In light of the bajillions (that’s an approximate number) of Portuguese Man-O-Wars that have washed ashore here on the east coast of Florida of the last few days, I thought I would share my personal experience with this devil creature from back in 2011. Here, is how to treat a Portuguese Man-O-War Sting, and exactly what it feels like!
*This post was originally written on January 7th of 2012, when I was a smidge less toddler-friendly with my language and much more carefree with my punctuation. I’ve cleaned it up as much as possible, but wanted to keep some of the original flavor so you know just exactly how bad this hurt!
It was a typical end of the summer Wednesday for us. Our one day off together during the week and the weather was amazing, so fishing we went! On this particular day we went to Amelia Island State Park because our favorite (Hugenot) was closed for some bird mating season or something. We’d been out on the beach a while and the fish had just started to bite. I remember that specifically because Lane had just caught some bait fish and I was stepping into the water to fill up the bucket for them when it happened.
To anyone that has been stung by a jellyfish… don’t even start. I’ve been stung by jellyfish. Like a million times, in fact. This is NOT a jellyfish sting. A jellyfish sting is a pleasant tickle compared to the horror of a man of war sting. In fact, I would have PAID to have a jellyfish sting me over this insanely gut wrenching, make-me-cry-so-hard-I’m-going-to-vomit type of pain. And the real b*tch of it is that I was in water as deep as the sting goes up on my ankle. Out of how many BAJILLIONS of miles of shoreline, I stepped directly into this entangling trail of man of war tentacles.
The pain was so intense and so instant, that the second my ankle hit the water, my vision went black and I fell to the ground. I screamed a blood curdling scream and immediately began to cry hysterically. It is such an insane feeling and it is very difficult to explain, but I’ll give it my best shot…
It feels like a combination of an electric shock (because it literally does jolt your entire body), a milllion needles dipped in lava, annnnnd maybe acid? And it feels like a net. Like whatever is hurting you may be all over your entire body and you don’t know what to do to get it off. And it’s instant. It’s not like when you cut yourself or something and it takes a few seconds for the pain to really set in. My foot hit the water, and my ass hit the ground. Instant. Yeah. I think that’s as accurate as I can get.
So as I’m sitting on the beach (still unable to see) grabbing my ankle, Lane is beyond confused because he can’t see anything on me, and I’d literally only had one foot in the water. I think between sobs I managed to say something about “sting” and he looked down at my ankle and furiously started pulling off long, stringy, clear tentacles that had completely swallowed my ankle, and in places had wrapped all the way up my calf. Is it calf? Calve? Neither one look right. My leg.
I was crying so hard and the pain wouldn’t stop and we were in a panic. Lane thought that I was about to go into shock, because I literally was sobbing so much that I was close to throwing up. My whole leg was throbbing (and itching!) and burning and the only thing I could think to do was to rub sand all over it. And I mean I buffed that sucka down like I was getting ready to apply a new coat of stain. Word to the wise should you find yourself in this position: DO NOT RUB SAND ON IT. We’ll get to the exact reason why in just a bit, but long story short, it makes the sting much worse and it is highly unadvisable.
Lane was feverishly Googling remedies… anything basic (meat tenderizer – which wouldn’t you know it, we just didn’t happen to have in our beach bag!) or anything acidic (pee, coffee – we had both) is supposed to be the ticket to reducing the pain.
*Editor’s note… the most recent articles on the Man-O-Wars in Jacksonville in the last few days say that urine does not help, so I wouldn’t recommend it… unless you enjoy getting a golden shower while writhing in pain.
This is the disgusting concoction that I soaked my leg in for about 2 hours.
Well, I let it soak long enough to let the pain subside enough to where I could even entertain the idea of moving/standing again. It is a mixture of melted ice (“they” also do not recommend putting ice on the sting – it’s the only thing that really made mine feel better, so whatever), coffee, salt water, and tobacco.
We didn’t know what else to do. Sidenote: we now have meat tenderizer in the toolbox of Lane’s truck. SO, after an hour or so, I finally stopped crying and could locomote enough to get back in the truck and head home. That night SUCKED. My whole leg throbbed and was itchy and just uncomfortable.
Over the next few days as it started to heal (or so I thought), whenever I’d stand for more than a minute or two in the same place, my foot, ankle, and leg all would start to tingle and go numb. Sometimes I would even get jolts of what felt like electric shock in my toes.
And just for reference of how serious this actually is, this happened just over six months ago and my foot and ankle STILL tingle and go numb from time to time. Apparently – thanks to Google – I now know that the nematocytes in the tentacles can do nerve damage. Man of wars can even kill people. I know that most everyone who knows me thinks that I’m a major over-reactor (my parents call me “Bette Davis”), but this one was legit!
A few days later I thought that I was in the clear. My leg appeared to be healing up nicely, and although I had a newfound respect (and petrifying fear) of the ocean, I was going to be just fine.
Cut to exactly one week later. The freakin’ ITCHINNNNNNNNNNNG started. And it wouldn’t stop. I tried Benadryl, Benadryl cream, I tried giving in and just clawing the crap out of my leg. Nothing would make the itching stop.
It felt like it wasn’t even my skin that itched. It felt like it was about the 2 layer of muscle that was itching and no matter what I did I couldn’t get to it. After several hours of being tortured by poison ivy of the muscle, I concluded that we had a problem. This is what my leg looked like. A WEEK later…
Slightly less than ideal. All of those grody little bumps are where the nematocytes had embedded into my skin – because of the SAND that I had fiercely scrubbed all over it – and as they started to “heal” and come out of my skin, they all fired off their handy little stinging/itching/nerve damaging things again. Perfect. To the urgent care we go.
Suprisingly, the urgent care place was awesome. We were in and out in 40 minutes and for less than $100. The diagonosis? “Infected Man of War Sting”. Really? I mean is this even a THING? Has this even happened to anyone else ever in the history of LIFE, or is this my amazing knack for ridiculous injuries rearing it’s ugly tentacles again? For cryin’ out loud. They gave me two prescriptions – one for the itching, and one antibiotic horse pill – and I had to take them both for ten days.
As it started to heal more and more, I wondered, “is this bad boy going to SCAR?” Well, here we are 6 months later…
Yikes. From now on, this electric shock leg will be staying on shore and enjoying a good book!
So that’s it my friends! To recap, if you’re stung by a Man-O-War:
- No sand!
- No pee.
- Meat Tenderizer or Vinegar.
I’m happy to report that six years later, I’ve recovered nicely. You can still see a bit of the scarring if you look really hard, but no more electric jolts.
Still though, even after years, the reports of all of the beaches being full of these spawns of Satan are definitely enough to make me stay away!
If you brave the ocean and see one of these blue blobs floating on top of the water, remember that their tentacles can be up to forty feet long, and swim as fast as you can back to the comfort of your beach chair… and when you pack your beach bag, don’t forget the sunscreen, a hat, and your favorite meat tenderizer!
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