When I was a rambunctious urchin of about eleven or twelve-years-old, my parents took my sister and me on our first vacation that involved air travel – a visit to Hawaii! I discovered that I LOVED air travel –the bumpier, the better – and our flight was turbulent. I remember walking up and down the aisles as the plane pitched and yawed (I don’t remember any seat belt lights coming on – but I may have been ignoring them, as I apparently have a problem with authority).
The fact that I was able to happily stroll the length of that bouncing plane while my sister huddled in her seat and miserably put her barf bag to use made me feel vastly superior to her for those few hours. As my sister was the “perfect child” with straight A grades, hair that glistened like spun gold, and apparently no problem with authority, it was one of the few times I felt that I had an edge in the sibling rivalry game. That was also probably the time I decided I wanted to be a stewardess (as we called flight attendants back in the day). That never happened, because I discovered radio and the prospect of fame and fortune was too tempting to resist (ironically, fame and fortune I was expecting didn’t happen either). I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different had I kept with the original plan and been a paid jet-setter.
At one point during our trip, we were staying in a beautiful condo-style resort that was right on the beach. The white sand shimmered in the sun and the water was blue and warm. There were several sandbars and a couple of small reefs in the bay and I was intrigued by the fact that I could be swimming in water that was over my head one minute and then standing on a reef with the water only lapping at my knees the next. I didn’t know at the time that it is not a good idea to be climbing all over a reef – not only is it bad for the reef, but apparently, it’s not really people-friendly either. I found this out when, as I was making my way gingerly along the sharp coral, I suddenly felt a tremendous pain in my big toe as I took a step. I was sure that some creature of the deep had taken a bite of me – surely I must be missing a chunk of flesh! I didn’t see blood, so that was a good sign – but the pain was excruciating!
By the time I made it back to the beach, my entire foot was throbbing. I sat down and pulled the limb into my lap to examine it… and I saw tiny black needles protruding from my toe. It was if I had stepped on some sort of underwater cactus! I started wondering what type of crazy, submerged desert plants might be living on Hawaiian reefs – and were they poisonous? My sister helped me to hobble back to the hotel and we stopped at the front desk to get advice on what to do. As I held out my foot for examination, the young native man grinned widely and told me that I probably wasn’t going to die. He explained that I had stepped on a sea urchin, which near as I could tell from his description, was a kind of underwater porcupine. He told me that it was important to treat the spines, as otherwise they would keep burrowing into my skin.
As you can imagine, I was eager – no, desperate – to treat those damn spines. They HURT and they were BURROWING INTO MY TOE! When asked for the remedy, the friendly reply was that I could “do what the natives do” and just pee on it. There was silence for several long seconds as I processed what I had just been told. I blinked and repeated, “PEE on it??? You want me to PEE on it?” (By the way, that was going to be the title of this post, but then I figured it might have the potential of attracting certain segments of society that might enjoy sexual escapades of a nature that some might find a bit…shall we say, different? Wouldn’t they be disappointed to find this post instead? We wouldn’t want to have that!)
The front desk guy went on to explain that the acid in urine would stop the pain and help the spines to come out of my toe. He must have noticed my horrified expression about that point, because he laughed and told me that I could also use vinegar, which worked the same way. What he neglected to tell me (and what I JUST found out by Googling this) is that you are supposed to SOAK your foot in the vinegar over several days, as it dissolves the urchin spines! That would have been good to know, because while one of my parents was able to find a bottle of vinegar for me and we poured it over my foot, the spines remained. In fact, I don’t think they ever came out – they may be in there still today, burrowing away, making their way, micro-millimeter by micro-millimeter towards a major blood vessel, hoping to enjoy a rapid ride to lodge in my heart or brain. “Killed by urchin” – it just doesn’t have the “wow” factor that “hit by a train” or “eaten by a shark” does. Sigh – fame still eludes me.