It was a beautiful evening in Aberdyfi. A delicate breeze whispered through the rushes in the warm dunes as Coyote and I made our way down to the deserted shore; the quiet incoming waves washing over our toes as we slowly walked along the tide line.
When I was growing up, my dad, brother and I saw the Dyfi Estuary and local beaches as our playgrounds. We swam, we body-surfed, we kayaked and we canoed...and no weekend was complete without getting salt in our hair and sand in our shoes! Coyote was brought up in a city, so I thought it was time to introduce him to the Mid Wales ocean.
We waded out into the water; the initial shock of the chill fading fast...even when it finally froze my boobs through my wetsuit. (Trust me - that's the moment when you know you're properly soaked!) We held hands and let the increasing waves buffer us, laughing and smiling as the sun gradually dipped lower in the sky. It was so tranquil, so relaxing...and then it happened.
The pain shot through my foot like a red-hot poker. The words that spewed forth from my lips were bluer than the sky. I'd trodden on some unidentified object that was lurking on the sea bed; something sharp...something evil. It certainly wasn't a shell - the pain was far too great for that. I limped to the shore not knowing what I was going to find when I examined my foot...which was by now throbbing relentlessly. I flopped down on my bodyboard (it's a Gul. It has a slick bottom. Mmm...slick bottom...) and lifted my injured extremity, for a moment terrified by what I would see...
A tiny puncture on one of my toes. I wiped the blood and seawater away as a concerned Coyote looked on, ready to carry me back to the car. It didn't make sense! How could such a small injury cause so much pain? The first thing that came to mind was glass. Just in case I had some in there, I sucked the wound as hard as I could in an attempt to dislodge anything that might be embedded in my flesh. Still the pain persisted. A syringe, perhaps? I began to make plans to call my GP to have my bloods checked.
Coyote carried all our kit as we walked - well, he walked and I limped - over the golf links to the car park.
We got back to HQ shortly before the daylight disappeared. By now, my toe was beginning to swell and grow hard to the touch; the skin paling as blood struggled to flow through. I picked up my phone...
(Well...it is 2012. A crisis isn't a crisis if you don't tweet about it...!)
Soon enough I started to get replies. Suggestions ranged from a shark (I still had my leg so I doubted that was likely) to a shopping trolley - as propounded by Derek Brockway. I assured him it wasn't a trolley. As it was Aberdyfi, it was more likely to have been a discarded chandelier. They have champagne on their chips in Aberdyfi.
Then a reply from Tracey in Pembrokeshire caught my eye. They know about the sea in Pembrokeshire...
Oh. Hadn't thought about that. I've been splashing about in the water for years and never been on the receiving end of a weaver/weever fish spine. It's something that you always expect to happen to others. I tweeted her back, asking if they left a small puncture wound and she promptly replied...
I'd only just been for a wee (TMI, sorry!), so Coyote rustled up a bowl of hot water which I promptly immersed my foot in. The pain immediately started to fade.
The following morning, my toe was still hard to the touch and having circulation problems, but that was just the poison working through. The main thing was that I could now put weight on my foot...so I could enjoy the impending weekend in Scotland with Coyote!
Thank you, Tracey. You're a star! xxx
WEEVER FISH - THE BREAKDOWN
Look at it. Look at it lying there; hiding in the sand, waiting to stick you with its venomous spines so it can laugh at you as you limp away, crying.
Ok, that's not actually what it does...but that's what it feels like when you're unfortunate enough to wind one up!
The lesser weever fish has an enormous gob. Think Julia Roberts...only bigger and with less lipstick. It lies in wait for smaller fish to unwittingly swim into range; then it snaps them up and enjoys a sushi feast. It's not the teeth you have to worry about though. Oh no. It's the dorsal fin that sticks up above the sand.
Three black spines protrude from the body, waiting to defend the little fish from bigger, bully fish...and, unfortunately for us, innocent seaside-goers.
As you've probably gathered, if you've been stung by one, you know about it. As Tracey said, the best course of treatment is to immerse the wounded limb in hot water - as hot as you can bear without scalding - and leave it there for around 15 minutes. The more time that passes before treatment, the longer the immersion should be. The venom is heat-liable, so water over 40°C should do the trick.
Occasionally, the spine may break off and be left in the flesh. If this is the case, you need to remove it as soon as you can. Treat it like a splinter...make sure you wince a lot and make hissing noises as you - or someone with good eyesight, a steady hand and some tweezers - removes it for you. Then clean the wound thoroughly. I would recommend TCP...but I spilt a tiny drop of it on my study sofa a fortnight ago and the room still smells like a hospital...so I'd go with Dettol if I were you.
If the pain doesn't ease within a few hours, or if you think there's another cause for concern (headache, shortness of breath, vomiting, dizzyness, a desire to bury yourself in the sand and attack surfers or an insatiable craving for raw shrimp), get to A&E. You won't suffer any long-term effects, but they'll be able to ease the symptoms quickly for you.
Heed my tale, folks. Next time you go to the beach, wear something sensible on your feet. I suggest thick-soled aqua shoes, trainers...or moon boots.