Ocean Stingrays In Your Practice?

Friday FINISH – February 28, 2020

The past week my family enjoyed a fantastic vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was my surprise Christmas gift to my wife and kids this past Christmas. If you haven’t been, to Puerto Vallarta I highly recommend it, we went the all-inclusive route and it had everything we needed for a great time. Plus it’s an under 4 hour direct flight for us from Salt Lake City.

We did leave the resorts a few times on some Uber rides for a visit into downtown with a stop at Walmart (an new experience for us – did you know they sell motorcycles and stoves at Walmarts in Mexico?), and the following day a water taxi and waterfall hike in Quixmito (highly recommend) where we also found some awesome street tacos – just remember to bring Pesos because the village near Quixmito is very small and the one ATM machine they had was stolen recently. Off-site excursions are a lot of fun if you like to explore – but certainly not needed to enjoy the experience. My kids had all of the beach time, boogie boarding, pool time, catamaran ride, arcade and football games, shuffleboard, virgin drinks at the juice bar, and nighttime shows they could handle. Plus the reserved restaurants had some fantastic fish tacos and Chile Relleno. 

I don’t know if the trip could have gone much better. There were some pretty funny moments that you get with a trip that are unexpected but memorable. For me, it was when I shut our res port beach rental booth down for a day with the “Purple Flag” from receiving my first (and hopefully only) Stingray sting. 

The beach rental company outside of our hotel had 4 flag colors posted each day. Green – safe water, yellow – use caution with larger waves, red – not safe for being in the water, and purple – dangerous marine wildlife/not safe in the water. We mostly had yellow conditions during our stay, which worked just fine, and only a few hours of red flag warnings one day. But on our last day, three of the five of us were boogie boarding, when suddenly I felt two quick, sharp “bites” on my right ankle, one just over the bone and one near my Achilles’ tendon. It was so quick and intense, like a nail was pushed through my foot. I scooted across the next wave so fast I was back to shore in seconds – definitely winning my wife on that ride.

When I sat down to observe what had just happened, I thought maybe something bit me because I was struck in 2 areas. It appears that the stinger first tried to hit me in the ankle bone, but when it couldn’t get through it punctured me on the softer part of my foot instead. I had a 3-inch welt and minor bleeding, and my foot began to feel numb, as it does when you sit on your leg funny and it “falls asleep.”

After some reading up on it later that day, I discovered that Stingrays are not aggressive toward humans, and only sting you to defend themselves if you step on one. Typically they swim in families and park in the sand during afternoon hours. (Hence the purple flag, when word got around in the resort that I was stung, they put that warning flag up because there are likely many more Stingrays out. I was the one people kept saying when we were in conversation “so, you’re the guy we heard about that was stung.”) The “Stingray Shuffle” is the trick that surfers do as they scoot their feet along the sand, to create movement. This warns Stingrays someone is coming and they swim away to avoid danger – now I’ll be dragging my feet more often!

What was I really afraid of?

I wasn’t afraid of the pain or the bruise, but being a rookie, I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t have an allergic reaction or infection. So I asked a resort employee and they said “Stingray” and I was quickly escorted to the on-site clinic. The doctor was very friendly with a warm Mexican smile and laugh. He took me right into his one room chair, where before I knew it I was being prepped for injections and given a bunch of pills I couldn’t recognize. Through his broken English I understood I would receive some localized numbing, followed by a cortisone shot so that the tingling in my foot didn’t radiate higher. Then he applied some steroid and antibiotic cream to the wound and a bandage. The unmarked pills he gave me were painkillers and antihistamines (Claritin) – I skipped taking the painkillers because I prefer Tylenol + ibuprofen over the counter, but took the Claritin. Then I was over to the ATM (walking great!) grabbing some cash to pay for the service. 

Within a couple hours I the discomfort was 90% gone, and I was happy to know that all along the way I could resume our beach activities. I was very grateful for the experience, because it could have been much worse! NPR reported in 2014 that on Seal Beach in California, nearly 16,000 Stingrays dwell in the water, but only about 400 stings are reported each year. Most people heal just fine afterward. Of course there are the fluke happenings, like when our favorite Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin was stung in the chest, and it penetrated his heart and took his life back in 2006. That was a sad day for our family, we used to love watching his passion for animals and wildlife. 

What kinds of “stings” terrify you in your practice? Do you stay up at night worrying about payroll, employees leaving, or where you’re new patient sources will come from? It would be easy for me to quit and never go back into the ocean again. Statistically it will probably never happen to me again. But most importantly, I can’t let one sting keep me from enjoying a vacation with my family. Even if I was stung again, I’d be better prepared and know what to do next. 

If you have anything that is “stinging” your practice or professional career right now, please reach out to me and let me know how I can help!

Have a wonderful weekend and strong FINISH today!

Leave a Reply