The Snake In My Shorts – A Brush With Death
Never, never, ever make jokes about being bitten by snakes!
I’ve just been staring into the jaws of death and it wasn’t funny. The jaws were small, the jaws probably of a Laotian wolf snake, but they might have killed me and by God, did it hurt.
We’ve just been staying for the New Year on Koh Chang, one of Thailand’s loveliest islands, and we took a chalet on White Sands Beach, under the jungle canopy hard up against the foot of the mountain. The monkeys come down in the evenings and there are wild boar up there so it’s still nature red in tooth and claw, including the rash of bars and discos on the sands.
On our first night, despite it being the dry season, it began to rain. I lay awake in bed listening to the rain beating on the corrugated iron roof for a bit but, not having seen rain for a few months, went outside onto the verandah to have a look. In the lights of the surrounding huts I could see that my shorts hanging on the verandah rail were getting wet so I picked them up to move them under cover.
Then I felt something soft fall onto my right foot and immediately came a stabbing pain. As I turned I saw something slither away into the pot plants moving very fast. I wasn’t sure what it was and at first I thought must be a centipede.
I blundered back inside the hut rudely waking Cat and Nan and lay in agony on the bed massaging my foot. I broke into a sweat. I felt dizzy and sick. This looks too bad to be a centipede so it must be a snake, Cat tells me.
Tropical snake bites can be fatal so, I guess, I’m now staring into the jaws of death.
Cat goes and calls help from Thai friends nearby who get up and gather round looking extremely worried. “What’s the remedy for centipede bites?” I ask them.
“Kill centipede, squeeze shit out and rub it on the bite.”
I think I’ll assume it was a snake. We haven’t caught the thing yet anyway.
I’m still lying on the bed, the worst pain of my life now tracking up my calf and into my groin, while outside the hunt for the snake begins. Suddenly there’s a hubbub. They’ve found it curled up under one of the pots. Figures are dashing to and fro and there’s a banging sound. They’ve killed the snake.
I have a great respect for local knowledge on country lore such as snakes and I watch their faces. They look grave.
“We know this one. Very bad snake. Very dangeruss!”
It doesn’t look too good for me. I need a doctor pronto.
There’s nobody who can drive my pickup so I have to drive it myself, my right braking foot a blazing ball of fire. We get to the local international clinic which says it cannot treat me but arranges an ambulance to the government hospital on the far side of the island. <WTF! This is disturbing! They cannot treat you? WTF can they treat? Are they exclusive to foreigners' island issues, coming off your motorbike injuries and sexually transmitted diseases only – Stick>
It’s a good long run over the hills and almost vertical hairpins so it’s just getting light as we arrive. Now early morning, it’s very quiet and an English speaking nurse checks me in and takes my pulse. We show her the snake and she checks a poster showing the local snakes that are dangerous. When she can’t find it, she does a Google search and says she thinks it’s a Laotian wolf snake, a small snake that hunts frogs and lizards at night. This one isn’t poisonous, but they can take any chances with the identification.
The doctor comes and I learn more about snakes. One type of snake bite is neurotoxic. The venom causes extreme drowsiness which is the neurological system closing down and the beginning of a quick death. The other poisonous bite affects the capacity of the blood to clot and the victim slowly bleeds to death from all orifices and internal bleeding.
If I’m lucky, it could be another one where the snake disables the prey with shock and extreme pain caused by toxins injected by the bite. It’s certainly hurting enough to disable anyone.
What they have to do, it appears, is to admit me for observation for 24 hours and take regular blood tests to check that coagulation is normal. But what if it’s not, I wonder. How can a small public clinic on a Thai island cope if there’s a severe crisis? What can they do to stop me bleeding to death?
I’m not usually squeamish about having blood taken but the first nurse manages to squirt my blood all over my arm. I sink into a whirling pit of dizziness and put my head between my knees. Perhaps this is it then, a new species of snake that can do a double strike. The blood’s gone everywhere because it’s not coagulating properly and the snake’s toxins are now fatally attacking my neurological system.
Yes, it was an anxious few hours with little Cat could do to distract me. I was admitted to a ward to lie and stare at the ceiling. At first the pain had been so bad I didn’t much care how it stopped, but now I was getting more reluctant to die.
The hospital was excellent and soon reported that the first blood test was normal. I slept the night with the usual interruptions for checks of temperature and blood pressure and for more blood letting. By morning I was still alive and it was still raining.
It was a dismal day and I dressed and sat out the front of the hospital watching as the night’s harvest of farang males who’ve fallen off motorbikes are brought in to be patched up. Of these there were three in all.
One had bounced down the road on his beer belly, removing most of the skin. Two others riding a motorbike through the jungle had gone straight on where there was in fact a bend in the road. Lying unconscious and hidden in the undergrowth at three in the morning with about five fractures between them can’t have been the best way to spend their holiday. But I’m told the hospital has about twenty of these road accidents to deal with every day.
My own problem was beginning to look relatively minor in comparison.
These lads were in real trouble but I was going to be okay. The Laotian wolf snake it was that died.
So not too long ago you broke your jaw. Now you're bitten by a snake. Here's hoping it's not third time lucky when the grim reaper makes his next call.