A professional Arnhem Land fisherwoman was up to her thighs in murky water when she suddenly felt an excruciating, burning sensation, as if she had just been electrocuted.
Prue Davey, a 22-year-old mackerel fisherwoman in Nhulunbuy, had just been stung by one of the most notorious nasties of the tropical Top End’s waterways: a box jellyfish.
At least a metre of tentacles had wrapped around both Ms Davey’s legs as she helped pull in her vessel at the boat ramp next to the Gove Yacht Club.
“I went to walk back to just finish up [pulling in the boat], and the jellyfish was obviously just hanging about there, and it wrapped all the way around my legs – I ended up with about a metre’s worth of burns,” Ms Davey said.
“It was definitely incredibly painful.
“It starts like you’ve been bitten … [and] electrocuted at the same time. Sort of like a searing burn.
“It was very uncomfortable, quite awful to be honest.”
As the pain grew, the extent of the situation was soon made clear.
According to St John NT chief executive Judith Barker: “The major box jellyfish has quick-acting venom in its tentacles that can kill a person in less than five minutes.”
Ms Davey had been stung in stinger season, which runs between October 1 and May 31, when box jellyfish are more likely to be present in Top End waters.
‘I had 20 tentacles all over me’
Ms Davey’s crew jumped quickly into first aid mode as they realised she was in trouble.
“They signalled the boat club and grabbed some vinegar, got straight on it and removed the tentacles – they were quite long, large and they were purple,” she said.
Both of her legs were completely covered with stings: “I had probably 20 tentacles all over me.”
Her husband Tiger Davey, also a crewman onboard their fishing vessel Wildcard, jumped into action.
“I had concern straight away to get her out of the water,” Mr Davey said.
“We rang triple-0 and they advised us to stay there and wait for the ambulance.
“They said the risk was cardiac troubles or difficulty breathing … I was just more concerned for my wife than anything else.”
Ambulance arrived in nick of time
The ambulance arrived at the scene to deliver Ms Davey to Gove District Hospital.
“They sent me into Gove Hospital, and I can’t thank them enough – St John [Ambulance] and the hospital here took very, very great care of me during my six hours of pain,” she said.
“They’re fantastic people around here.”
Ms Davey said she felt lucky to have had quick-thinking crewmen and health workers to attend to her situation.
Since her sting on February 21, Ms Davey has been slowly recuperating.
“[My legs] are a bit stingy when they get in the open air … a bit of that salt air makes them flare up a little,” she said.
“Other than that I’ve just been a bit drowsy.”
Box jellyfish ‘not to be underestimated’
In a statement, St John NT paramedics urged people in the coastal regions of the NT to remember that stinger season remains in full swing.
“Millions of highly venomous stinging cells in almost-invisible tentacles that can reach a length of up to three metres make box jellyfish a serious threat that should not be underestimated,” Ms Barker said.
“If stung by a jellyfish, immediate first aid is crucial – the victim may even need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
“Immediately flood the entire stung area with lots of vinegar – do not use fresh water.
“Urgently seek medical attention and call triple zero.”
Ms Davey said while she had no plans to give up her life on the sea, she did urge others to “keep an eye out” during stinger season.
“I guess I can’t warn anyone off the ocean considering I live on it,” she said.
“I think just being wary is the best thing you can do.”