The Near Life Ending Attack

Written By: A.J. DiRosa

“Mom, you need to come now, the doctors don’t think A.J. is going to make it through the night,” my dad said with uneasiness. It was a bright and sunny day on that long, hot beach. Crowds of families were sunbathing in front of their houses, or maybe even eating a barbecue lunch. My little five-year-old self was very impatient, and wanted to enjoy in the calm ocean of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I asked my dad if we could go in the water, and being the great dad that he is, he said yes. I also asked my older cousin Katie if she would come in with me. So the three of us walked into the shallow water, up about to my waist. My mom, and sister who was three years old, were sitting at the waters edge splashing around in the waves. My dad was swinging me in the air and we were having a great time. To my left was Katie, and to my right was my dad, and we were all holding hands. Life could not have been better for a young boy, when all of a sudden a sharp, shooting, unbearable pain entered my body, through my right arm and chest. I began to scream bloody murder as the pain just wouldn’t stop. I kept yelling “Get it off me! Get it off me!” as the pain just kept intensifying. My dad told Katie to run out of the water and he picked me up and carried me up to the beach. As he was carrying me, all of this slimy substance was hanging from my arm. In the meantime, my mom was panicking, because that was the summer of the numerous shark attacks up and down the East Coast, and she thought that I had been attacked. My dad set me down on our rental house’s porch and began to hose off my body with fresh water. This only intensified the pain and I began to scream even louder. While this was all happening, half of the beach seemed to have crowded around to see why I was screaming. Someone in my family must have called for an ambulance because I heard the drone of its sirens in the distance. The weirdest thing then happened, which to this day I still cannot think of a reason for. In the middle of all the screaming and crying, I suddenly came to a complete silence. Laying there, on that beautiful sunny day, clouds in the sky, and a cool breeze in the air, I saw my life quickly start to fade away. In that very moment, I honestly thought that I was going to die. My mom was crouched over me, wondering why I had suddenly stopped crying. I quietly asked her “Mommy, will I see you in Heaven?” Of course, the water works started, and she didn’t know what to do. The ambulance shortly arrived and I was taken away, with my dad, to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, the doctors did shockingly little to rid me of the pain. They gave me antibiotics and sent me on my way. That night at dinner, I started to get sick and went back to the hospital. Yet again they gave me the same antibiotics and sent me on my way. That did nothing to fix me, and I was still sick. My parents decided to pack everything up and drive thirteen hours straight back home to St. Luke’s Hospital in Pennsylvania, in hopes of finding better care for me. The whole car ride home was a horrible blur. All I remember was just constantly crying in pain, sitting helplessly in my car seat. When we got to the hospital, ten doctors from all different departments were called in to assess my situation. There were infectious disease doctors, and doctors even ready to amputate my arm if need be. Finally, 3am rolled around and they chose to give me an IV, and I spent the night in the hospital. The days, months, and years after were a real struggle. My arm had blown up at least three times its normal size, and it was wrapped in a tight gauze cast. Just a few weeks later I started kindergarten at Moravian Academy and each and every day, kids would ask me why I had a cast on, and why I couldn’t do certain activities. After researching different types of jellyfish, I found out that the jellyfish that stung me was a Portuguese Man O’ War. It is clear in color, and has tentacles ranging upwards of 300 feet long. To this day, I still get occasional pain in my right arm due to the severed nerves from the jellyfish burns. In the years to follow, I couldn’t bear to step foot in the ocean or even any natural body of water. For five years I wouldn’t go in the water, and finally after that long period of time, I decided to only go in the water if I was wearing a full body wetsuit. Only about three years ago did I make a huge step to going back into the water when I swam in the inaugural Swim Across America event in Amagansett, New York to raise money for cancer awareness. Going into the swim, I knew there would be jellyfish in the bay’s warm summer water, but I knew it was time to move on. Facing my greatest fear really was a big move for me. The following year, I went on to become a certified Ocean Lifeguard in East Hampton, New York, and worked for the Village of East Hampton. In becoming a lifeguard, I wanted to show others that while obstacles may be thrown in your way, nothing is too big to overcome. The ocean has helped make me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t change what happened to me if I had the chance.