Our base nurse killed a snake today. He is from Kenya, so he knows about these things. First, he got a big stick. Then he asked our ‘data collector in training’ to distract the snake. He then stunned the snake by striking it in its middle area, and finally finished it off by clobbering it over the head a few times. I took notes, in case I have to do it myself one day. The other method I have seen here in Lankien is to try to shoot the snake. This seems to take a lot of bullets and be less effective. I guess it is hard to kill an excited, angry, undulating snake.
Southern Sudan is home to some of the deadliest snakes in the world. They have names like ‘Black Mamba’ and ‘Red Cobra’. At home we have the 'Massasauga Rattler'. I only know one person who has been bitten by a Massasauga Rattler. She waited in the Emergency Room in cottage country in southern Ontario for hours and eventually went home without treatment and without any ill effect from the snakebite. The people of southern Sudan are not so lucky. Since coming here I have seen four cases of snakebite, all of them serious. They basically come in two forms: limb threatening and life threatening. In the first kind, the snake’s venom can destroy skin, muscle and bone. Depending on the amount of venom injected, you might get only minor swelling or you could lose the entire limb. In the second form, snake toxin spreads throughout the body and can cause death from respiratory arrest or bleeding.
My first experience with a snakebite injury occurred shortly after my arrival in Lankien. The patient was a young woman in her 20’s. She had been quite innocently going about cleaning her tukul. As she was reached behind something, she felt the snake’s fangs sink into her finger. Six hours later, her arm had swelled to three times its normal size. She was in excruciating pain. We did the best we could: pain relief, elevation of the limb, antibiotics, tetanus toxoid, but the skin on the back of her hand eventually sloughed off anyway. She didn’t loose her arm though, so I guess she was lucky, in a way.