Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hazards of Hawaii

Three weeks in and we've encountered two "near death" hazards. [quotation marks because the kids describe these incidents as near death, not because they truly nearly died.  Grammas please don't worry, your grandbabies are alright.]

Hazard #1 Strong Currents

Last week Monday it was Kirkham's day to choose the beach we would play at for the day.  He chose Pounders.  Pounders is an aptly named beach nicknamed such because of the sheer force and strength of the waves crashing up onto the beach.  Pounders is a part of Laie Beach Park and is a favorite of local boogie boarders and, in the right conditions, surfers.  My boys love this beach.  The girls and I, not so much. Alas, it was Kirkham's turn to choose the beach and he had suffered through several days of Mom's, Afton's and Cora's boring beach choices without too much complaint. He deserved a day of hard-core boogie boarding.

Though it wasn't their favorite beach it was a beach and the girls couldn't be kept away from the water for long.  They gravitated to the less violent north beach break and  set out frolicking and playing in the waves after a short lecture on beach safety:

  1. don't go in over your head
  2. stay within 50 yards, up or down the beach, of where mom is on the beach
  3. stay with a buddy at all times
  4. if you suddenly find yourself too far out or in need of assistance call immediately and loudly for help and float on your back (so as not to wear yourself out)
The day proceeded as usual and the kids checked in several times for new applications of sunscreen, drinks of water or to show me crabs or shells or new tricks.  I pretty much stayed on my mat on the beach alternately sunbathing and reading. It was during one of my sunbathing rotations that I was roused from my rest by calls of help from Cora.

I popped up and spotted Cora's and Kirkham's heads bobbing in the waves.  I could immediately tell that even in the lows of the waves Kirkham could just barely touch the bottom of the ocean floor.  I quickly stripped my sunglasses and hoodie and ran full speed into the waves (I like to think I looked a little like a Baywatch lifeguard but in reality I probably looked like the crazed and concerned mother I am).

I pushed through the pounding shore break and swam out into the waves to grab Cora.  Kirkham was saying, "I knew I wasn't strong enough to rescue her so I was just trying to stay close and encourage her.  That's what I learned to do when I got my lifesaving merit badge in scouts."   We all three body surfed in and tromped back up onto the dry sand.  Cora was completely worn out.  Relieved she blurted out, "I was swimming as hard as I could and the water just kept pulling me further out."  I reassured them both that they had done the right thing, they stayed together and called for help.  They were tired and scared but Cora was now safe thanks to Kirkham.

Within 30 minutes they were back playing in the waves.  When they told their dad that evening the story of the day they title it The Day Cora Almost Died.

Hazard #2 Jelly fish

One of the first things we were told when we got here was to always carry a squirt bottle of vinegar in our beach bag.  If we got stung by a jelly fish we could squirt the vinegar on to counteract the sting.  We have carried it religiously and have used it at least once a week to rid ourselves of the fiberglass-like feel of a minor jelly swat. I've been stung, Dave's been stung, Cora and Afton have both been stung.

Last Thursday it happened again, this time to Kirkham.  His very first jelly sting.  He felt it immediately on his finger and looked down and saw the tell-tale blue bubble of the Portuguese Man-of-War.  He jumped out of the water as quick as possible and came running up to me on the beach (again, I admit, I was half asleep reading a book).  He was in a lot of pain and showed me his finger.  I watched it as it turned bright red and began to swell up.  This was a bigger sting than anything we had gotten before but I opted to do the usual vinegar squirt, his little whining quickly turned to writhing in pain. 

Kirkham was now complaining of pain shooting up into his elbow and shoulder.  I asked another family on the beach for some ice for him to soak his finger in.  Kirkham obediently put his finger in the cup of ice but it didn't do any good.  The pain just continued and soon he was having trouble breathing.  This scared me. I was worried he was having an allergic reaction.  I ran out into the water and asked a surfer to paddle out to tell Heath, who was out surfing, what had happened and that we had to go.  The girls helped me gather up our stuff and another family on the beach helped me limp Kirkham down the path to the parking lot and our waiting truck.

Heath came running up behind us and the surfer, whom I had asked to paddle out to Heath, was following behind him.  He asked if there was anything he could do and said he was an ER doc at the Kahuku hospital.  I told him what was happening and he asked a couple of questions and suggested that Kirkham may be hyperventilating.  He told me to have Kirkham breathe into a bag for a few minutes if the breathing continued to get worse then I should take him up to the clinic otherwise just some benadryl at home would work ok.

While I got Kirkham settled into the truck the girls searched for a bag but only came up with an old leather glove from under one of the seats. Close enough, I decided, and had him start breathing into it.  We waited and I worked with him to breathe slower and deeper.  He couldn't do it but he wasn't getting worse.  I decided to drive home rather to the clinic.  

As we drove Kirkham continued to breathe in and out of the leather glove and the girls counted to three as he breathed in and out.  Breathe in -one, two, three- Breathe out -one, two, three. Breathe in -one, two, three- Breathe out -one, two, three. By the time we got home his breathing was slower though he was still in a lot of pain and his breathing was not quite normal yet.  I took him in and gave him a dose of benedryl, a bunch of water and told him to take a warm shower.

Later I learned that vinegar can make Portuguese Man-of-War stings worse.  Instead you should take the following steps when stung by one:
  • Carefully inspect the area visually for any tentacles left on the skin.  Lift them off with a leaf or a stick so you don't spread the sting to your hands
  • rinse the affected area with warm water and soap to make sure all the stingers are off.
  • apply lidocaine or a numbing ointment or spray to the area
  • take benadryl to reduce the reaction's severity.
  • No matter what you do it is going to hurt for a while, possibly a few days even.  Be patient. 
  •  If you are truly having difficulty breathing seek immediate medical attention.  Just like a bee-sting this kind of reaction can be life-threatening.
Besides vinegar I have now added to my beach bag Dermoplast (lidocaine spray), Benadryl and a paper bag.

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