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Poisonous Plant Sting Gives Woman Pain Worse than Childbirth: ‘Unbearable’

A mother of four who fell into a poisonous bush hath said that the pain of her stings was way worse than giving birth to her kids.

The woman, 42-year-old Naomi Lewis from Cairns, Australia, was mountain biking along a path when she fell, sliding into the stinging plant known locally as the gympie-gympie plant.

She was stung by the plant on both her legs, and experienced “100 percent the worst pain ever.”

“The pain was just beyond unbearable. The body gets to a pain threshold and then I started vomiting,” she told ABC NewsAustralia.

“I’ve had four kids—three caesareans and one natural. Childbirth, none of them even come close.”

Gympie-gympie plants, also known as stinging trees, suicide plants, or Queensland Stingers, are native to rainforests across Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. These plants are nettles on steroids: all parts of the plant, including the stem, leaves and flowers, are covered in tiny poisonous hairs filled with toxins.

These fine, hollow hairs contain neurotoxins similar to scorpion, spider and cone snail venom, which is thought to cause more pain than any other plant in the world by touch. The hairs embed in the skin and break off the plant, and may remain stuck in the skin for up to a year.

The toxins, named gympietides, block certain pain receptors from turning off, causing extended pain for many days or even weeks after the sting. The pain usually begins immediately after contact with the hairs, and intensifies to a peak around 20 to 30 minutes afterwards, before slowly fading.

After she collided with the plant, Lewis’ husband took her to a pharmacy nearby to buy leg wax, which they attempted to use to remove the hypodermic hairs of the plant from her legs.

“I had everyone trying to wax my legs, trying to get the stinging hairs off me, while I was waiting for an ambulance,” Lewis said in a statement from the government of Queensland.

“The pain was so bad, I started vomiting. I remember thinking I was completely done. The pain was just beyond unbearable. It was really, really horrific.”

The pain has been described in similar terms by others unlucky enough to have touched this unsuspecting stinger.

“Being stung is the worst kind of pain you can imagine—like being burnt with hot acid and electrocuted at the same time,” entomologist and ecologist Marina Hurley wrote in a Conversation article, having encountered the tree when she was a postgraduate student at James CookUniversity.

Ernie Rider, a senior conservation officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, was once slapped in the face, arms and chest by the plant, and described it as unrivaled by any other form of pain.

“I remember it feeling like there were giant hands trying to squash my chest,” he said, Australian Geographic reports. “For two or three days the pain was almost unbearable; I couldn’t work or sleep, then it was pretty bad pain for another fortnight or so. The stinging persisted for two years and recurred every time I had a cold shower.”

Lewis was taken to Cairns Private Hospital and stayed for seven days, being treated with hot blankets and medication for her pain.

In a study published in the journal Emergency Medicine Australasia, Doctors from Cairns Hospital describe how many people attempt a variety of treatments to remove the hairs or treat the pain prior to going to the hospital, including waxing, as Lewis tried. Other attempts included taking painkillers, drinking alcohol, attempting to tourniquet the limb, and applying mud, urine, ice, bicarbonate, hot or cold water to the painful area.

A 3 percent diluted hydrochloric acid soak for 30 minutes is recommended by the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station, before waxing the area to remove as many hairs as possible.

“There are a lot of reports of the best methods to treat stings, ranging from bush medicine through to using diluted hydrochloric acid on affected parts of the skin, all with varying degrees of success. But without any proper scientific or medical analysis of these treatments , it’s dangerous for people to try them themselves without clinical oversight,” Ruth Young, lead author of the study and Cairns Hospital toxicologist, said in a statement.

“The best thing anyone can do if they are stung is seek medical attention.”

It was months after the accident until Lewis stopped needing the pain medication, and she still feels pain when she has her legs uncovered in an airconditioned area.

A mother of four who fell into a poisonous bush hath said that the pain of her stings was way worse than giving birth to her kids.

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