Beware the Piranha

As I sat in a tippy wooden dory deep in the Amazon rainforest—dripping wet with sweat, DEET, and the remnants of a sudden afternoon shower—I couldn’t help but wonder about the wisdom of my decision to spend an afternoon fishing. Specifically, fishing for piranha.

In theory, catching these little terrors of fresh water doesn’t take a lot of skill. It’s pretty basic: raw beef and a hook. To get their attention, you flail your pole around on the surface of the water and then let the bait sink, as if some living thing had just croaked. While piranha have the capacity to tag team a live cow and munch it to the bone in a matter of minutes much like a teenage boy who skipped lunch, they’ll only go there if they are trapped and really, really hungry. They prefer snacking on dead stuff that won’t fight back. So that’s where cubes of Brazilian steak come in handy. Lots and lots of cubes. See, I quickly discovered these little buggers are both sneaky and fast. Pretty much as soon as I’d feel a tug and yank up the line, I was left with a freshly de-meated hook and no fish.

About a dozen steaks later, I came to the realization that all I was doing was feeding the piranha like one would feed a pet dog. (“Does little piranha want a treat? … Ohhh, yes you do, yyyes you do.”) Plus, I was pretty certain that giving away all this meat was ensuring a vegetarian conclusion to our Amazon adventure. And then I got another nibble and wrenched up my pole. OH MY GOD I HAD HOOKED A REAL LIVE PIRANHA … IN GENUINE 3D! Here’s where things got interesting. Apparently there are a lot of nine-toed fishermen in the Amazon. I had never considered the possibility of what would happen if I actually caught a toe-eating fish. Getting it off the hook before it ate said hook—then the line, the pole, and then my arm—was now job number one. So I did what any brave angler would do: I threw the pole to our guide in sheer terror. (But not before I posed for a picture with my fearsome 3-inch catch as my wife, clearly scared to death, looked on.)

That afternoon I had wanted nothing more than to catch a piranha. Until I caught one. And perhaps that’s the teachable MS lesson in all of this. Be careful what you wish for—it might not be everything you want. I know many of us with multiple sclerosis have been clamoring for years for an oral drug instead of medications that require a stick. And now an oral disease-modifying medication is available with more in the pipeline. But new drugs come with their own list of side effects (some potentially serious) and a treatment history that is shorter than a Mike Tyson fight circa the late 1980s. If injections or infusions are working for you, perhaps the best course of action is the status quo. For now, at least. After all, you never know when you’ll end up with a piranha at the end of your line.

Originally published February 16th, 2011. Picture and caption added.


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