Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 ~ The Year of the Octopus

2011 was definitely an interesting year for me. I got to visit a lot of new places and experience a lot of new things. One new thing that I wouldn't have counted on landed me the distinction in my office of "Most Likely to Get Bitten by a Cephalopod." Ah yes, 2011 was indeed "The Year of the Octopus."

The octopus and his hideout
I LOVE the beach. I'd rather be at the beach than anywhere on earth. I love to look at the ocean and I respect the ocean, but the fact is, when it comes to swimming in the ocean, I am truly the "Chicken of the Sea." I do enjoy snorkeling for shells (in shallow water, very close to're never going to catch me out scuba diving...not gonna happen). What am I afraid of? Well, sharks for one. No, you don't hear about many shark attacks in our area, but I know there are sharks out there. Hillsboro Inlet, where we snorkel is teeming with barracuda (another fish I fear, even though they are just curious and rarely do more to humans that stare you down). What I wasn't afraid of (obviously) was a baby octopus.

Rob first spotted the baby octopus in about six feet of water in the inlet, right on the edge of where the sand drops of to what I like to call "the abyss." It's really just a few feet deeper, but way deeper than I would ever venture. We had never seen an octopus at the inlet, and honestly, I didn't know that they lived in the tropics. He convinced me that I wouldn't get attacked by a shark or a barracuda if I just went and checked out this cool baby octopus that was just hanging out on the sand. I tentatively swam out, looked at it, and immediately swam back to my "comfort zone." I told Rob to try and catch it for our saltwater fish tank. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "How?" I said, "Just pick it up!" He flat-out refused, so I let it go.

The next weekend, I was snorkeling in about two feet of water. There were tons of beautiful shells near the shoreline, and I was having a great time collecting them. I lifted up a piece of coral, and guess who was there? The baby octopus! I wasn't afraid of it at all...I knew that octopi have beaks, but I figured that it may just wrap it's tentacles around my hand or something. I tried to grab it, and it jetted away and inked. No octopus for our tank that weekend either.

The following weekend, I was snorkeling for shells in the same area I was the week before. I spotted a large, broken conch shell. I decided to pick it up, because our fish like to have hiding places in the tank. When I picked up the conch, I realized that it was occupied by...the octopus! Woo-hoo! I captured the octopus!  I yelled to Rob to get a bucket of water to put the shell in while we finished swimming.
The moment of envenomation
As we were getting ready to leave, Rob told me that he didn't think bringing the octopus home was a good idea. It may crawl out of the tank and/or eat all of our fish. I was disappointed, but agreed that he had a point. I told him that I wanted to get a picture of it for the kids. I reached in the bucket and picked it up. As it was sitting in my palm, Rob was trying to take a picture with my phone. All of a sudden, I felt a little pinch and said, "It's biting me!" It wasn't overly painful. I'd been pinched by a hermit crab before and hurt much worse. All of a sudden, I felt warmth radiating up into my fingers and my body and mind went into panic mode. I said to Rob, "Oh my gosh, are octopi VENOMOUS??!!!" Rob said he didn't think so, but he'd Google it on the phone. Meanwhile, he's yelling at me telling me to throw the octopus overboard (WHY was I still holding it?), which I did. He got really quiet and said, "Uh, yes, all octopus are venomous...try sucking the poison out of your hand." So, I did. It was nasty and bitter and my heart was pounding. Then, I started hyperventilating. I was convinced that the venom was coursing through my system and I was going to die - all because I had stalked this poor baby octopus! 

Rob tried to calm me down, telling me that I was just having a panic attack, but there was NO calming me down. I was sure I was dying. A Broward Sheriff's office boat was anchored in the inlet, so I flagged him down. (Notice: I flagged him down, not Rob, who was no doubt more embarrassed than concerned that I may be dying.) I told the officer that I had been bitten by an octopus and I didn't know they were venomous and now I couldn't breathe and I was afraid I was dying... Naturally, he looked at me like I was insane and said, "I didn't know that octopus bite people." But, being a public servant, he humored me and called the paramedics, asking us to pull up to the docks just inside the inlet to meet them.

By the time we got to the docks, I had calmed down enough to realize that Rob was right - I was just having a panic attack. My hand was swollen and turning purple, but I could breathe a lot better. Mortified, I told the officer that I would be fine, and that he could tell the paramedics not to come. He told me that they were already on their way, so I should probably let them check out my hand. (In other words, give them something to talk about back at the station.) 

Let's give 'em something to talk about!
While we were waiting, the officer did a little research on his phone and told me that my body should metabolize the venom within a couple of hours. I told him that I guess the octopus didn't like being out of the water, to which he responded, "Yeah, he was octopissed!" (You've gotta love a cop with a sense of humor!). Then, the ambulance pulled up. At least FIVE paramedics climb out. (I can just imagine how Rob was feeling at this point.) What's the first thing they say to me? "You got bitten by an octopus? I didn't know those things bite!"  They took my vitals and determined that I was okay, but offered to take me to the hospital. (Can you IMAGINE?) They recommended that I clean the wound well and follow up with my doctor. 

I opted not to go to the doctor, and treated my bite wound myself. I read online that it could take up to six weeks for the wound to heal, so I wasn't really worried about it. The swelling had started to go down after a couple weeks, and other than itching like crazy sometimes, it wasn't too bad. About three weeks after I got bitten, we went on vacation and I tried paddleboarding. By the time we got back home, my hand was swollen again (looked like a giant man-hand), red and itchy, so I decided to call the doctor.

My nasty, irritated "man hand"
(The wound looks like an octopus eye, doesn't it?)
I adore my family doctor - he always makes me laugh, whether I am at his office for a well visit or a sick visit, or running into him in Publix. He's just an all-around great guy. So, I call his office and tell the receptionist why I need to make an appointment. She tells me that she'd like me to speak to the nurse. About 30 seconds later, my doctor gets on the phone and says, "Nancy, what are you doing getting bitten by an octopus?!" He told me to come in because I should be on antibiotics. As I was sitting in the waiting room, the door opened and he poked his head out and said, "Oh, not YOU! The octopus!" He thought the whole situation was pretty amusing. He explained to me why my hand felt the way it did (itchy and hard because of the web of scar tissue forming underneath the puncture wound) and why it had gotten all swollen again (I irritated it holding the paddle). He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and steroids (to take down the swelling) and sent me on my way. To this day, every time I see him, he refers to me as "Octopus Woman." :) 

It's been six months since my octopus encounter. My hand has gone pretty much back to normal, but you can still see where the little guy dug his beak into my palm. A guy at the dive shop told me that baby octopus have more venom than full-grown octopus. I guess it could have been worse. I definitely learned my lesson though. That'll teach me for trying to be brave! ;)

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

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