Visitors to Ripley’s Aquarium can touch a live stingray, but Karin Brown has learned that those in the open water are not the petting kind.
The Murrells Inlet resident has spent the last several weeks walking around with a small backpack slung across her shoulder. Protruding from that backpack is a long tube that’s taped to a place just below her right knee.
This device is a wound vacuum that’s cleaning the wound she suffered after a stingray embedded its barb into her leg on July 9. As if that wasn’t enough, when Brown tried to push it away, the barb came out of her leg and went through her right wrist.
Brown’s husband, Ben, and stepdaughter, Tiffany Jackson, were all with her out on their fishing boat when the attack occurred. The three were hoping for a decent catch, but the only thing they ended up catching was the stingray that had a three-inch-long barb.
Ben Brown caught the creature near the Inlet shore, and his wife was busy filming with her iPhone. She took hold of the fishing rod while her husband searched for some pliers to remove the hook from the stingray.
As an emergency room nurse, Brown said she’s treated people for stingray bites after they’ve stepped on the creatures. On this day, curiosity got the best of her.
“Me, being the curious person that I am, decided to feel the softness of the stingray’s skin,” she said.
Her husband warned her not to touch the stingray, but by then it was too late.
Jackson said it was mostly confusion when Brown was first attacked. Her father and stepmother were too close to the stingray for her to notice anything out of the ordinary.
“There was no peep, no noise,” Jackson said. Then, she saw the large amount of blood.
Brown said her husband jumped off the boat and kept the stingray from retreating back into the ocean, its barb still attached to her arm. Eventually, Ben used cutters to remove the barb while Jackson dialed 911. They headed to a nearby boat landing where paramedics were waiting.
“It gives me goosebumps just talking about it,” Jackson said of the experience.
Brown’s right hand blew up like a balloon as a result of the sting. She underwent surgery at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center to remove the barb, and she remained there for the next four days as IVs pumped four different antibiotics into her body to rid her of the stingray’s poison.
“Everyone was truly amazed that it had punctured her arm the way it had,” Jackson said.
Brown said she ingested more pain medication in those initial 12 hours than she had in her entire life. The pain, she added, felt “like a hot poker.”
Since that initial hospital stay, Brown’s had an additional surgery to remove the dead tissue from her leg. The wound vac is an effort to assist in the healing process through negative pressure wound therapy. If it doesn’t help, she’ll have to undergo a skin graft in the next two weeks.
Those two weeks will be spent at home. Brown attempted to go back to work shortly after the accident, but was told to continue recuperating. She said she can do pretty much anything she wants, except be on her feet during a 12-hour shift in the ER.
Staying at home, Brown can count on the family’s golden retriever, Lacy, for companionship. The 6-year-old furry friend has been more protective since the accident, her mother said.
Never is that more obvious than when Brown leaves a room and Lacy immediately follows after her.
Lacy’s efforts are rewarded, when Ben takes his wife and their dog for golf cart rides to get ice cream. Yes, the dog also gets to enjoy a cool, creamy summertime treat.
As for the stingray barb, it’s kept in a plastic cup that Brown keeps in a desk.
“The barb in my wrist did not injure anything. Unbelievable,” she said.
Ben Brown said if there was anything to take away from the episode it’s to stay away from stingrays, since they can’t all be petted like the de-barbed ones at Ripley’s Aquarium.
Oh, and there’s one other piece of knowledge.
“Listen to your husband,” he joked.