I was all set to ditch you guys, unceremoniously. It’s not that I don’t love my Loyal Readers™—perish the thought! It’s just that I have these…these…obligations every December, and they stress me the fuck out in countless ways, large and small. Though the temperatures in NYC have been downright subtropical these days, I was looking forward to escaping to the actual subtropics, as a reward to myself for not strangling all those Salvation Army bell ringers to death with my bare hands. Well, not too many of them. It’s Christmas ferchrissakes! I’m not a monster, people.
Or maybe I am? Non-holiday related deadlines are now looming: I owe a piece to TPJ Magazine in two days for which I have not written word one, and I’ve also been dragging my ass WAY too long on Secular Woman‘s HerStory Project (I’m sorry Elsa!), for which my only excuse is: you don’t know my family.
Anyway on December 26 I changed my Facebook pic to Vacation Iris, my cover photo to “gone fishin” and offered up my goodbyes, ta-tas, good job on the War on Christmas, Happy New Years, etc. Then I flew to Miami and met my friend Scotty at Yardbird for a fabulous dinner. (FYI: cocktails with friends from NYC always taste better in Miami. TRUE FACT.)
This very morning I was hiking along the shallow surf of South Beach, taking pictures of my feet in the water (as one does) and gushing histrionically to My Amazing Lover™ that this, THIS, was one of life’s most magical pleasures.
“Are those jellyfish?” he asked of the gelatinous globs sparkling in the sun along the tide line. “I have no idea,” I said. “They seem kinda small for jellyfish? But hey, ocean critters are weird.”
On our way back, I stepped barefoot on the umpteenth patch of seaweed and heard a loud pop. “Hahaha,” I cackled. “That sounded like a balloon!” Within seconds a toe on my left foot was ablaze with pain. I pulled it out of the water and took a closer look: no obvious cuts or punctures. Indeed, it looked perfectly normal, or at least as normal as its doppelganger on my right foot. BUT HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS. Stinging, throbbing, aching, right down into the bone.
By the time I got back to the hotel it had only worsened. The blazing pain had now spread to my big toe and the ball of my foot. “What is this fuckery?!” I whined, and proceeded to google the shit out of this fuckery. “Miami beach pop sound pain” yielded various critiques of Gloria Estefan records, but alas nothing remotely related to my excruciating predicament. (Fortunately, My Amazing Lover’s Google-fu is far superior to mine.)
It turns out those gelatinous blobs strewn along the shoreline looked an awful lot like this:
Allow me to introduce you to Physalia physalis, also known as “Portuguese man-of-war.” Interestingly:
The stinging, venom-filled nematocysts in the tentacles of the Portuguese man o’ war can paralyze small fish and other prey. Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live organism in the water and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle.
Stings usually cause severe pain to humans, leaving whip-like, red welts on the skin that normally last two or three days after the initial sting, though the pain should subside after about 1 to 3 hours (depending on person).
It’s now been seven hours. A glass of sangria. A bottle of rosé. And counting. The pain is fucking excruciating, and so far shows no signs of abating.
However, the venom can travel to the lymph nodes and may cause, depending on the amount of venom, a more intense pain…There can also be serious effects, including fever, shock, and interference with heart and lung function. Stings may also cause death, although this is extremely rare.
!!! “Extremely rare” is good, amirite?
Physalia physalis features a gas-filled bladder it uses for buoyancy, which I am happy to report (FOR SCIENCE!) makes a delightful “pop” when crushed underfoot.
Also, I will be referring to these creatures as “sea squirrels” from now on. Fuckers.