Do the stingray shuffle: Day at the beach cut painfully short

On a recent visit to the beach, the weather was wonderful; my wife, my son and I enjoyed making a sand castle creation, and we had a great time soaking in the ocean water and basking in the sea breeze.

Everything seemed great until the last few minutes before we left, and then my wife experienced a sharp pain in her left foot. While we were well aware of the threat of jellyfish and even sharks lurking in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this attack was caused by something we hadn’t even really considered — a stingray.

Stingrays sit just below the sandy layer at the bottom of the ocean, and often strike when people jump up and down in reaction to the waves of the tide coming to shore.

My wife and my son were maybe 40 feet out from the shore laughing and enjoying the day when the stingray lashed out. I was closer to the shore enjoying the sensation of the tide crashing in and then sweeping out.

Despite the pain she felt, my wife’s first reaction was to lift up our 9-year-old son, trying to protect him from whatever got her.

From a distance, I couldn’t tell what was happening until I saw her put my son down, and he waded toward me, yelling that his mom had gotten hurt and needed help.

We trudged through the waves to the shore, and at that time we weren’t sure exactly what had happened. At first we thought it might have been a jellyfish, but there was more blood coming from the wound than a jellyfish would cause.

Port Aransas is a wonderful place to visit, but we weren’t aware of any nearby medical facilities. My cell phone search was directing me to places in Portland or Rockport, and we knew those couldn’t be the closest.

Finally, we found Corpus Christi Medical Center that was 25 minutes away because of traffic. I did my best to get my wife to the hospital as soon as possible, but despite flashing blinkers and me flashing the headlights to alert people to an emergency situation, some cars refused to move over. I guess some just thought I was a random speeder or else just didn’t really care what the issue was. Hopefully, if they ever experience an emergency and need to get a loved one to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible, they won’t have to deal with slow moving traffic in front of them.

The emergency room at the hospital was surprisingly busy. 

“It was packed — ridiculously busy,” my wife recalled. “It was so busy I didn’t even get a room. They kept me in a hallway, and when I had to get stitches they perched me on a chair.”

Those at the facility were there for a variety of reasons, but it looked like no one else had come in from the beach, and it also looked like although COVID-19 precautions were in action, no one in the emergency room area appeared to be suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

Painkillers didn’t seem to work well in reducing the discomfort, which my wife described as being worse than childbirth. What gave her relief was plunging her foot into a bucket of hot water, which was refilled four times.

“When they would take it away, oh ho ho, intense pain, worse than I have ever felt,” my wife said.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, my son and I couldn’t go into the hospital with my wife. A nurse came out with a wheelchair and whisked her inside. My son and I had to stay inside our van, and my wife would text us occasional updates.

Finally, she was released. Before she left, she begged for some hot water to soak her foot in to ease the pain. After all, it would take us an hour to drive home. They wouldn’t give her the bucket, but they did fill a large plastic bag full of water, which was better than nothing and offered some relief.

One thing we learned later was that you should shuffle your feet in the ocean sand to scare off stingrays potentially lurking in the area. When they are startled by someone jumping up as the waves rise, that is a prime time for them to strike.

Despite the unfortunate incident, my wife said that won’t keep her from visiting the beach, which she really enjoys. On our next trip, she plans to wear water shoes into the ocean and also will be sure to do the stingray shuffle to help thwart the potential of any attacks.

The stingray attack was a painful and stressful way to end what had been a wonderful day, but we’ve learned the hard way what to do to help prevent such agonizing incidents.

Although you hear quite a bit about jellyfish, and a shark attack always makes the news, I didn’t even think about stingrays being a threat. But it’s not as rare as you might think. The nurse practitioner who removed my wife’s stitches told her that there was another women in our small community of Three Rivers who was also recovering from a stingray attack.

The beach can be a fantastic family experience, but make sure you take precautions, whether against stingrays, jellyfish, sharks or sunburn. Although our stingray experience is memorable, it’s also something that we definitely would gladly have done without.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of the News of San Patricio and the Refugio County Press.