Untold Pain in the Philippines
The Philippines has not to date been a focus of this blog though reference has been made to it's box jellyfish problem that scientific records show was first acknowledged over 100 years ago in the Subic Bay area. As if on some sort of cruel cue, a recent serious sting sadly signalled that record's centenary.
On December 1st, 2012 while staying at the 3.5-star Camayan Beach Resort, the Boutet family was relaxing on the beach in full view of the resort's lifeguards. Little Enzo was splashing in the shallows of Subic Bay, his parents sharing the joy with their happy 3 year old.
Oblivious to any danger though obviously taking proper care of their boy, the Boutet's were feeling relaxed and looking forward to another restful, stress-free stay at Camayan. Suddenly, Enzo let out a painful cry and screamed uncontrollably as his shocked and confused parents were thrust into a nightmare, an emergency situation without knowing what had or was happening.
|Camayan Beach Resort, Subic Bay, Philippines|
There is plenty of detail available online with accounts from management at the Camayan Beach Resort and numerous others:
- SUBIC TIMES JELLYFISH INCIDENT ARTICLE ..
- SUBIC TIMES CAMAYAN RESORT'S ACCOUNT ..
- FAMILY FRIEND'S ACCOUNT
While here is an account from Emily Boutet within days of the sting:
1. Camayan Beach Resort and Hotel knows about the presence of jellyfish in their beach but they dont inform their guests about precautionary measures.
2. Their oxygen tank was not ready for the emergency.
3. They did not have a vehicle ready to transport us. As the COO of Camayan Beach Resort and Hotel told me – when you bring your kids to the beach, you know there is a risk. You could imagine how I freaked out with her statement! It was tantamount to saying that I am responsible for the accident of Enzo. More to come on the softskills of their manager and COO.
Camayan Beach Resort and Hotel oxygen tank was not ready. First Aiders had to fill out the little container with water. When asked why it wasnt ready, Camayan Beach Resort, Subic Bay Freeport, said that water in that container cannot be kept long. I say that they should replace the water once they think it is not “good” anymore.
Camayan Beach Resort and Hotel gave one complimentary night for us to recover from our shock …
We were expecting that before we check out, the general manager would come and visit us – check on Enzo. Apparently this wasn’t part of his schedule. I had to ask the receptionist to inform the GM that we would like to see him. He instead called us and explained that he is in a meeting with their COO and CFO.
To cut the story short, Toni, the GM passed me to their COO, Ruby Co .
I spoke to her about the accident and how we were let down by the way they handle it as well as the post-accident. She acknowledged my story with OK. And another cold OK and she went on like this until I stopped talking.
She then said to me “So tell me, what do you still want from us?!”
There was no sympathy in her voice. She talked to me like I was part of Camayan Beach Resort’s operations – that I was reporting to her metrics!
I was offended, shocked with the way she talked with me.
I became very emotional and hysterical. And she kept on talking over me and didn’t acknowledge my pain.
I told the COO of Camayan Beach Resort and Hotel that I want (1) that guests be informed about the presence of jellyfish in the beach – this sinformation on how to protect oneself and the first aid intervention. (2) that their first aid be more reliable and responsive.
And yes, I forgot to share with you, after the accident, Camayan Beach Resort, Subic Bay Freeport did not inform the guests of the presence of a jellyfish in the protected swimming area.
Unfortunately this is not an unfamiliar scenario. Unsigned beaches. Unsuspecting victims. Unprepared rescuers. Understandable confusion. Untold pain. Unsympathetic hosts. Unsighted authorities. Unresolved situation.
In the Philippines box jellyfish sightings are regular. From time to time newspapers report on stings. Social media is helping reveal the extent of the problem. Government authorities at all levels including science and medical fields are very, very quiet on the subject. Non-Filipino jellyfish researchers - of which there are not so many - have periodically reported on the situation. Cleland & Southcott in the 1960s reported stings at Subic Bay. Dr Peter Fenner who is an internationally-renowned and respected expert on jellyfish wrote in his thesis on world envenomations in the 1980s that an estimated 20-50 people in the Philippines are killed each year from box jellyfish stings.
