Contact: Friday the 13'Th,
Key West, Florida
Susan joined me at She was
looking forward to going for a swim. There was a comfortable 15 knot breeze
from the South. I suggested we walk to the other end of the beach, on
the East side, and swim back . We were
floating on our backs, letting the gentle tide carry us, occasionally
moving our arms for a little more motion.
In extreme pain (an ‘8’ on a scale of ‘10’ ) I raced out of the water, pulling off the blue tentacles from my chest and arms, and yelling for help. Susan had no idea what had happened. She did see my black beach shoe floating away, and first thought I’d been attacked by a shark. She didn’t yet realize she too had gotten the tentacles on her arms.
Shaking with severe pain (now at a level of ‘9’ ) I managed to get to the picnic area where many of the people on the beach came to me. I asked for Benadryl and someone had them. As I was shaking so much, I was fortunate to be able to swallow two capsules. I was also starting to hyperventilate. I knew I had to get to the hospital.
The only available car was packed with gear and not
suitable. Someone used their cell phone and called
Randy, a scuba diving instructor, came over to help and tried calming me in order to slow my breathing. But by then the pain was excruciating and I did not think I would stay conscious! He kept trying to calm me by saying "look at me, Ken" and even said " no one has ever died from a Portuguese Man of War sting."
I was still hyperventilating, shaking and burning up! The people from the beach were doing what they could. First they applied towels soaked with vinegar to my lashed back, chest and arms to ease the pain. Then they poured the vinegar all over me, but it didn’t help. They tried bags of ice, putting them on my back, hands and feet. I don’t know if it reduced the pain, but my shaking got worse and after a couple of minutes, they stopped applying the ice. Susan told me I looked very grey and my eyes were blood-shot. She had visions of being widowed a third time.
Randy drove Susan back to the campground so she could enlist our friends to pick me up and she could get the prescriptions filled. The meds prescribed were: Methylprednisolone 4mg DosPak (a steroid to be taken over a 6 day period), Hydrocodone/APAP 5mg/500 mg tabs; and Benedryl,diphnhydramine tablets every 6 hours.
Friends prepared supper for us, I took the first dose of the Med-pak plus a pain pill and slept through the night. Amazingly there was no residual pain, even though my chest, back and arms looked like I had been whipped unmercifully, as this whole area was covered with angry red wavy-line welts. I should say here, Susan had some welts from the tentacles on both arms. Yet, perhaps because of the shock of my experience, she had no pain!
The only odd complication we both suffered was incredible itching....like a severe case of poison ivy. This started for both Susan and me, exactly six days after the stings! We both took benadryl and Susan used an anti-itching spray to alleviate the itch. My itching continued for over a week.
The nurse in the emergency room thought I might have some permanent scarring. Thankfully, the welts on my back, chest and arms have been helped by a vitamin E cream. She also said it was one of the worst cases of Man of War stings she’d ever seen.
After reading information on the internet, I know people have died from the stings. I feel so fortunate to have been in excellent physical condition. Golfing, playing racketball and tennis weekly, and biking certainly helped to get me through the trauma.
If you see Man Of War jelly fish in the water or washed up on the beach, please warn others. Even on an unguarded, swim-at-your-own-risk beach, signs should be posted during the season of the jelly fish. And a dead Man of War on the beach can still be harmful and sting people!
I’ve learned since in research that in one U.S. Portuguese Man of War incident, life guards sprayed papain solution immediately on the victim’s stings. Apparently it didn’t help because within minutes the woman was comatose and later died.
If you are ever a victim, consider even the slightest breathing difficulty or altered level of consciousness a ‘medical emergency’. Call for help and use an automatic epinephrian injector if available, or in the least, benadryl.
The Portuguese Man of War has stings equal to .75 that of Cobra venom and is potentially dangerous to humans. In fact these stings have been responsible for several deaths.
Many people see Friday the 13th as a ‘bad luck day’, but I’m happy I’ll be around to celebrate a few more! | |