Trip Start Jan 04, 2008
34Trip End Apr 08, 2008
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So the trip out there is blissful...quiet paddling along the winding waterway...seeing some more cackling Hoatzins and enjoying the cacophony of birdsongs in the forest. Fishing is great...it's just quiet...peaceful...then I've got a bite...there's no reel...just swing it over the boat...it's a fat little catfish...Frank unhooks it and easily removes the spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins...we put it in water till we get back to camp...very simple. He catches the next and then I've got the third. In the interest of full participation, I want to unhook and de-spine it. I copy his method...hook out...one spine...on to the next...in a final plea for survival, the fish whips around and stabs me in the finger. My finger is bleeding profusely and worse than that, it hurts far more than any stab should hurt. In fact, the intensiity of the pain just about takes my breath away. Now I have always thought of catfish as rather sluggish bottom feeders, not posing much of a threat to anything...but of course everything has survival mechanisms and I don't know if catfish in NY are as well equipped but this one certainly has some hidden defenses.
The pain in my finger intensifies...it starts swelling... I'm wondering if one of us should urinate on it but instead of visiting that extreme, I just spit on it, believing there's got to be some healing power in my saliva...at least there are no parasites in it like there might be in the surrounding water. I'm thinking about what I know about poisonous fish of the tropics and although catfish does not top the list, I'm certainly aware that there are toxins in my finger and my body is reacting. Frank assures me that they are not going to still my heart or paralyze my extremities but he helps squeeze the toxins out and I keep a silent check on my heart and breathing rate. Now my friend Frank here is about 22 years old, albeit a responsible 22 yr. old, but we're far, far from medical care...I remember learning back in Marine Biology, that stepping on a stonefish can cost you your life in minutes and that even a seemingly benign fish is assigned new power when it's home is in the tropics. And a usually calm Frank looks a little concerned but I don't see the potential of death or even paralysis in his face. So I keep breathing and remain cool...far be it from me to be the panicked NY tourist stopped in her tracks by a catfish sting. But I'm so grateful when the pain begins to subside after about 10 minutes - that seem more like 30...my thoughts of life with less than 10 fingers recede from my consciousness. My finger continues to swell, we continue to fish...the birdsongs have never missed a beat. Later that evening, me and my throbbing swollen digit enjoy a tasty fried catfish appetizer.... I'm newly impressed with this species both in and out of the water...another memorable jungle experience...