There is no denying that the Philippines has a problem with box jellyfish that needs addressing much like the situation in Thailand. The Camayan Beach resort claims it is 'world class'. Well, where are the 'world class' standards on duty of care? Where are the information signs? Obviously if vinegar is available at the First Aid hut the problem is a known problem - well how about letting guests in on the secret so they can make an informed decision about entering the water? How about hiring out or providing lycra suits - at least for the kids, or even a prevention net?
Where is the direction from the local government authorities of Subic Bay? They will be aware of the broader problem. Where is the public information? Where are the rules and regulations? Where is the pressure on the area's 'world class' operators to employ 'world class' standards?
Where is the responsibility?
Until somebody stands up and takes responsibility, this nightmare scenario will be played out time and time again as it has for more than 100 years. Though unlike little Enzo Boutet who somehow managed to survive this traumatic event, 20-50 Filipinos and visitors will not be so fortunate. Their lives will be ended in the most painful of circumstances, needlessly, when all that is wanting is for the authorities and those in hospitality and tourism to follow the lead and initiative taken by Thailand and Australia in minimizing the risks and saving lives. The information is available for them to access - all they need to do is ask.
Yes the sea is a wild place. It can be very dangerous. Yes there are risks every time one steps foot in the water. But, for example, we are aware of drowning, we take swimming lessons and we wear floaties and life-jackets and we read signs warning of dangerous currents. SCUBA safety, boat safety, etc; if we are going to do these things we generally need to understand the safety aspects to a proficient level.
However, as a parent taking your 3 year old to dip a toe in the water in-between the flags watched over by lifeguards in a tower at a 'world class' resort - box jellyfish??!! Nearby to death, splashing in the shallows while holding the child's hand? Should one be aware of this risk before booking? Is this the responsibility of the parent? Should they know of Cleland & Southcott? Is it up to the likes of the Boutets to know that this beach is typical box jellyfish habitat with shallow-sandy bottom feeding areas and mangroves that are their breeding ground?
|Photo Jürgen Freund, mangroves in the Philippines - notice how they swim away? |
The visual system of box jellyfish is designed to avoid obstacles and
one reason why sting numbers aren't higher - they avoid you.
The Camayan Beach Resort has established a business in an area that was identified many decades earlier as a habitat for lethal box jellyfish. They invite people to be their guests and to use their facilities. Paying guests come in good faith. But little do they know that underlying all of the marketing and selling is the knowledge by the resort that they are welcoming unknowing visitors to a box jellyfish habitat and playing Russian roulette with their lives. Chances are no-one will get hurt. That is until ... then it is all a case of reacting in their best interests, protecting themselves, denying responsibility and burying the event as quickly as possible.
The Philippines needs to pull its head out of the sand, open its eyes and realize that the more this happens and becomes public, the more serious the negative impact on tourism and revenue. And more importantly, innocent lives are being lost, serious injury is creating terrible trauma and the likes of 3 year old Enzo and his distraught parents are left to deal with it, unsuspecting and unsupported.
Enzo's recovery has been positive. The danger period when stung by a box jellyfish is the seconds and minutes immediately when stung, the effects of toxic shock suffered by the victim (not anaphylactic - not allergic - it is the venom that kills!), then the threat of secondary infection. Once these episodes have been overcome recovery takes a fairly natural course.
The venom is known to obliterate the immune system so it's important to repair this asap. The wound needs treatment similar as that for burns. The scarring can linger though tends to fade after a few months, however permanent keloid scarring is common if the wound was severe.
It looks like Enzo will hold onto some scarring. He is young enough perhaps not to be too greatly affected psychologically though no doubt his parents are doing everything to get him over the shock and back on the horse. Enzo will certainly have an incredible story of bravery and survival to show and tell when he grows up!