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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Even Lie-around Beach Vacations Have Their Hazards

“We’re going to Cuba,” Service tells me as we zip along in our Hobie Cat sailboat, the Jamaican coast appearing smaller by the minute.
“I don’t have my passport.”
“That’s OK; you’re with me.” He smiles.
He tells me it’ll take four hours to get there, after I ask. Since we don’t have water or any provisions, and the day is late, we decide an early start tomorrow will be a better opportunity. We’ll lunch on the island-nation, and I’ll be back in time for dinner at the resort with my husband.
Of course, our talk has been in jest. Why would I want to spend eight hours of my vacation at sea when I could be soaking up luxuries at the all-inclusive resort?

Mark and I are in Montego Bay, and Service (that’s his name), a watersports guy, has taken me sailing several times. I feel safe on or in the water with him. He’s also taken me snorkeling twice. However, the first time I go snorkeling is Service’s day off.

The leader of our snorkeling group directs us smack into a school of jellyfish. I’m swimming near the back of the group of 10 and pull up when I notice a jellyfish inches in front of my mask. I tread and scan across the water, just below the surface. They are all over the place: transparent tubes, with half-dollar-sized diameters and what look like strawberry seeds in them. The ones I see are about 18 inches long and folded over haphazardly, like miniature Slinkys. Service tells me later that they are usually more than three feet long.
I freak out, there are so many. I lean back and back-paddle out of there. Within seconds I hit one with my left forearm. I scream, more from being startled than from the pain. It’s not much worse than a bee sting. Tiny barbs only a couple millimeters long hang from my forearm in a narrow horseshoe pattern from four inches above my wrist up nearly to my elbow crease. Would it be better to pull them out or to let them be, I don’t know.

On my swim over to the escort in his kayak, I spot a large ray swimming toward the other snorkelers. I shout a heads up and then pull my arm from the water. The worker gently touches my arm and says to swim in and visit the watersports shack so someone there can apply vinegar to it, to take the sting away.
Almost 10 minutes have passed by the time I get to the shack, and a woman there tells me to rinse it before she pours the vinegar. I turn on the hose, let the water run over my forearm, but the barbs are stuck. I notice a thin, transparent goo came with them.  I use my thumb on the end of the hose, but the increased pressure does nothing to budge the stickers.
Mark should see these things, how tenaciously they hang on. I turn off the water and run off to search for him.
He’s not on the pool deck. Maybe he is still in our room yet. It’s ground-floor and is quite convenient with its patio being just beyond the pool. Intending to knock on the sliding glass door to see if he’s there, I run through the wet grass and step on the patio, but my foot slides across the tile and I crash down on the edge and scream for the second time that morning, more from pain this time. Mark is not in the room, and as I lie there a minute to recover, I realize he’s likely at the gym, too far away for me to get to—because this sting is starting to really hurt.
I limp back around the pool, and a gentleman tending flowers there asks if I’m OK. Not thinking of my most recent injury, I tell him of the sting. He says the best thing is to pee on it. I smile, tell him I’ll try it if the vinegar doesn’t work and head for the watersports shack.

Several people from the snorkeling group are lined up, hosing off various body parts, and the rest of the group is coming in from the beach. They’ve all been stung. As I wait my turn for the vinegar, I decide to pick the stingers out. I wish I’d done this earlier because it offers some relief. An English woman in front of me sees that my sting covers more area than anyone else’s so insists I be next for treatment.  I tell her what the gardener told me about peeing on the sting. “Well, they would know, wouldn’t they?” she says.

I sit by the pool, and after 10 minutes the sting returns. “Why not?” I think.
In the room I grab a glass from the sink and step into the shower. I empty my bladder into the glass and pour its contents down my arm. The pain disappears. Immediately. And it never returns.
Now, three weeks since the jellyfish sting, the bruises on my knee and foot, resulting from the patio wipeout, are barely visible, but the horseshoe pattern of tiny red bumps on my arm is still obvious. I can’t expect when they’ll fade.
The more visible injuries I have, the more memorable the vacation. This was a good one.