Sting, Stang, Stung!

By Mary Kay Seales

I always knew there was a possibility. I heard tell. But for seventeen years, I have never been stung by a jellyfish on the Côte d’Azur.

Until today.


I knew immediately what had happened because I had been stung once before in the Caribbean when I swam through a school of jellyfish in front of my rented condo. It left small red welts on my arm for weeks.

But today’s sting was MUCH more painful. Like a hundred tiny teeth biting me and not letting go. Across my upper arm, and a swipe across my nose. OUCH! I knew I should get out the of water, but I had a moment of panic about which way to go, not wanting to swim into a school of these things.

As I was swimming to shore, I was thinking, rather vainly, that I would spend the rest of my time on vacation with red welts across my face.

I happened to fortunately be on a private beach where there is a dedicated life guard for the guests. I immediately, and quietly, told one of the workers I had been “piqué pour une méduse” and he directed me into the bar area, and told me to wait for the lifeguard.

I did have one bit of luck in that the super sexy, tattooed lifeguard in the red shorts, who I had been admiring from afar, was on duty. Here’s how he treated the sting:

  • First, he slipped on a pair of plastic gloves so as not to get stung while touching my skin, I’m assuming. Those stingers are active even after the creature is dead. A friend and I once came upon a dead jelly fish that had washed up on a beach in Hawaii, and he made the mistake of picking up a tendril. ZAP! Don’t touch dead jellyfish.
  •  Then, the incredibly sexy lifeguard in the red shorts with tattoos everywhere, carefully wiped the sting area with a gauze soaked in white vinegar. Gently, gently, no pressure. According to one biologist who studies jellyfish stings, the vinegar prevents “further venom release, allowing the tentacles to be safely removed.”
  • Next, he smoothed on a gel, which did not immediately take the pain away, but it felt good all the same. Not sure what it was, but he said it was available in local pharmacies. Ask for “jell poor may-dooz” (try to have a French Accent; this is your chance to interact with the locals)
  • Finally, my beautiful lifeguard patted talcum powder on my sting areas, so when I walked back to my chair on the beach on the French Riviera in my bikini surrounded by gorgeous beauties, I looked like I’d been rather clumsily eating jelly donuts with powdered sugar. Americans! 

I was feeling my lip getting a bit numb, which did alarm me, but the sexy tattooed lifeguard told me (in French) that it would go away in 30 minutes.

It took a bit longer than 30 minutes, but after an hour, the pain had almost gone completely, except for my nose, which still aches like I was punched in the face.

I did go back in the water later. All that stuff about getting back on the horse after a fall, right? I also decided that if I was the only one on the beach who had been stung, which it seems that I was, no one else screaming at the time, and if it happened again, then this jellyfish was meant for me, a messenger (of something), so no good to try to outrun or avoid it.

Myriad Remedies

Google jellyfish stings and you’ll discover at least 100 different methods for treating them, including the myth that you should pee on the sting. This method has been debunked, so don’t do it. Anyway, it’s too gross, and for sure embarrassing. Especially if you are on the French Riviera. Not cool.

Many researchers seem to agree that something acidic should be applied – vinegar, lemon juice – to counteract the venom.

Don’t rinse off in a cold shower or rub the sting with your bare hands. The stingers are still there.

While it might seem like a good idea to put ice on the sting, this doesn’t seem to be suggested much, and some sites even recommend applying heat after the vinegar, or taking a hot shower, as hot as you can stand.

One thing you should not do is panic, even though it hurts like a bitch. Just get out onto dry land as calmly and quickly as possible. If there’s a lifeguard, go to him or her and say “May-dooz,” and point at your sting.

If you are having any symptoms beyond pain, call 911 (or 112 in France) for emergency help.

If it was a box jellyfish, which aren’t native to the Mediterranean, then just start praying because otherwise you’re a total goner.


One thing I learned, which is important for me since I love to swim and can’t stay out of the water, is that I was finally stung by a Mediterranean jellyfish, and I DID NOT DIE. It hurt like bloody hell, but I’m still here to talk about it. Now I can LET GO OF THE FEAR.

I  won’t let this stop me from my lovely swim everyday in this heavenly blue water (but I am going to freak out for a while if anything in the water – leaf, stick, debris – touches me).

Another thing I learned is if you are going to be stung by a jelly fish, wait until a beautiful lifeguard is on duty. It helps make the experience memorable.

What is their why?

I’m fascinated by these bizarre, gangly, sometimes beautiful, sometimes deadly creatures. Meduse, as they are called in French, have been swimming the oceans for hundreds of millions of years, and are thought to be the oldest “multi-organ” animals on earth.

They are a metaphor for something.

I’m just not sure what.


For further reading on Jellyfish & traveling on the French Riviera:

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