My Patient - The Shark Attack Victim
A number of years ago I worked at a
small community hospital on the west side of the island of Kauai. I lived
on the Big Island so I would fly over to Kauai and work two 24 hour shifts back
to back. It was not too stressful. Some of my most interesting and challenging
patients were at that small hospital. One mid-morning, a pick-up truck
drove into our ambulance parking site and a young man in wet surfing pants ran
into the ER shouting: “the shark took his whole lower leg off!!”
Sure enough, a young 19-year-old was
in the bed of the pick-up with a bungie cord wrapped tightly around his left
thigh! He was awake, but in shock. His first words as we transferred him to the
gurney: “I’m so sorry, I’m all wet and sandy and I’ll mess up your ER!" We
heard no ‘poor me’s’!!! His friend’s story was that they were surfing at
Polohale Beach which is a favorite site about 8-10 miles from the hospital.
When the patient yelled at his friend, “I think a shark hit my left leg, I’m
going to the beach!!” His friend immediately picked him up, put him in
the back of the pick-up, then applied the bungie cord to his thigh as a
In the emergency department, we
immediately started universal donor blood and IV’s as he was in shock. We
called transport to send him to Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu and they sent a
helicopter!! Later that evening I got a call from my friend at the emergency
department at Queens to let us know that he was in surgery and doing very well!
About two weeks later I was on duty
and a young man on crutches with a missing left lower leg and his friend, came
into our emergency department with flowers and boxes of mac nut chocolate. Yes,
we all were teary-eyed and gleaming!
About a year later, I was getting
ready to board the plane going home from a shift and this young man tapped me
on the shoulder saying, ”I thought you might like to see my great
prosthesis!!!” He handed me a box of mac nut chocolates and gave me a hug. I
said to him: "Mahalo! And remember, it takes a team to do what we did for
you!” His outcome was all the reward I needed, but I do love mac nut
Some Ways to Avoid Shark Attacks:
though shark attacks are extremely rare, there are some things you can do minimize
your chances of getting attacked.
swimming in areas where you see lots of fish or seals as these can be shark
in groups, or at least with a partner.
Make sure you know what is going on in the surrounding water
swimming in the ocean at dusk, dawn or at night.
swim in waters known to be frequented by sharks. Check with lifeguards or other authorities
for specific, regional information.
swimming in dirty, murky water. It can
impair your vision and increase the chances of an encounter.
enter the water if bleeding as this can attract sharks.
wear shiny jewelry either, as this can also attract sharks.
wander too far from shore.
About the Author: Shay Bintliff, MD is an emergency physician on the Big Island of
Hawaii. She is also an accomplished
writer, comedian, athlete and community volunteer.