As part of my recent renewal of efforts to heal my back, which includes different exercises and a course of ayurvedic treatment, I have been enjoying my close proximity to a gentle and warm, nurturing sea by taking an hour or so every night to baste myself in the salt water.
The water at Shatti al Qurm has been about 28-30 C and smooth and calm as a milk bath. Mountain Boy, B and I passed plenty of Ramadan sunsets in near solitude out there as most of the city was rushing to iftars. But this season, and this indulgence, must draw to a close. I was already missing my evening bathe-I can’t call it a “swim,” really, as there wasn’t much in the way of exercise, it was mainly bobbing about and admiring the colors on the water. Well, the sea said goodbye to me!
The Indian Monsoon has an influence on the water in Northern Oman, even if we don’t benefit from the cool temperature and mists of khareef like Salalah does. Cold currents have been running though the water in the past week, and, with Ramadan now behind us, there are plenty of people in the water. So the energy has changed already.
Mountain Boy is out of town so there has just been B and I this week. We tend to get out earlier if he’s not with us, just after dark in fact, as the water seems to change and, as they say, we can’t imagine all the creatures that live there, the secrets that it holds. The nighttime ocean is different and unknowable, teeming with horrors, so they say.
Monday night was the same--the water, now that I think about it, had a distinctly malevolent feel. I scanned the waters around us the entire time; I thought I was looking for fins.
What I did see was a vague grey shape, about 10 yards/metres away. It was flat and could have belonged to a big ray, or a fish, or even a small whaleshark, even though we were pretty close to the shore. But I couldn’t actually focus on it and I wasn’t sure if it was a hallucination or what. It could have even been a piece of garbage for all I knew. But I kept watching it. It appeared and disappeared, bobbing on the waves. And there was a big school of sardines nearby as well. This is their season and they are around almost every day. I know there will be sardine predators around. The fish had actually swam straight into B the evening before, startling her, and scaring them. Of course something will have been chasing them.
I stood up-the water was only waist deep, and craned my neck to see further. The thing disappeared and B was talking. I felt extremely uneasy but obviously I didn’t take myself seriously because feeling uneasy in the ocean is probably a good time to get out.
Something nipped behind my right knee. It felt like a crab--we get those little nips quite often out there. It’s creepy. And I called out that hey, I got bit! And reached my hand down to it. I could have been backing up too, but I don’t know.
As I bent down, some horrible thing grabbed me from behind. I realize it probably was just there, and didn’t actually grab my ass or climb on my back and wasn’t going to drag me down into the depths, but it sure did feel like it. It felt like it jumped on me. I felt like the prey of some hideous non-mammalian thing. Absolutely terrifying. I whipped around with my arms, apparently, and something brushed my right forearm and left fingers and it was an instant explosion of burning pain. I didn’t have a grip on the thing, of course, and spun around to see what it was and there was some creature in the water, like a big fish, or a ray. It was gray or brown, and seems like it had a pink stripe. I saw about 3 feet worth; it might have been coiled. The two main impressions I got where “strong, all muscle” and “catfish whisker.” I prefer mammals, thanks.
I realized that I should look closer but also that if I did, then it might attack me again, and I was all shooting burning pain in my arm and fingers. So I started wading out, with B, and I swear I was shouting at people to get out of the water, and I’ve been stung, and other stuff, but apparently I was only hyperventilating. Once on the beach people came up me-I was very white, and there was a big red poison spot or something on my forehead with a line going down. I was shaking, and really freaking out. Some guys called the ambulance but I refused it when they called me, as I was too confused. In retrospect, I should have taken it. And since when do we feel pain immediately? Aren’t a few seconds supposed to pass, at least? Aren’t we supposed to be raging with adrenaline, and not feeling debilitating pain until the clear and present danger is over?
An hour later B had me at the clinic, where they treated me for shock, and tetanus. I followed up the next morning, and, because I didn’t care for the doctor, I also went to Muscat Private hospital, and they referred me to the Royal Hospital Emergency room, as they are the ones who deal with poisons and bites.
The pain got worse over the next few hours, and burned like acid. Then it felt like someone hit my elbow with a hammer. The next day it felt like that hammer hit was a day old. And needles from time to time. Even now I feel them. The pain seemed to settle into my bones and nerves, not affecting the muscles.
I have no idea what it was and evidently no one else does either. That seems strange to me. I could be convinced it was a ray, except that I don’t actually have a puncture. No blood. No bite. This was more like a jellyfish sting, but the creature was strong and fishlike. Jellyfish family? My friend who dives said there is a thing that lives only here, and the name in Dhofari arabic is like “snake” but in fuzhah it’s “jellyfish” and it’s very poisonous.
I don’t have any idea, and google offers nothing. I am a big person, and this was my limb. If a small person, like a child, was stung on the torso, what would happen? Hell, if I was stung on the torso, what would have been the case?
My friend who knows the ocean thinks I should go abroad for treatment. I don’t know if he knows something I don’t. I seem to be improving. Will hunker down this next week, and hopefully flush it out. My arm is still painful. It’s 72 hours. The mark looks like nothing, a mild abrasion. The poison dot and line are gone. A little fever comes and goes but hasn’t gone high.
The explanation most people like is that it’s an odd and terrible creature that came in from the deep ocean, not something usual. We can’t imagine what is out there, and I now find this so true. It disturbs me, though, that no one has heard about this aggressive thing, who can inject so much poison and bacteria by the merest scratch, a quick sting. Am I the only one to feel its sting? How can that be?