I have been meaning to write this post as this happened three and a half months ago but I have been extremely busy. I used to blog everyday. Before I moved to El Nido, I posted something twice or thrice a day. One would think that with my moving to El Nido, to live in a native cottage that is roughly 15 square meters, with just the most basic necessities, without air conditioning and television, far away from the city, I would have more time to blog. As it is, I have barely written anything noteworthy since I sort of officially, permanently, moved here half a year ago.
Anyway, my 4-year old daughter and I went to an afternoon party at a beachfront restaurant along Corong-Corong Beach where we live. At the party, my daughter found one of her best friends, our 5-year old French neighbor, and together, they went swimming. They were out on a paddle board, while two Filipino boys ages 10-12 were on two surf boards following along and keeping watch. I was sitting on a bench on the beach, watching all of them from a distance.
I saw my daughter waist-deep in the water, as she had probably fallen off the paddle board, and heard her screaming “Help! Help!” while making frantic wading motions in the water. I ran towards her as fast as I could. By the time I got to where they were, my daughter Lia was already lying face down on one of the surf boards with one of the local boys. One of the boys had managed to fish her out of the water and up on the board. She was quiet but breathing heavily. I called out her name, and she slid off the surf board. She ran towards me. I was unsure of what was happening and I immediately took her into my arms, and felt the stings on my arms and my stomach, where her legs had touched my skin. “Ah, jellyfish!” and I put her back. There was no way I would be able to carry her myself back to shore so I borrowed the surf board from the boy and paddled us both back to shore.
On the shore, I walked towards the restaurant and calmly asked for a glass of vinegar. I poured the vinegar all over my daughter, all over her stomach, arms, hands, legs, chest, as well as on her face and ears. The owners and the staff came running to assist. She still had a lot of tentacles wrapped around her hands and legs. We picked them off of her one by one. We used two full glasses of vinegar on her.
My daughter was crying but not screaming. She was very brave and strong. I kept asking her if it hurt and she kept saying yes but she was very calm. She kept asking me to take her home and give her a bottle of milk that she takes as comfort food. I rushed her home up the path to the road, into a tricycle, off again into the street, down the path at the back of our house and all the way home to our cottage by the beach. I gave her a quick bath and gave her some paracetamol for what I expected would be a quiet night of applying hot water on the stings every now and then.
The locals said she would be fine, that there was nothing else I should do, that the stings would start to get itchy the next day but everything would be okay.
That’s when I took a photo of her right leg.
Then she started to whimper. I felt her body getting warmer. A fever was coming and she started to moan and was unable to sleep. I knew she was exhausted and hurting but I did not know what to do anymore. That’s when I posted the photo on my Facebook. Seconds later, one of my godparents commented, “Bring her to the doctor now.”
So I did.
El Nido does not have a proper hospital. We have clinics and resident doctors who, either work at the El Nido Resorts or do not work on weekends. A medical clinic opened last year and is supposedly open 24 hours. We came to the clinic but it was closed. The tricycle then took me to one of the town’s doctors, who happens to be a pediatrician but it was Sunday and the doctor did not see patients on weekends. We ended at the clinic of Dr. Reyes where we were promptly attended to. One cannot imagine how it is to be walking, nearly running around, with a whimpering, feverish toddler, going from one clinic to the next, looking for a doctor, alone, and only aided by a kind tricycle driver.
At the clinic of Dr. Reyes, she was prescribed medicines and topical ointments. We were asked to stay at the clinic for an hour so they can monitor her blood pressure. The doctor asked me if there was somebody with me who can help me and run to the drugstore to buy the prescribed medicines, and I, choking back my tears, said no. The doctor asked one of the clinic’s assistants to run to the drug store instead and buy the medicines for me. The doctor prescribed Prednisone, Cefuroxime Axetil, Ascorbic Acid, Cetirizine, and topical cream.
At the back room, we laid my daughter on a bed, while I applied ointments on her burning skin. When the medicines arrived, I gave them all to her. My phone kept ringing as family members in Manila called to ask about her condition. I did not answer. I was trying so hard not to cry and I was sure that that was what I would do if I did answer the phone. I did not want my daughter to see me cry and in a state of panic. I was so afraid. I knew my family would say it was all my fault and that I should have done this and that, and in my mind, I knew I tried to do what I could and a jellyfish sting was an accident. To my knowledge, it was not jellyfish season, and I of course did not think she was going to be stung out there, the entire time under my watch, my eyes never leaving the kids playing in the water.
I was told many things:
- that lots of locals get stung by jellyfish and after vinegar, everything was okay
- that jellyfish sting would be painful and be itchy for days after and it would scar but everything would be okay
- that jellyfish sting is okay as long as it is not on the belly button, when, in that case, it could be deadly
- that the stings would be itchy afterwards and scar, and the scar would be there “forever” as adults showed me the scars from their jellyfish stings from years back
- that first aid is vinegar, or hot water, or honey, or urine
But in the end, this is what I learned:
- The extent of my daughter’s jellyfish stings were too much for us not to bring her to the doctor.
- That the very first aid to jellyfish sting is to remove the tentacles as fast and early as possible so as not to burn deeper into the skin.
- That one can do this even when still in the water, in the absence of vinegar, by scraping the area with wet sand.
- That to remove more of the tentacles, pour hot water or vinegar on the area to dissolve any remaining tentacles embedded in the skin.
- That honey AND urine do not do anything. Urine is first aid for sea urchin. Urine dissolves sea urchin spines that break off and get embedded in the skin.
- That I did well when I took her home and immediately gave her paracetamol for possible fever and anti histamine for possible allergic reaction.
- That accidents happen and it is not always my, as a mother, fault.
- That it sucks to be alone but when you are, you do everything in your power to be strong. That it is most important, as a mother, not to show that you are in panic and that you are afraid.
- That is important, no matter how afraid, or alone, or in panic you are, not to cry. If you, as the mother, are strong, then your child would draw strength from you.
In the end, my daughter and I survived this unfortunate incident – with a lot of learned lessons and faced them all together with strength.
She never complained about any pain or any itchiness. On the second day, as she was laying on the bed, I asked her to pose for a photo to send to our friends who were worried about her and asking how she is, and this is what she gave. A smile.
As if she was not in pain. We knew better. We knew it was painful and itchy. We knew she was suffering but she gave such a warm and bright smile. My daughter. I have never been so proud.
To this day, my daughter carries the scars on her hands, stomach, chest, buttocks and legs. She is less inclined now than before to go into the water to swim, saying there might be jellyfish, but she is not totally aversed to going into the water. She has some phobia but I keep telling her that jellyfish is not in the water all the time.
We apply topical creams on her scars, in the hope that they would lighten or eventually disappear. It may take years or it may not at all. I bought her Bio-Oil and apply them on the scars. I bought her Radiance Cream that the dermatologist prescribed. If the scars don’t go away, then she can have wavy artsy tattoos on her hands to cover them. They look kind of pretty actually.
*** All photos were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S4 in October 2013.