August 18th, 2021
If You’ve Ever Wondered What It’s Like to Be Bitten By A Shark
Unfortunately, in my line of work dealing with accidents is all too familiar. But in the matter of Jeff Parsons v. Shark Doe, it’s personal. I don’t in any way mean I blame the shark; I’m just saying it actually happened to me.
Having been to the hospital three times so far, ridden an hour in an ambulance, and having received first aid care from beach patrol, I’ve been asked more times than I care to say, “What does it feel like to be bitten by a shark?” Well, it’s no day at the beach.
The encounter occurred while my family and I were on vacation on Kiawah Island, S.C. And if you have to be on bed rest, it’s a beautiful place to recover. Anyone interested in golf knows Kiawah recently hosted the 2021 PGA Championship at its picturesque Ocean Course. But I digress.
At the time of the encounter, my 12-year-old son, Mac, and I were enjoying a perfect day battling the ocean tide in about waist-deep water. Fortunately, at the time of the accident, Mac had drifted 20 or so yards away from me. Then it hit me. It literally hit me. It felt like a battering ram had crushed my lower leg and ankle. I thought to myself, “Self, something just rammed into you and broke your ankle.” Any angler knows just how powerful even a 10-inch trout is when it tugs the line. Instinctively, I put my hand down and touched it. While I didn’t see it, I could tell by the size of its massive head it was a sizable creature. In that instant, I felt the razor-sharp teeth drag across the back of my ankle around the side of my foot. And I ran.
When asked to describe it, I say it felt like someone hit me with a truck, dragged a serrated bread knife through my skin and across my bony ankle and shoved a hot poker into my Achilles’ tendon. I still need to get an MRI to see what damage was done there, if any, but for now I can’t move it or put any weight on the affected foot.
At the time, my son and I were the only two people in the water, and I’m happy to be able to say that while I was doing my best to save myself, I did have the parental instinct to yell to my son to get out! And there were two others going in the wrong direction, whom I also did my best to redirect. Once I collapsed into shallow water, I think the other beachgoers got the message. I laid there, seeing my son safe and just continued to lay there. At some point, however, it occurred to me as I laid there, gushing blood into the ocean’s water, that bleeding into the water was not the best idea. Sharks can literally smell blood a quarter mile away. Although not usually attracted by human blood, I nevertheless dragged myself completely onto the sand.
Satisfied I had gotten out of harm’s way, I yelled for help. And help came. People are truly wonderful. Before I knew it, some concerned beachgoers had brought me a chair and some water. My boy put my glasses on my face, and my wonderful wife, Mimi, was at my side. I was happy to have my foot intact, and actually enjoyed sitting in my chair looking at the beautiful ocean. (I was probably in some state of shock, but who cares? For the moment, I was at peace; the pain would come soon enough.)
I did not enjoy looking at my exposed ankle bone but could not look away at the same time. The sand and salt water in my gaping wound also didn’t help matters. I’m not going to try to be stoic; it hurt. It still does. And depending on my upcoming MRI, it may continue to hurt depending on whether or not, and to what extent, my Achilles’ tendon may have been affected. I hear that’s not a great surgery. I remain hopeful, and God will look out for me either way.
Most importantly, in telling my story, I want to let people know this is a one-in-five-million accident, so I don’t want my experience to have a chilling effect for anyone who’s going to the beach. The not-so-great at bedside manner emergency department doctor informed me the odds of being bitten by a shark are equivalent to winning the lottery. I just won the wrong kind of lottery. Even beach patrol told concerned onlookers that they were just as safe as they ever were as far as going into the water. I don’t know if that’s comforting to the reader or not, but the fact is that sharks live in the ocean. And I’ve been asked several times if I’ll ever go back in the ocean. My response every time is “absolutely!” My quick Google search tells me only two people have ever been bitten twice by sharks. So, I think my odds of being bitten again are next to nil. As an aside, however, I may be the only person who has the distinction of being bitten by both a shark and a kangaroo. I’m either extremely lucky or extremely unlucky. Off the top of my head, I’ve also been bitten by two dogs, a snake, a gerbil, a hamster, a rabbit, a lizard, a lorikeet, a few cats, a chinchilla and a small child. So, there’s that.
On that note, it’s important to understand sharks are not out to get you. And, like my case, they usually don’t result in serious injury. This is one of the main reasons I have chosen to blog about this rather than be another sensationalized news story. The fact that such encounters make headlines just goes to show how truly rare they are. The truth is sharks are predators. They like "see-food"; they see food, they eat it. I was an intruder in that shark’s home, and I was fair game. Luckily, sharks don’t want to eat us. They don’t really like our taste. What happened to me is the more typical encounter in which there’s a bump-and-taste, followed by a move-along-to-something-better tasting.
The only evidence that may have a shred of credibility concerning animosity this particular shark may have held was pointed out by a man at the beach, who noticed I was wearing a Steelers T-shirt. He asked my son what happened, to which he replied, “My dad was bitten by a shark.” Without missing a beat, the man quickly hypothesized, “Huh, must’ve been a Browns’ fan.”