Posted at 17:34h, 25 September Reply

    Lois! So glad you healed and you are feeling better! Thanks for sharing. For anyone who goes to the beach and goes in the water – even shallow water, you have to remain vigilant – many fish and sea creatures called the ocean home and see us as intruding, even when not intending harm.
    Excellent warning and cautionary tale!

    • Lois
      Posted at 15:41h, 04 October Reply

      Thank you for your kind words. It was certainly a learning experience.

  • Maria D Mascaro
    Posted at 07:39h, 26 September Reply

    Wow. Sorry you had to experience this. Thanks for the info.

    • Lois
      Posted at 15:41h, 04 October Reply

      Thank you for your kind words. It was certainly a learning experience.

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