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David steps on a stingray; hilarity does not ensue

October 11, 2010

So there I am, peacefully attempting to bodysurf in the Pacific ocean in Atacames (a beach town on the northern coast near Esmeraldas), when all of a sudden, coming down off of a wave I feel something sharp impale my foot.

First thought: aw, crap, I stepped on a pointy piece of driftwood.


Third thought: oh no oh no I must have stepped on a needle and now I have AIDS!

Fourth thought: I should probably hobble over to the shore- WHY DOES IT HURT SO BAD?

At this point, with images of a massive spike sticking straight through my foot playing in my head, I pull it out of the water to see blood collecting on my instep. No sign of any foreign object, and my needle fears grow stronger (ever since I was a little kid I’ve had this terrible [irrational?] terror of stepping on a needle in the sand; thank you, Karachi beach).

I manage to crawl, panting and swearing all the way, to a point on the sand where I can sit mostly unmolested by the waves, and proceed to further inspect the wound. By a remarkable coincidence, the only time I see lifeguards all weekend happens to be at this very moment- at least I think they were lifeguards; they were carrying those big red foam things, after all. They take one look at me writhing in agony in the sand, and keep walking. Fortunately for my opinions on Ecuadorian lifeguards, my bro Isaac manages to be a little more effective at getting their attention, and they walk over, as if to see what one of those crazy gringos is doing this time. I explain the problem, twisting my leg up to display the sand-encrusted wound in all its glory: I stepped on something in the water, don’t know what it was, but it hurts real bad. Their diagnosis: some Spanish word I’ve never heard before. “¿Qué?” “Una raya, una raya pequeña.” Yay! Stingray! That’s a word I know!

“WHY DOES IT HURT SO BAD?!” I demand uselessly in English. Then, in Spanish, with slightly more sanity: “what should I do?” They point me in the direction of the Red Cross station. On the other side of the beach. At this point, the aforementioned Isaac and my other bro Dane yell something like “We have to take David to the hospital!” to the rest of our group, throw my arms around their shoulders, and take off dragging me down the beach. After what felt like an eternity of inventing creative new combinations of swear words, we make it to the Red Cross, throw open the gate, and then stand there uselessly in the middle of an empty courtyard. Hey, ho, nobody home. After yelling ¡Buenos días! at the closed doors a few times produces no visible effect, we hobble back outside, Dane begins a marathon run back to the hostel to find my insurance information (which turned out to be unnecessary, fortunately, since we never told him to which clinic we were headed, not knowing that information ourselves), and Isaac and I hail a taxi.

Taxi is probably too charitable of a word for the primary mode of transportation in Atacames. Imagine a padded bench with wheels welded onto a moped, and you get the idea. I normally don’t have a problem with the little deathtraps (I think they’re way fun) but this particular model has the passenger seating in front of the driver (presumably to protect him in the very likely event of a head-on collision). Fortunately, being a human shield in a rickety little transportation contraption careening through town manages to pump me full of adrenaline, taking my mind off the pain just enough to give poor Isaac a brief respite from my barrage of complaints and profanity.

We arrive at the clinic, and right away I get a view of the Ecuadorian health care system from the inside. No snarky comments here; it turns out to be fast, efficient and (for a foreigner) cheap (Note: the clinic that is, certainly not the health care system as a whole): $13 for two injections of a local anesthetic, cleaning and disinfection, ace bandages, some Cipro to stave off infection, and an anti-inflammatory drug. I shudder to think what that little bit of care would have cost in the USA, land of the free [market’s ability to ramp up health care costs to obscene heights]. At one point though, after ordering me to take a shower to cleanse myself of the sand caking my entire body (which must have been from when I was rolling on the beach cursing Poseidon), the nurse shows me to the bathroom, where a child, presumably her daughter, happens to be using the toilet. Without a word, she grabs her by the hand and yanks her off, assuring me that, yes, she is finished. Gringo privilege in a tourist town.

The rest of the story is pretty uneventful. The anesthetic wore off (using present tense through an entire story is draining and awkward, I’m switchin’) as soon as I walked out of the clinic, and I was left with a deep throbbing pain that reached halfway up my shin for about another 3 1/2 hours. Then, abruptly, it was all gone, and all I have to show for my trouble is a tiny little scar on the bottom of my foot. Overrated, I say. Excuse me while I now go search Wikipedia for the mechanism of stingray venom’s effects on the nervous system.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. prefect permalink
    October 11, 2010 11:05 PM

    that’s way cooler than the time i started pissing blood in the middle of paraguay. I did have to get a little theatrical to curtail the 3 hour wait, but the fees were definitely more reasonable than the states.

  2. October 12, 2010 9:03 AM

    PREFECT! I am so honored that you have deigned to grace this humble blog with your presence! If you happen to be in Minneapolis right now, please visit Al’s so I can satisfy my Jose craving vicariously through you.

  3. Hallie permalink
    October 14, 2010 10:50 PM

    Tell me if you actually find out the mechanism! And also, you’re a pretty good writer,you know. I could feel twinges and tenseness in my own leg just reading it! but I’m sorry you actually had to feel the real thing. Sounds horrendous.

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