Disclaimer: I am not Ashley.
I am here because Ashley and I share one very important person- my husband, who also happens to be her brother. She asked me to share my story about how on our honeymoon, I almost lost him.
Two years ago we had a destination wedding and stayed there for a honeymoon of free champagne, food, private beaches, swimming pools, and island dancing. It was the most fun we had ever had because I love love love the beach and this was Timothy’s first time at a non-Texas ocean!
Insight into us as a couple: we love adventure. So on our honeymoon we signed up for a full day excursion to snorkel off the reef of a volcano, hike through the rainforest to a waterfall, take a nature mud bath, and ride around almost the whole island of St. Lucia by boat. I have swam in oceans all around the world- Hawaii, Cayman, Bahamas, Caribbean, Mediterranean- and in all those years I never personally had a bad experience in the ocean. Being afraid didn’t even factor into our exciting day.
We met our tour guide and excursion group early on the 3rd morning and after a few layers of sunscreen and some excited hopping, we were on our way to our first excursion destination: snorkeling at the base of the Piton Mountains. We slowly rode around half the island, spotted a couple of whales that we attempt to chase down, and are just loving the ocean spray (it’s like the best thing for your skin- fun fact). But we also notice there’s a storm blowing in. The clouds across the ocean are getting pretty dark, and the waves are rough enough the captain has to slow our speed to not get knocked around. I’m thinking at this moment, good thing we’re snorkeling first! It’s actually pretty tricky to snorkel in the rain (picture raindrops coming down that tiny tube you breathe through). Not fun.
The water was not usually so cold, but the storm brought in a deep current and some pretty intimidating waves. It felt like swimming in the Artic, just so you get an idea. Long story short- there were barely any fish and I was getting slapped around like the wimpy kid in a street fight. Not to mention (literally- the tour guides failed to mention) there were jellyfish that lived over this reef that were too small to see, and when touched stung like a fire ant bite. I was in the water for about 10 minutes, or about 50 jellyfish stings, when I decided that I’m so over this. If Timothy wanted to be frozen and stung then he could do it alone. *(This is not a comparison to our marriage). I signaled to Tim that I would rather die than keep swimming in this storm, and I was heading back to shore. He told me he’s coming too, but wanted to swing out around the reef instead of shooting straight back.
I swam directly back to shore with such determination that I could have swam over the Little Mermaid and not noticed. Once I got to shore I saw him about 30 yards out heading in. I got distracted for a few long seconds at these cute little land crabs-then I looked back at Timothy and he wasn’t swimming anymore… he was thrashing violently in the water about 20 yards off the shore. Former lifeguard-Jennifer kicks into gear, I threw my mask, and stared running into the water. I made it only a couple of yards when he saw me, and started yelling and motioning for me to “stay out of the water!” This I was not expecting. So I stopped about waist deep to figure out what’s happening. By now another couple had noticed and jogged down from the beach to help me get Tim out of the water and onto the beach, where he fell down to his hands and knees. We saw his whole body wrapped in what looked like dark blue spaghetti. It looked like he got completely dominated in a silly string fight with his nephews. I had never seen anything like this before, and I assumed he ran into a swarm of jellyfish. I think: What bad luck on your first time snorkeling! Then…: ok Tim, this is a little dramatic, we’ve all been stung by jellyfish… But the longer he stayed on his hands and knees breathing deeply and saying over and over again how much it hurts I began to take him seriously. So the same man that helped him out of the water and I started to brush off the blue silly string, but it didn’t brush off. Even more disturbing was that when I touched the silly string, my fingers got a very strong shock and started burning with such strength that I realized this situation was much more serious than I initially thought. The tour guides reached us with vinegar and begin to pour the areas where we had picked off all the silly string. But when the vinegar poured on his skin, it seemed to double the pain. Everywhere the tentacles were attached had burned long, squiggly lines into his skin. He was having a hard time breathing and soon his fast, deep breaths turned into slow gasps- then he passed out on the beach.
