Shot Through the Foot

by Rachel Gertz

Travis got stung by a stingray today. It’s not really something we had worked into the itinerary, but when shit like this happens, you just continue to document at the expense of being insensitive because stories are all you have once the poison oozes out.

He understands.

Trav should be writing this post, but he’s passed out on the bed having succumbed to the pain (and the tequila and anti-inflammatories Karissa and I fed him). Poor guy.

Travis Nursing His Sting Ray Wound

What Happened? 

It’s a fairly typical scenario. Boogie boarding in Jaco, walking on the ocean floor, chest deep in the waves. Rays bury themselves in the sand, so if they sense a strange foot in their craw they’ll go ninja on your ass and deliver a nasty offensive, a.k.a they’ll poke your ass (not literally) and envenomate you. That’s exactly what happened to Trav. He described it like stepping on a row of rusty teeth that went deep into the fleshy part of his foot. The pain began searing his leg like a BBQ’d leg of lamb immediately.

My Response?

I waved from about twenty feet away. Of course I didn’t know he’d gotten stung. Just because I take liberties writing about his pain, doesn’t mean I’m an asshole.  Anyway, I was drinking last night’s leftover wine on the beach and I sort of glazed over when I figured out what happened, not knowing if I should pee on his foot or if I should be screaming bloody “¡Ayudanos!” until someone came to help. A number of locals offered their sympathies and suggestions.

Of them, here’s a few that stuck out: 

  1. “Yeah man, it hurts —mucho duele. It’ll feel better soon. No es serio.”
  2. “Take this cup —please. You pee on it y sientas mucho mejor.”
  3. “Put your foot in sand, like this. It will stopping the pain.”
  4. “Ahh, depends on the person. In Florida, the pain lasted me three to five days. But I’ve heard they last longer here in Jaco. Good luck.”

After all this sage advice, we figured Trav needed a clinica stat, so we used someone’s cell phone to call a cab (you wouldn’t believe how stupid your brain gets when in a panic. I practically forgot the pathetic phrases of Spanish that would have that cab actually arrive in the right place). Then we raced to the clinic about two kilometres away, swerving around pedestrians and tour buses. The whole time Travis is writhing in the back seat, sweating and acting like a stab wound victim.

Well, I guess that’s pretty accurate. 

The doctora hauled him into the room while the nurses gabbed about their newest iPhone apps. I tried my best to fill out the paper work so Trav could be seen as quickly as possible. The whole ordeal felt slightly circus-like, minus the dancing bear & weird clown shoes. My mind was a piece of shit and I couldn’t think of the right phrases to say in Spanish.

How do you know you’re fluent? You can think in the language you want to speak when a shark has just ripped off your leg. I am not fluent.


They injected T-bone with a double dose of anaesthetic. Two needles right into the soft arch of his foot. But it didn’t ease the fire snaking up his leg and into his pelvis. Travis told me the pain was like the black mouth of Satan sucking on his marrow with a poison-tipped straw. And he’s not even religious.

“Agua caliente,” the nurse told me confidently. Hot water. As hot as Trav could stand. Of course, here in Costa Rica, hot water is a bit of a novelty. It’s typical to see wires attached to your shower head so the water coming out is literally shocked into being warm. Our shower offered luke warm water at best. I ended up begging the local bar owner to heat a pot of water for Trav.

In the meantime, Trav ran the flame from a lighter over his foot to ease the pain. Temporary relief. Of all the remedies for a stingray sting, hot water works the best. He draped his foot over the steaming bucket and let the heat suck out the poison. Amazingly, the relief was almost instant. 

What remains is to see how Travis fairs now that he’s doped up, numbed out, exhausted, and drunk. Sounds like a typical day at the beach, now doesn’t it?

I owe Karissa (not on Twitter) a squeeze because not only did she pay for the cab ride to the clinic and back, she spotted us cash for the $70 ($35 000 C) doctor consult, $20 worth of antibiotic cream and painkillers, the two shots of tequila we gave Trav to try to distract him, not to mention the twelve pack of beers we bought on the way back from the pharmacy, and hot wings we ate to make him feel better (best ever). I was so panicked and Trav wanted to just get to the clinic, I forgot his passport and his wallet with $5 in our room. Thanks K. We love you!! 

The Lesson Is…

Don’t mess with those stingrays. Even a nice animal can be a bitch on occasion. Well, except Stumpy, the friendly stingray in Perth that was recently slaughtered in front of horrified children.

Quick Facts

  • Sting Rays are generally very docile and won’t bother you unless you bother them. Travis’ stunning boogie boarding skills probably made the ray feel inferior, so it did the only thing it could: incapacitated Travis and swam off, smirking its little gill slits with secret stingray joy.
  • Rays have a venomous barb on their tails which contains a strong protein toxin. Heat can denature this protein. That’s why the hot water is recommended. It’s like frying an egg. Except it’s your foot and there’s venom in it.
  • The pain of a sting from a ray is comparable to the bullet ant. At least Travis would have you believe that. I have never seen anyone writhe in such pain, kicking, pulling off the sheets, swearing, and generally cursing the heavens for over an hour and a half. 
  • If a ray pierces your trunk (aka anywhere from your upper thigh to your chest, you sicko) you are one dead fish on a fish’s hook. Steve Irwin met this same end after a sting to the heart back in 2006. 
  • Peeing on your wound might be a placebo, but there’s really no need for this embarrassing act. It doesn’t help. It just makes you look drunk and plain uncouth.

Sting Rays Specs & Stings

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