Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Stingrays: The Pain and the Horror

The Crocodile Hunter is gone. Very sad news.

I always enjoyed watching his exploits. But my enjoyment was tempered by the fact that he worried me. One of these days, I thought, he’s going to mess with the wrong critter. It’s just a matter of time before some animal kills him.

Well, it finally happened. But when it happened, it wasn’t a crocodile, or cobra, or what you would expect. No, it was a stingray. And he wasn’t baiting the animal, or trying to wrestle it, or messing with it in any way. All he did was swim over it, inadvertently causing the creature to feel cornered.

It is rare to die of a stingray attack, the experts say. Worldwide, only one or two persons a year die this way. And when they die, it is usually because they were struck in a vital organ, such as the heart. That is what happened to the Crocodile Hunter. But it is rare, the experts assure us. When stingrays attack, they usually strike the extremities—the foot, for instance—not the heart.

The experts also assure us that stingrays are actually shy, non-aggressive creatures who will flee before fighting. Therefore, as long as you do not grab one, or corner one, you need not fear them. You can swim with them, and even feed them—a popular pastime at many ports of call, such as the Cayman Islands.

These are good things to know, if you (like myself) are planning a trip to the coast and intend to get in the water.

However, there is something else you should know: Most stingray attacks occur when they are stepped on. That is why most injuries are in the foot.

So what do you do? Watch your step, right? No, that may not help you, because ... the little bastards hide in the sand.

There you are, innocently wading in the surf, breathing in the salty air, luxuriating as the sea mud gently squishes between your toes, when YOW!!! straight through your Achilles tendon slices the sharp, serrated dagger of a stingray’s barb.

It hurts like Unholy Hell. Not only is there the matter of the ghastly cut itself and loss of blood, there is also the venom that is discharged, with accompanying symptoms such as vomiting, headache, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, cramps, seizure, paralysis.

In other words, a stingray attack is no small matter. It is no bee sting or mosquito bite. A stingray attack should be immediately followed by a trip to the emergency room. And fervent prayer.

Here's another fact you should know: There are about 5,000 stingray attacks a year in the U.S. alone.

I learned these facts and many others by reading extensively about stingrays the past couple of days. This research started because I was trying to understand what happened to the Crocodile Hunter. Prior to his untimely demise, I never thought about stingrays, and didn’t know much about them.

Well, as a result of this research, I now know a great deal about the little devils. Also, I have gone from never thinking about them to being unable to stop thinking about them. I am obsessed, because of the trip to the coast I mentioned.

You see, I cannot get the above-described scenario of stepping on a stingray out of my mind, and each time I replay it the imagined pain and horror is more vivid than the time before. The anticipation of this event (however unlikely it might be) is so bad that I almost think it would be better to go find a stingray and step on it so I can get it over with and not have to worry about it any more.

However, that may not be necessary. This morning I came across an article that appears to offer a better solution. Read the article. I highly recommend it. After a lengthy, harrowing, true-life account of stepping on a stingray, you will find at the bottom of the article a description of Walk-N-Wade Stingray Guards.

They cost fifty bucks a pair, which is a bit steep for me. Also, wearing them would eliminate the pleasure of the sea mud squishing between my toes. But, for that matter, thinking about stingrays eliminates that pleasure anyway, and fifty bucks is about what my co-pay would be at the emergency room. So, all things considered, I think I’ll be sporting a pair of these babies on my trip to the coast. They may look weird on me, might even feel weird, but at least I won't have to worry about stepping on a stingray. And these days, the less I have to worry about the better.