This past December, we visited my wife’s family in the Philippines. While there, we went to a tropical island called Boracay. Boracay is a popular tourist destination and offers all types of fun things to do including swimming, snorkeling, scuba-diving, massage and more.

The first day we were on Boracay, we chartered a boat to take us around. The boat took us to several small beaches and stopped along the way to let us snorkel. The water was clear and from the boat I could see fish. I put on my snorkel mask and jumped in the water.

As soon as I jumped in the water, I felt as if something had stabbed the bottom of my foot. I thought it was because I hit the jagged rocks on the ocean floor and the pain would go away after a few moments. After waiting for a couple of minutes, the pain became worse. I reached down to touch my foot half expecting it to be sliced open—the pain was excruciating. It felt as if someone had pounded the bottom of my foot with a sledge hammer.

After a few minutes in the water, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I crawled back on deck and one of the boat hands told me that I had stepped on a sea urchin. I looked at my foot and there were small spines sticking out of my left sole.

For those who have never heard of a sea urchin, they’re invertebrates that have a globular body from which spines protrude. Sea urchins live on the ocean floor and can burrow into rock, sand, coral and even steel. There are 950 species of them living in every one of the world’s oceans. Some species, such as the one I stepped on, have poison in their spines. This poison can cause muscle spasms and pain, and, in more serious cases, it can affect one’s breathing which could result in death.

As I hobbled back to my seat on the boat, the pain crescendoed. I couldn’t help but wince and complain. The boat hands tried to help me by pouring vinegar--and even urine--on my foot. (Apparently, vinegar and urine kill the pain.) Additionally, as if to please me by some act of vengeance, one of the sea hands plucked the sea urchin from the ocean floor, cracked it open and ate it.  (Sea urchin is a delicacy.)

I spent the rest of that afternoon sitting on the boat wondering when the pain would go away. When we finally disembarked, I took a rickshaw back to the hotel. I took pain medication and washed the urine and vinegar off my foot. After a few hours, the pain lessened but I was still hurting well into the night.

The next day my foot still hurt although not as bad. The pain became much better after my wife used tweezers to take the spines out of my foot. That night my foot felt better but it wasn’t until a few days later that my foot went back to feeling “normal.”

In retrospect, my wife thinks that the experience was a good one because it expanded my horizons and built character. I, however, see no benefit from stepping on the sea urchin and would have much rather enjoyed avoiding the experience altogether—I wish I would have worn beach shoes. Better yet, I wish the boat hands would have scoped out the waters and advised me on where to jump in before I hit the sea urchin. There was only one sea urchin in the vicinity of the boat, and I managed to land on it.

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