Facing Death: Stung by a Scorpion in Costa Rica

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
- Mahatma Ghandi

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It was a Friday night and there I was, somberly celebrating my last ride from Martina’s – a lively jungle bar we frequented in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. My time at Blue Osa neared an end and I felt weary with heartache, not ready to leave my newfound family.

Adam was driving my favorite truck: a deep red gentle giant coated with Tico dust, spewing love with every grunt of the engine. As usual, I joined my friends in jumping onto the truck’s wooden flatbed. Standing with legs slightly squatted, we gripped the bars tightly: “surfing” the road and dodging hanging branches.

The unspoiled night sky was perfect. A blanket of deep navy blue glistened as we connected the dots of glitter above our heads, guessing constellations and correcting each other’s errors.

I didn’t want to party. I didn’t want to sleep. I just wanted the night to last forever. I wanted to lay on the earth with the ocean’s whisper within earshot. I wanted to giggle at wildlife’s mischief sounding from the trees above me. I wasn’t ready for the concrete jungle just yet… I was still experiencing the real one.

We headed towards the beach. Rustling under the night sky, we decided to make a bonfire and searched for wood and dry leaves. The recent high tide left everything damp, challenging our task, but eventually – after finding a lighter and an old magazine – yellow and orange flames quickly began warming our toes and heating our cheeks.

I tried not to notice anything but my friends’ laughter and warm words, echoing loudly over the crackling fire, our faces glowing like spotlights under a moonless sky. The scene held my attention for quite a while. So much so, that even when I felt insects crawling on me, I had no interest in shooing them away. But the night crawling wouldn’t desist. Thirsty for my attention, one persistent insect continued to move along my back. I brushed it off towards the shadows beside me and continued absorbing the setting. Within a couple of minutes I felt the worst pain I’d felt in years, on my thigh. With a quick reflex I slapped my thigh to relieve the agony and immediately checked the site.

Nothing. Not a mark. Not a bug.

The burn intensified. Stinging under my skin as if a cigarette had singed me, I immediately guessed perhaps a spark from the bonfire landed on my leg.

No, something wasn’t right.

As I sat and pondered the occurrence, I felt movement along my shoulder. Again, in the shadows, I opened my palm and grabbed whatever was on me to toss it. It was only then that I realized what I’d touched.

A firm exoskeleton, for sure.

Quite small and multiple legs, definitely.

Where was my flashlight? I needed to see what this was.

Finally. The culprit. A scorpion: no larger than three inches long with a stinger upright and ready to attack.

Right on our beach and sitting with us the whole time, this venomous creature stung me and was moving on to another part of my body before I tossed him off. The pain in my leg increased and soon my thigh began to swell. We all looked at each other, questioning whether we knew if scorpions in Costa Rica were poisonous or not.

We didn’t know.

It was past 1:00 am and I didn’t know whom to ask. Suddenly, my desire for the night to never end quickly changed to wishing I had gone to bed. A Tico suggested I put white vinegar on my leg and reassured me it would be okay. I was hoping he was right: living remotely with no first aid kit was certainly not the best situation.

What else could I do? I didn’t want to bother anyone.

Was I overreacting? Was I under reacting?

I went to bed. Thirty minutes passed and I was still alive. A good sign, right?

As I laid in bed, my body began to numb. My right leg lost feeling, as if it’d fallen asleep, and my lips and tongue began to tingle. The size of the swelling was equivalent to the diameter of a tennis ball and the stinging had yet to subside.

I am unsure if it was the venom, but I began to release my wall of defense and worry, and feel accepting of my “fate”. Is this the poison, right now? Am I dying? Should I wake someone?

What if it’s fine? What if it’s not?

My thoughts stumbled on that last thought repeatedly. What if I did die? What would people say? What would I want them to say? Am I happy with the way I lived my life?

Yes.

My thoughts answered back firmly.

Yes, I am happy with the way I lived my life.

If I am to die, I am okay with it being right here, right now.

Death at the hands of nature.

Death feeling at peace.

Death having loved and knowing I am loved.

Death in paradise.

Death under an unspoiled night sky.

What better way to die?

I closed my eyes. I accepted my numbing corpse and drifted off to sleep.

***

That week marked ten years since my last chemotherapy session. For six months, I sat in a chair and received twelve-hour intravenous infusions. My eyes swelling with silent tears, my lips tasting each salty droplet as they streamed down my cheeks, I begged the universe to give me one more chance. That I wasn’t ready to die yet. That I wasn’t happy with the life I lived.

Was this a coincidence? That exactly ten years later I come across a similar situation? Injected with venom, instead of Cytoxan, on the same right side of my body: immobilized and alone.

Except this time, I felt satisfied with the decisions I’ve made. I felt fulfilled and loved.

Passionate. Enriched.

I know some would say I still have a whole life ahead of me, but who are we to determine how much life we have left? The only thing we have control of is how we choose to live our life now. We must release overprotection and the fear of vulnerability and believe in ourselves enough to live freely, and without judgment.

The scorpion slipped into my life as a reminder.  When he realized I didn’t notice him after the first sting, he made it his business to stick around until I made the connection.

Who or what is your scorpion in life?  We receive signs from the universe everyday: from loved ones, energy, and nature. How do you remind yourself to embrace a life that you will be proud of? A life you would be happy to die with.

So, as I am sure you guessed: I am not dead. I awoke the next morning, still in pain, but very much alive. My head was then clear enough to realize that in moving the damp leaves and wood to make a bonfire, we’d tampered with the scorpion’s shelter for the night and he was merely defending himself. Clearly, I deserved it.

Lesson learned.