Antiseptic. Pliers. Scissors. Tweezers. Benadryl. Cocktails. Polaroid camera. Everything you need for a medical emergency.
We’d been on the island for lunch. Drank beers. Ate banana roti. Paid a delightful visit to a shore toilet. The standard drill. But time was getting short. The tide was going out and we needed to get back.
Pushing the dinghy off the beach proved a tad difficult. It was rocky, so we had to go further out before climbing in. That meant walking between the rocks and battling the waves. I was soaked to the boobs by the time I hauled my leg over the side.
We should have pulled anchor and left. The waves were already threatening to drop us on one of a dozen rocks. Only problem. There was a boatload of castaways headed our direction.
Several days earlier, we’d sailed out of Phuket as a duet. Two boats, sixteen people and Spider-Man. Well, not the real one. A three-year-old with a hero complex. These were friends, family. They’d been about an hour behind us, motoring over to the island. Six went in, leaving just two (and that friendly neighbourhood kid) on board. When the wind kicked up, they’d cut and run, calling in a favour. Could we stay and pick up their crew?
The shore party was already wading into the surf. Ten minutes tops. So, we’d wait. I went below to wash the salt off my face. Steadying myself as the deck heaved under my feet. Roll to the left, to the right and then, slam. Didn’t feel like a wave? The second time, we dragged. It sounded like the rock would cut right through the hull.
Shouts exploded overhead and the engine roared to life. I emerged from the cabin to find half our crew getting the boat underway while the rest attempted to tie up the incoming dinghy and haul it’s passengers aboard.
“How poisonous are sea urchins?”
Everyone stopped what they were doing. We stood, frozen. With only the sounds of the ocean and our own inner monologues running through aquarium visits and Blue Planet binges. Very?
His nervous laughter brought us back to reality. In getting their boat off the beach, he’d inadvertently stepped on one. We sat him down. Blinked a few times and then all started moving at once. Collecting the things we thought most valuable to a day surgery scenario.
The spines had gone through his heel at an angle. We could see the tips, just under the skin. Broken off with no exposed end. It looked grim. But like a sliver, it seemed the best thing to do was pull them out.
It was a scene. He held a tea towel between clenched teeth while they dug around. His foot propped up on the table. A couple people helped out, holding tools, a flashlight. And in the far corner, his brother lifted a Polaroid camera. Click.
The rest of us stood quietly. Watching. Was his foot turning purple? How thick were the spikes? And who needed a drink? No joke. It took about seventy-eight seconds for our resident bartender to determine that the best medicine was gin and juice.
“Do you think we should call Rob?”
I don’t know who said it. Maybe a few people. For reference, Rob is the captain of the other boat…and he’s a doctor. It’s the thing that makes travelling far from medical help a little less daunting. And yet, we’d gone to the internet first. Tapped into our inner millennials. Turned out the advice was the same. Try soaking the foot to help the spines come loose. Watch for signs of an allergic reaction. Hope for the best.
I’m only half kidding. While irritation is the most common side effect, sea urchin stings have been linked to low blood pressure, respiratory problems, unconsciousness and in very rare circumstances, death. It should put a damper on a sunny afternoon, but that’s just not how we roll.
We laughed. Walked our new friends through prior accidents. And chalked this up to no more than a mediocre disaster.
By the time they stumbled into their dinghy, the gravity of the situation had evaporated. There’d been no swelling. No laboured breathing. No dizziness. No need for the pills and creams we’d pulled together at a moment’s notice.
We’d averted disaster. Conquered the deep blue sea. Rescued a fellow sailor. Cue the A-team theme! Humming it now? You’re welcome.
Everyone gathered on our boat a few days later. An opportunity to see how the patient was doing. Spikes were still in. A little angry looking, but largely unchanged from the moment he’d clambered on board with that ominous question. If we hadn’t been there to help, he would have been … just fine. Really puts life in perspective.