I spent last week in Sayulita, Mexico. Most Seattleites know it-- it's a popular destination for us cloud-soaked Northwesterners. My partner Nancy, my daughter Lucia, and my mother (Karen) spent a week in a gorgeous house overlooking the beautiful Bay of Banderas. Most mornings, we'd set up for the day close to the fishing boats at the less-crowded end of the beach. The waves there were perfect for surfing and boogie boarding, not too big for Lucia to be in on her own, big enough to have some fun.
On our fifth day at the beach, Nancy and Lucia were playing in the water with Rosa, a new friend who, though she spoke no English and Lucia no Spanish, resulted in a two-hour ocean playdate. About twenty minutes into a game of salt-water football, Nancy came hobbling out of the water. "I need you to go in. Something happened to my foot," Nancy whispered to me as we switched our water/land posts.
I watched from the water, distractedly throwing the ball with Lucia and Rosa, and noticed my mom marching purposefully up to the fishing shack at the back of the beach. I walked toward the shore and noticed Nancy gesticulating wildly for me to come up to where she was lying down, her injured side rigid, hands white-knuckling the lounge chair beneath her. "I need you," she was mouthing. As I got closer, I could see that Nancy's foot was bleeding. A lot. My mom came down with two locals from the shack and they started blotting Nancy's injury with gauze. By this point, Nancy was crying, "It really hurts. It really hurts," she whimpered.
Within minutes, a new face, a fisherman just in from his work day, approached our umbrella. He took one look at Nancy's foot and said with a quick nod towards Nancy's bleeding foot, "Mantarraya." By this point, Nancy was freaking out. The pain was getting worse and, judging from the blood, it looked as though some sea creature had taken a chunk out of her little baby toe. Thankfully, I speak Spanish, and was able to translate for Nancy that our rescuers' conversation indicated that the fisherman was going to make an herbal remedy. "Que? De que?" I asked. "Es bueno" they said, we should just wait.
With Mom, Lucia and Rosa a safe distance away, happily playing in the surf, Nancy was freaking out. "This is the worst pain of my life." Tears were running down her cheeks and she was breathing heavily. A big guy who had initially brought us the gauze, stood above Nancy, offering her some shade. "Tranquila" he said softly as he moved his hands up and down in the motion of slowing down an orchestra. "Tequila?" Nancy asked. I translated that, while tequila might help, he wanted her to try to calm down. "Respire" he coached, taking big breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth. Nancy followed suit and started to calm down. We would learn later that night that panicking is the worst thing to do when stung by a ray because it increases your circulation which aids the progression of the painful toxins through the body. In retrospect, the big guy's guidance was likely the most helpful part of managing the pain.
By this time, the fisherman had returned with the tupperware container filled with boiling water and Peguano, a plant they all swore would make it better. Having just dealt with two days of nursing a vomiting Lucia after eating apparently unclean beach food, I was skeptical of putting dirty leaf water on Nancy's open wound, but they all seemed so nice, and we didn't have any other options.
The fisherman began rhythmically slapping Nancy's injured toe with a gauze pad soaked in the boiling herbal remedy. Big guy was still coaching, "Tranquila. Respire." Nancy eventually just shoved her little size 6 foot into the container and, after half an hour, she declared that she and her foot were fine.
We watched the wound for a few days, worried about infection. Our friend Jessica the doctor back in Seattle prescribed a preemptive antibiotic in case Nancy's foot took a turn, but it was never needed. Nancy's foot was fine. Was it the Peguano leaf? Yes. That shit was some kind of magic. Was it big guy's instruction to "tranquila" and "respire"? Most definitely.
On my first day back teaching, I watched (as I often do) the room full of hard working students, faces contorting in challenging postures, sweat pouring, and thought to myself, "Tranquila." "Respire." No matter how big or small the storm in your body-- a sting ray bite, a one-minute Triconasana, a dehydration headache-- use your breath to get to the calm. And, if that doesn't work, there's always tequila.