On our third day in San Juan Del Sur we headed into town to a funky little surf shop to pick up some boards and bomb out to the playa for our first surf lesson of the tour. We loaded up the Jeep-style off-roading vehicle, boards strapped to the roof (pretty much an installation on EVERY vehicle in this town) and peeled out, bumping along the tree-lined dirt back roads with the windows rolled down, the wind carrying the salty aroma of the ocean deep into our lungs. A 40-ish minute drive later (with one quick stop to snap a few photos of a family of Howler monkeys snoozing in the treetops) and we parked the truck and carried our boards up a sandy incline that revealed a pristine and almost empty expanse of beach. A private beach to ourselves? Um, yes, please!! Our guide/driver from the surf shop quickly set up a speaker (because what is a beach day without some tunes?) and dragged out a cooler, offering us cold beers and cocktails. We split into two groups for surf lessons, slipping into rash guards and doing some quick jumping jacks on the wet sand down by the water to get the blood pumping.
Surfing is no joke, guys. After learning the basics of the "pop-up" from our guides Des and Jorge, we took to the frothy waves with our giant beginner surf boards and tried not to drown. Just kidding. ;) In all seriousness, be prepared to drink A LOT of sea water your first time surfing, and get sand in crevasses of your body you didn't even know existed! But when you catch you first wave and feel the pull of the water on the underside of your board as it tows you into shore, the feeling is unlike anything else. I was hooked.
After I had thoroughly exhausted myself and simply could not stand in the surf any longer, I conceded that I would have to wait till my NEXT lesson to catch that giant green barrel wave and I swam into shore and flopped down onto the sand to catch my breath. After this brief beach siesta I was completely covered in sand, so I waded out into the shallows to rinse myself off. That's when I felt it; I took a step with my left foot and just as my sole touched the ground I felt I sharp pain in my heel and the unmistakable feeling of something sharp puncturing my skin. Crap, I thought, I must have stepped on a sharp rock, or shell, or some other jagged bit of ocean debris. I quickly got out of the water but as I walked onto shore the pain in my heel worsened. By the time I was up out of the waves, the pain was so intense that I fell to my knees, which probably looked hilariously dramatic to my friends watching a few meters away. They told me after the fact that they just thought I was being silly (classic Kirklin!) until they heard my panicked and frenzied screams.
Long story short, I was stung by a stingray. The pain was positively horrendous and I was almost delirious from it; I was struggling to catch my breath I was screaming so hard. My other tourmates and our guides Desmond and Jorge immediately sprang into action. Luckily, my friend Sarah is a Nurse Practitioner back in Chicago and my other friend Roxanne is an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) in Whitecourt, AB. They assessed the wound, checked for a pedal pulse, settled on a stingray sting as the most likely cause of injury, and applied a tourniquet using a strip a cloth to prevent the venom from spreading up my leg. These chicas are professionals, after all. Some of my other tourmates did everything they could to aid the process, supporting my body and head as a writhed in agony on the beach, making sure I was breathing steadily and deeply, in and out, and just generally doing their best to distract me from the horrendous pain in my heel. Desmond immediately ran to get a bowl of hot water (fun fact: if you are stung by a stingray, dip the wound in as hot water as you can stand; the heat denatures the venom (which is a protein) and draws it out of the wound, which helps immensely to relieve the pain). Jorge went off to find some sort of transport that could take me back to SJDS where I could receive treatment at the local clinic.
All of these things happened in record time, and even through the tears and the pain, there were many moments when I had a split second of clarity amongst the chaos, and I gazed around at the people diligently working, doing everything in their power to relieve my pain, and I thought "I am the luckiest person to have ever been stung by a sting ray, EVER."
An hour or so later, after a bumpy yet efficient ride back to SJDS, a nurse at the local clinic cleaned the wound and gave me a lidocaine shot to ease the pain. I went back to the Pink Palace and reclined in a chair overlooking the pool and watched the sun set over the beach down below, feeling "hungover" from the adrenaline but entirely alive and for all intents and purposes completely unharmed save for a cut on my left heel. My over-riding emotion regarding the whole ordeal was surprisingly just: gratitude.
I debated whether or not to write a blog post about this incident, because I truly did not want it to frighten or discourage anyone from anything to do with the ocean; swimming, surfing, wading in the sand. Even I, The Girl Who Got Stung By A Stingray, was back in the ocean literally the next day. THE NEXT DAY. The truth is that every time we step into the ocean we are taking a calculated risk. We can mitigate that risk but we can never entirely eliminate it. I guess I just got lucky? :P The ocean enriches my life so much that I couldn't even stay mad at it even for one day!
I cannot express in words how grateful I am to my LBW tourmates and guides who worked so quickly and diligently to provide me with the care that I needed, both physically and emotionally.
GUYS! I GOT STUNG BY A STINGRAY ON AN LBW TOUR AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE. I more than lived, in fact, I flourished. And let me tell ya, the story makes for a GREAT ice-breaker at the bar. ;)
Till next time, just keep swimming!!
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