Holy smokes. I’m kneeling over my newly (unconscious) husband thinking- absolutely nothing. Usually in emergency situations my head is very clear and I’m very contained. But at this moment I just stared at him. It took several long seconds until I blinked, checked his vitals, heard that he’s breathing, then stood up quickly (dropping his head onto the sand- sorry babe) faced the tour guides and asked- in a rather rude way that I’m not proud of- “are you going to DO SOMETHING?!” I adapted to angry-protective-wife pretty quickly.
We loaded up and sped over the waves like ski jumps to the nearest dock where there was an ambulance waiting. It was in the ambulance I realized that not only am I in just a bikini and sunglasses, that we don’t have our licenses’, proof of insurance, passports- nothing. Only one pair of jean shorts, sunscreen, and a Texas Rangers cap. EMT administered oxygen and started checking his vitals: even though it was very weak, he was breathing on his own. That might be the best news I ever heard (including that the entire FRIENDS series would be available on Netflix!).
After a bumpy ride we pulled up outside…well… I still don’t know what we pulled up to. It was a dirt road and a curb bordered by several screen doors in a sandy, unpainted, missing-some-planks, wooden building. We went through the screen door directly into a room with one hospital bed and a sheet for a door. I thought about slapping Tim awake so we could run out of there, but the doctor came in and she was friendly and professional. She asked me in broken English to describe the attack, then administered several injections. And I did pay special attention to her opening new packages of needles- I’m not an idiot. When asked what she thought would cause this kind of attack she educated me about an awful creature called “Portuguese Man-of-War”. But, interestingly, after one of the tour guides spoke to her outside, she wouldn’t tell us anymore about it. Shady. The tour guide tried to tell me it was a jellyfish but, once again- not an idiot.
He was unconsciousness for a long while, with his right hand clenched up in an abnormal position and his legs jerking and rolling around that little bed. I sat in a metal chair in that unpainted, concrete floor room with no air conditioner, no medical machines, a language barrier, no phone, no internet, and no idea what to do next.
After a few hours the shots helped manage his pain and contained the shock from spreading further, and he slowly woke up. They moved him to a communal bedding area until he felt strong enough to get up on his own. There were still burns where the tentacles had attached (his right hand, left hand, right arm, stomach, back, chest, and lower legs) and severe pain where the tour guides poured vinegar (his right hand and stomach). The doctor wrote a prescription for us, though I had absolutely no idea how to fill it, and notified us that the tour guide was going to boat us back to our resort. We loaded Tim up in a van, and he drove us to meet the rest of the excursion.
The ride back to the resort was not as enjoyable as the ride down to the volcano that morning, and when we unloaded on the beach and I walked Timothy straight to bed. The resort phoned to say they reimbursed our excursion, are filling our prescription, and will deliver his medication. We were never charged for a hospital stay, medication, ambulance, anything. You could definitely call that a blessing.
Timothy slept all that night, most of the next day, the next night, and only got up to walk to dinner the next day. Thank goodness I like to read.
When we landed in the States we started our internet search, this is what we found out about Portuguese Man-of-War:
It’s not a jellyfish but lots of jellyfish all in one creature. They don’t swim, but have a large bubble-type body that sits on top of the water and can drift close to shore during strong winds or currents. Their tentacles can typically be from 33-165 FEET in length, each with venom that when contact with skin cause “severe pain, whip-like, red welts on the skin, can cause an allergic reaction (clearly), fever, shock, interference with heart and lung function, and occasionally death (enter: guardian angel). Several articles on the Man-of-War stings warned specifically against treating stings with vinegar! Apparently vinegar dousing increases toxin delivery and worsens symptoms of stings, and increase hemorrhaging.
It wasn’t really until reading about the symptoms, especially death, that I felt both more afraid, and more grateful. I know God was keeping me calm and clearheaded during the situation, because the magnitude of what we had been through didn’t hit until much later. I’m so grateful for that. Timothy likes to joke that I was very nonchalant about him almost dying on that beach…sorry it come off that way! But the truth is I was never worried he would die. I felt peace through the whole situation. You cannot tell me my guardian angel is not Superman himself.
And in case anyone was wondering… he was back in the ocean before the trip was over.