Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lionfish First Aid

How to treat a lionfish "sting":

 1.  REMOVE ANY VISIBLE SPINES (don't dig them out)

  Put the affected area in as hot of water you can stand without burning.  Right now.  Hot water.  Keep up the hot water for as long as you can.  Reheat as necessary.

3.  Watch for signs of an allergic reaction. Call 911 if there are signs of anaphylaxis.  
 4.  Be more careful next time. 
5.  You won't die, but you may want to. 

(Disclaimer (isn't it sad that this is even necessary?  We are so litigious.):  I am not a doctor, nurse, EMT, or any other trained medical practitioner.  I am merely the first aid responder in our family's lionfish sting encounter.  Ask a doctor or call poison control if you want more advice.)
For more information, click here.

 OK.  Now that we've gotten the answer out of the way, here is the pesky back story that most bloggers, including myself, start with.  But when I really want to know how to substitute eggs in a recipe, I don't really care how the blogger's day went and all of the other boring unimportant details of how their toddler's potty training is coming along.  

Answer, please!!

If you're interested in the back story, keep on reading.  If not, leave now.  It will be boring, unimportant details that will not help you feel better at all if you are looking for lionfish sting treatment. 

Jerry has been spearfishing for years, and despite the poisonous spikes of the lionfish, he has successfully speared and killed dozens of these invasive, voracious reef hunters. 

He's always been very careful to avoid the spikes, using any tool necessary to keep his phalanges far away from the pain.  Even the kids subconsciously keep their fingers far away from the lionfish. 

So if Jerry is so safe, how did he get poked?  Simple:  GREED.

We were out on the boat as a family, along with a family friend on his boat.  Jerry and our friend are both hunters, not fishermen, so we went to one of their favorite spots to spear some big fish.

They were in the water for maybe 20 minutes, each scoring a few large reef fish, as the kids and I watched out for sharks and waited to cheer their successes.

It's a big thing, spearfishing spectating.  We watch Jerry's arm pull back on the sling.  We watch Jerry dive down to retrieve the spear and hopefully a fish.  Jerry, when successful, resurfaces and raises up the fish as we burst into applause, hooting and hollering, with vicarious triumph.

But this trip was different.  After he resurfaced from taking a shot, he immediately swam back to the boat, throwing the lionfish and spear into the boat as we all scrambled to get out of the way.

He pulled off his gear, telling us he got stuck trying to spear two lionfish on the same spear.  He had one on there already, and as he (???) tried to shoot again, the first fish slipped back and stabbed him in the knuckle of his right hand.

The pain began within a few minutes; not much at first, then quickly progressing to probably a 8-10 on the pain scale. 

He described it as if he were being repeatedly stabbed in the hand by a burning red ice pick.

As we were about to get dumped on by a rainstorm, and not knowing how long the pain would last, we headed to a beach right down the shoreline to wait out the rain and the pain.

How stupid were we to have zero knowledge about what to do.  Dummies.  The bunch of us.  


1.  What would you do if you had severe pain that felt like burning, along with major swelling?

a.  add hot water
b.  add cold water
c.  pee on it
d.  amputate the affected limb

We answered "b", because that's what we've always been told:  Twist an ankle?  Put ice on it to decrease pain and swelling.  Rash?  Ice.  Sunburn?  Ice.  

If you also answered, "b", you would be as wrong as we were.  

After an hour of intense suffering, we realized his hand was getting worse and we needed to do something.  I had him put his hand into the small cooler full of ice that we had, and he alternately put his hand in and took it out again.  He said it hurt not to have the ice, but also hurt to have the ice.  

We had a long boat drive back to the dock, but thankfully our friend was there to back the trailer into the water.  We immediately headed home to find out what to do.  

Poor Jerry was writhing in agony while the kids and I sat silently, praying, and trying not to aggravate the situation with pesky words.

Upon arriving back at the house, Jerry went to take a shower in case he needed to go to Nassau for treatment, and I got online to look up lionfish first aid.

That's when I discovered that I had really messed up and done the exact wrong thing.  


Immediately I ran into the bathroom to tell him to put his hand in hot water.  I yelled, "HOT WATER!!" at the exact same time the water got hot in his shower and he felt instant pain relief, with Jerry yelling, "HOT WATER!!"

As there were no barbs left in his skin, and he was not showing any anaphylactic shock symptoms, we knew he would be OK.  He soaked his hand in hot water for a few hours, threw back a few Dark and Stormys, and by the next day he was experiencing only minor to moderate, yet bearable, pain.  

His hand was insanely swollen for days, and his knuckle remained swollen and immovable for weeks.  Eventually he needed antibiotics to clear up a lingering infection, but the pain and most of the swelling were gone. 

He still can't totally straighten that finger as his knuckle if full of scar tissue.  Hopefully with more time, he will regain full range of motion with that hand. 

From all of this we learned a lot.  Here's a quick summary:

1.  If it stings you and is from the ocean, add hot water.  (Lionfish, sea urchins, etc.)
2.  Don't wait it out.  Get home, get treatment right away.
3.  One should not try to get two lionfish on the same spear.
4.  I should learn how to back up a trailer and be less useless backing things up.
5.  Lionfish taste great.  Even if they have previously stung you.

In the end, we ate the SOB that stuck Jerry.  He was tasty.  And Jerry now has a personal goal to kill every and all lionfish he spots, even the little ones. 

Lionfish:  1

Jerry:  5,484

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