Demi McGill is a native Chicagoan in her second year at the KU School of Pharmacy. In the 6th grade, she was stung by a jellyfish while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. She had enjoyed playing in the water for years with her grandparents and cousins. She thought it was just like any other trip to the beach, but it wasn’t. Here’s how it feels to be stung by a jellyfish.
Escaping the windy city to enjoy some time in the sun every winter was the best part of the year. My grandparents had had a condo on the beach since my mother was a child. My parents and I spent a week with them in Clearwater, Florida each Thanksgiving.
I’m an only child, which meant as an 11-year-old that year I could boogie board through the water by myself. It was red tide. The water was green. It smelled extra salty and extra rank. It was as if someone had dumped vats of fish sauce and garbage into the ocean. Dead sea creatures and broken seashells littered the sand.
I ran into the ocean as soon as we arrived, ready to boogie all day. I had my stomach on the board with my legs out behind me. Through the gunk I swam. I was dodging dead fish parts as quickly as I could, making a game out of it. I thought I was doing pretty well maneuvering through everything floating in the water, when a small wave carried a clump of seaweed over me.
Zap! I felt a tingling sting along the backside of my right leg. A jellyfish was tangled in the vines and had been dragged through the water and across my legs. I kicked the weeds away and paddled back to the beach. I ran over to my parents. I could feel the ocean water in my welts and it burned. When I reached my towel, I frantically told my mom and dad what happened.
My father thought it was nothing at first, but my spastic, helicopter mother insisted that I be taken to the hospital. I looked up at both of them while they bickered about what to do with me. My legs felt like they had been severely scratched, as if a cat had dug its claws deep into my skin and dragged them from the middle of my thigh to my ankle.
My mom got her way, so my dad scooped me up and carried me to the car. When we reached the hospital, I was taken into the non-emergency treatment area. My dad lifted me onto a hospital bed, and the nurse drew the curtain around the track closing us off from everyone else. She assured my parents and me that jellyfish stings were common, and that I would be treated and discharged quickly.
As she put on gloves, she was speaking to my parents, telling them what she was going to do next and how to care for the sting for the coming days. All I could think about was how much my legs were burning. The nurse squirted liquid from a bottle onto a piece of gauze and rubbed it over my scratches. Finally the stinging sensation began to subside. I spent the rest of my vacation in the sand.
My wound was large and ugly, but still had its perks. When I returned to school the Monday after the long holiday weekend, I showed everyone in my class. I felt cool, impressive, invincible. I was on a high until the other sixth graders asked, “Did your dad pee all over your leg?”