When Carl Gretenhardt went fishing with his son on a warm September night, the experience started fairly normal. But soon Gretenhardt was in for a scary situation that could happen to any angler.
“It was Thursday and after work Waylon and I usually go fish for an hour before dark,” the Palmetto Point resident Gretenhardt said. “I forgot pliers and Waylon caught a catfish. After unhooking it I went to push it back in the water with my foot and it flopped up and landed on top of my foot with one of its barbs going through my shoe into my foot.” The catfish then fell into the water as Gretenhardt felt immense pain.
He called his wife Cheri, a nurse, and their 7-year-old son Waylon talked to her as the situation worsened.
“Waylon said that ‘Daddy’s foot is spurting blood like a whale’. I was on the Skyway coming home, so service was going in and out. I heard Carl say his pain was a 25 on a scale of 1 to 10,” Cheri recalled.
“I tried to keep them calm and said if he’s going to lose consciousness, he needs to call 911. I was able to talk Waylon through getting him Tylenol and Aleve right away.”
Cheri arrived home to find Carl almost in shock, but calming down enough to rest in bed for the night. Being a nurse she was aware of the seriousness of the situation, so she kept monitoring Carl.
Catfish accident requires surgery
The next morning he woke up with a sore foot and attempted to go to work. The plan was to get an X-ray at lunch to see if there was any damage. But as he sat down, his body was not acting right.
“That was the first time I’ve ever had my life flash before my eyes,” said Carl. “I thought I was having a cardiac event. They were telling me I was talking funny and the venom was making me crazy.”
X-rays revealed the worst. The barb, which he had assumed only punctured the foot, was actually dismembered from the catfish and still in Gretenhardt’s foot.
Since a catfish barb is thick like a human bone it is able to show up clearly on an X-ray. Some fish have translucent spines that don’t show up and cause issues by remaining hidden.
With the toxins in his body, Gretenhardt found himself sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day as Cheri monitored his situation.
“My vision was messed up and I was out of breath. I was just kind of fading in and out the whole time,” he said.
Gretenhardt was able to make it to Dr. Michael Clare, an orthopedic surgeon who has experience with his condition.
“Catfish barbs are like a double-edged serrated knife. They can’t just pull it out with the barbs. Where it was in his foot had too many other bones, so it needed surgery to remove,” Cheri explained.
Nearly a week after the barb entered his foot Gretenhardt, surgery was completed by Clare. Gretenhardt had to be placed on nerve blockers for the surgery, meaning his leg from the knee down to his foot couldn’t be felt. After surgery, he was able to avoid a hospital stay as doctors felt comfortable with Cheri’s ability to monitor the situation.
After 14 days he’ll be able to have the stitches removed and then a recovery timetable could be set. Due to the possible bacteria in local waters, he’s also taking two antibiotics to fight off potential infections.
“Doctors compare the pain to the bite of a rattlesnake. I can tell you I’ve done a lot of bad things, and this was as bad as it gets,” Gretenhardt said.