by chelsea schuyler
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An Actual Scientific Symptom
Winner of best science symptom contest: ‘a sense of impending doom.’ I love it when scientists are forced use their words.
And this isn’t your gloomy, sullen, withdraw-from-the-world (because patriarchy), plunge into a Twilight binge kind of impending doom. This is a violent, fear-ridden, panicked sense of impending doom.
When I wrote a blog about common fruits and vegetables bent on our destruction (Produce, Prodeath), I was delighted to find that overindulging on nutmeg can cause nutmeg psychosis, which includes ‘feelings of impending doom.’
Well, it was recently brought to my attention by a fan (thanks Michelle!) that there is yet another source of this jolly symptom – the jellyfish.
Not just any jellyfish of course, but the giant, ship-drowning, MEGAJELLY!!!! One assumes.
Wrong! Actually it’s a tiny, translucent, four-armed box jelly of the “Squishy” variety.
But still, fear it! Make no mistake, this single centimetered fraud can cause wide-spread hysteria and agony in the body. Included is the ever awesome ‘sense of impending doom.’
It’s called Irukandji syndrome, after the aboriginal tribe that had lived in the region with the most cases. (Always name a horrendous syndrome after a marginalized people, because every little racist bit helps.)
Checklist of Doom
Victims of the unassuming Carukia barnesi jellyfish become so utterly convinced that they’re going to die that “they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with,” according to Australian biologist and jellyfish expert Lisa Gershwin.
It’s not just some psychological psychobabble either, there’s plenty of evidence to help them feel quite confident of suffering their last hours. Mainly:
- excruciating back pain (“similar to an electric drill drilling into your back” – Gershwin again.)
- nausea accompanied by vomiting EVERY 90 SECONDS for up to 12 hours
- full body cramps
- raining sweat
- the perception that you can’t breathe
- pain when moving any muscle, which might be okay except for:
- muscle restlessness
It’s a sneaky thing too – you don’t even know that you’ve been stung. With regular jellyfish, you know it immediately by a searing pain, throbbing, and blistering. But with this little jelly, you know nothing Jon Snow. Until about half an hour later, with the vomiting and the dooming.
Totally Moral Test Subjects
Because of this doom delay, it actually took a long time to figure out what exactly was causing this horrendous hellflood. But after studying currents and patterns and stuff, scientist Jack Barnes figured he had it figured. But how to know for sure?
Good ole Science Jack is hangin out on an Australian beach. He thinks he’s found the rascal culprit causing this terrible syndrome, so he nabs some teeny box jellies to prove it. But who does he test them out on?
Well, himself of course. No potential movie rights are complete without the stereotyped, obsessive scientist blazing through the scientific method with enough overconfidence and impatience to self-stun. (Must I always have to reference The Fly?)
But why take just your own word for it, Jack? Better include more subjects.
Hey look, a 9-year-old boy that happens to be your son. Definitely. Why spare your child the maturity of depressing worldviews that only a harrowing experience of impending doom can bring?
Hmm, how about just one more. Ah, the lifeguard. Looking at a beach’s worth of possible subjects, the lifeguard certainly serves the least use.
And so, using his plethora of diverse subjects (three, slightly-differently-aged, white males), we have our experiment! Ah, the days before an Institutional Review Board.
After 40 minutes, Barnes reported that “the abdominal musculature of the three subjects was in unrelenting spasm…subjects were seized with a remarkable restlessness, …stamping about aimlessly winging their arms, flexing and extending their bodies, and generally twisting and writhing”. That’ll do jellyfish, that’ll do.
Not doubt his son is proud that his traumatizing experience, subsequent trust issues, and years of therapy could help put the ‘Barnes’ in C. barnesi. Sorry kid, your dad was an A-hole. Science!
Should I Pee On It?
So what do you do if you get stung? By this, or any jellyfish for that matter? Well, first, don’t worry, arguably only two people have died from the impending doom jellyfish (the exact same death toll for nutmeg psychosis! Coincidence?).
Next ask yourself: “Am I in Australia and vomiting by the minute?” If yes, go to the hospital.
If no, and therefore it’s definitely just a regular jellyfish sting, then first things first: DO NOT pee on it. This is a great general rule for fixing most problems.
Remember that Friends when Monica pees on Joey’s jellyfish sting and it worked? Yeah, don’t do that. Cuz it won’t.
See, when jellyfish sting, they leave behind a bunch of stinger cells in you called cnidocytes (vermicious knid…o-cites). Inside these cells are little ticking time bombs – organelles called nematocysts. These explode with venom at the slightest jostle.
Don’t scratch it – that will set off the bombs. Don’t pour your water bottle on it either. See, the inside and outsides of cells are always trying to be in balance. Water outside a cell makes there be an imbalance of solutes, so cells will release solutes to make the outside equal the inside. Freshwater therefore draws solutes out of cells, which also happens to make the nematocysts release more pain juice.
Urine, as it turns out, can act a lot like freshwater, so you might actually feel more pain, not just the humiliation of a story you will never live down.
What Does Work?
Turns out, vinegar and it’s 5% acetic acidness is just the thing. And talk about convenient, as what self-respecting beach trip is complete without a good gallon of delicious vinegar?
Or you can just avoid Australia, as this sign seems to imply. But, like celibacy, where’s the fun in that?
(Speaking of nonwhizzing, this blog brought you by the memory of Ren & Stimpy and the game they introduced to the world:)
Photos in public domain except:
box jelly – photo by Forgerz, CC by SA 3.0
twilight – photo by norika21, CC by SA 2.0
jellyfish in tube – photo by GondwanaGirl, CC by SA 3.0
jon snow (Kit Harrington) – photo by Kevin Dougherty, CC by 2.0
“Friends” – photo by Peter Pham, CC by 2.0