“Mr. Lifeguard, Mr. Lifeguard! Look what we caught!”
I turned around to see three cute children running at me with a pail of water that was sloshing over the side. Dad followed them shrugging and smiling sheepishly as if to say, “It’s out of my hands.”
Looking into the bucket I saw a mass of Japanese jellyfish. Not the nice kind with the little almost clear, rice noodle looking stringy tentacles either. But the big mean ones with the brown, ropey, thick tentacles that bring back bad memories of swimming workouts gone bad and parents looking at me accusingly as I try to explain that I can’t magically make the pain that their children are experiencing go away.
But this was a good thing. With Dad’s permission, I explained the current treatment is to rinse the sting with saline solution or regular saltwater if not available. Then remove tentacles if any and re-rinse the sting again to make sure no stinging cells remain. Afterward, you can treat for pain with ice or topical anesthetic.
I drew a diagram in the sand of a tentacle and talked about the thousands of stinging cells, or nematocyst, in each square inch, and how each nematocyst can shoot out a tiny barb, or nematode, that causes pain.
Only about 10 percent of the nematodes typically fire when the tentacle contacts skin, so rinsing it in saline, or salt water, will help to wash away those cells that haven’t fired yet. That’s why we don’t use vinegar, uric acid, diluted bleach, alcohol or any number of other treatments we’ve been through in the past.
And why many home remedies like rubbing the area with wet sand, chewing tobacco, etc., usually make it worse.
We’d hit the max attention span for a 5- to 6-year-old, and the children ran off to let the jellyfish free as I called in to our dispatcher “four water safety talks.”
As I turned back to what I was doing, I thought about how cool it is that we get to have this type of interaction with tourists all the time, all over the beach, all year. In fact, last year, including school talks, we made over 30,000 “water safety talks” along with thousands of “tourist contacts” where we give out local information about the beach or about Galveston.
Labor Day weekend marked the end of the busiest part of the season, although beach activity will likely continue until the end of November or even into early December. This past weekend, we were busy but not slammed. It was comparable to many of the busy weekends we’ve seen throughout the summer.
We ended up moving more than 12,000 people from dangerous areas, responding to 318 medical calls (most were jellyfish stings), made three water rescues, reunited seven lost children with their parents and made 147 enforcements along the beach. We also had 1,382 water safety contacts, similar to my discussion with the children with the bucket of jellyfish.
At the end of the day, it’s the personal contacts that prevent drownings and keep our guests coming back.