Sam’s dream break turned into a nightmare when she was left with severe third degree burns after being attacked by a giant jellyfish in front of her terrified daughter.
‘Please Mum?!’ my six-year-old daughter Ella begged.
I looked at David –
‘Come on then!’ he laughed. Well, we had said we’d wanted adventure!
We waded out into the sea, clambered onto the banana boat.
‘Hold tight!’ we told Ella and it began bobbing through the water before gathering speed as it skimmed the waves.
We’d arrived in Thailand with friends on the family holiday of a lifetime just hours earlier. After hours cooped up on a plane, it was lovely to be out in the warm sun.
But suddenly, as the water whoosed over us I lost my grip on the boat. I came hurtling off.
‘Aaghh!’ I yelled, laughing as I hit the water.
But within seconds, my shouts became cries of agony.
I felt something hit my right leg, pain searing through me. It felt like hundreds of razor-sharp teeth going into my leg. I couldn’t see anything in the murky water but I started to panic. The pain was so intense…had I been bitten by a shark?
‘My leg!’ I screamed. ‘Help me!’
‘Mummy!’ Ella bellowed, her little face creasing in fear.
‘Hang on Sam, I’m coming!’ My boyfriend David called as dived off the ride and into the sea.
Finally, David reached me and tried to pull me towards the beach.
‘Aagh!’ he cried as pain hit his legs and stomach too. ‘There’s something down here!’
As he eventually pulled me ashore I could see Ella sobbing in terror from the ride.
As David carried me up the beach, and laid me on the sand it quickly became clear that my right calf had been badly injured.
Red raw and covered with raised, mottled lumps, it looked like I’d been burnt with acid.
Locals crowded round me on the beach, gasping and covering their mouths in shock.
‘Jellyfish sting,’ someone said, pointing to it. David had been stung too, though nowhere near as badly as me.
Someone tried to wash my legs with soda. It didn’t help.
Then a policeman arrived. He carried me into the back of his pick-up truck and rushed me to a local clinic, half-an-hour away.
I started panicking. This wasn’t like any jellyfish sting I’d ever seen…what if I was having a reaction?
At the clinic I was given painkillers and antibiotics and taken back to our hotel where I fell into a deep, drugged sleep .
‘How are you feeling now?’ David asked me the following morning.
‘Not too bad,’ I lied.
Truth was my leg was killing me. But I was desperate not to spoil the holiday. It had cost us a fortune.
‘I’ll be alright,’ I said as we left for that day’s planned excursion to the rainforest.
Only during the eight-hour drive my leg swelled to twice its normal size and all the red burns started to turn black. People kept asking me if I’d been in a motorcycle accident.
‘It really doesn’t look good,’ David fretted. ‘I think we should get it looked at.’
But I shook my head. I tried to ignore the pain and hoped it would soon get better as I hobbled along, clutching onto David’s arm as we took Ella to feed the elephants – the planned highlight of our trip.
Only by that evening it was becoming harder to stand and two doctors at our tented camp on holiday urged me to go to hospital.
Admitted to the tiny local community hospital with no toilet roll or sheets, I started to panic. There were lizards scampering up the walls and there was a bloody handprint on the bottom on my wooden-slatted bed.
No one even came to look at my leg for eight hours and the facilities were so awful I worried about getting more ill.
My tour operator agreed.
‘You can’t stay here,’ he said. ‘Let me make a few phone calls.’
He arranged an emergency transfer to a private hospital in Phuket – six hours away from our resort.
‘I don’t want to leave you,’ I told Ella. ‘But Mummy’s leg is very poorly.’
As the ambulance blue-lighted through the dirty streets I wept. I felt so alone. Some holiday.
Eventually we made it to the hospital where I was diagnosed with second-degree burns.
I had to stay in for a week as the wound was cleared of jellyfish spines. Forget bonding with my family, some days she couldn’t even speak to her six-year old, as there was no phone reception.
Instead of swimming and sunbathing, I filled my days Watching re-runs of old war movies on the one English channel on the TV.
Then three days into my stay, an earthquake rocked the hospital.
‘We need to evacuate straight away!’ a nurse said, running into my room.
I was terrified.
As I waited outside in the searing heat for an hour, I started to wish we’d just booked a week in Weymouth instead.
Finally after seven nights away, I rejoined my family to fly home. My leg was still bandaged.
‘Mummy!’ Ella cried as she excitedly ran towards me.
It was wonderful to see her again.
‘How are you feeling?’ David asked, drawing me into a hug.
‘Sore,’ I winced.
The11-hour flight home was uncomfortable. Especially bent double in economy class. Thankfully I was upgraded but that made me feel guilty about leaving my family again.
Back home, I was sent straight to hospital where the skin consultant looked at my peeling skin and said it was the worst type of reaction to a jellyfish burn they had ever seen.
I was admitted for surgery to remove the top layers of burned skin. I needed 50 stitches and was told I could be off work for up to two months.
Doctors confirmed the third degree burns had reached the muscle in some places and that I may need skin grafts. My legs will never look the same again. Now, a month on, I’m still in pain, I rely on crutches to get around and can’t drive.
We’d said we wanted an adventure-filled holiday, but this was terrifying. I’ll never forget it for all the wrong reasons.
Things could have been so worse. I’m just so glad it wasn’t Ella this happened to. Still, I won’t be booking another holiday to Thailand and to be honest I can’t imagine going back in the sea.