Sunday, September 08, 2013

A boy, a mouse burrow, and a snake


Last night, right after supper, I got a call. It was one of the health workers. Someone had come to his home and asked if he would give a 9 year old child with a snakebite an injection.  The bite was 3 days old and the first shot had been administered at a hospital. Knowing he lived too far to come back each day for subsequent shots, they sent the vial home with instructions to find a health person to administer them. He hadn't received yesterday's shot and had cried from pain all the previous night, so they were desperate. Since health workers aren't trained to give injections, they called me. 

It was dark already so I picked up one of our guards to accompany me along with the health worker who received the call. We drove along a wide dirt path that wound through the huts in the local community. After taking several left, then right, then left again turns along the path, and where the trail by then was very narrow, we stopped.  From there we walked to the home where the child was. The guys with me used their cell phones to light their way. I had brought my MAG light and in a community that has no electricity and is very dark at night, I was the brightest beacon for miles around.

When we reached the child's home we found the family in the yard huddled around a small fire. This is customary here. The fire in one's yard is central to all evening activity since it provides both heat and light. This is where food is prepared, then eaten, and where evening socializing occurs until bedtime. 

We greeted the adults then called for the child with the snakebite. He got up from amid the group and walked slowly toward us. All eyes were on us from the darkness as we worked in the beam of my bright light.

The boy's hand was very swollen from the wrist to the fingertips and he had a draining gash on the bitten finger. Apparently he had been out hunting field mice so he could have some meat in his stew. (Meat is an absolute luxury in these parts.)  He found a mouse's burrow but when he put his hand in to grab the mouse, discovered a snake instead (which was probably there because it had eaten the mouse).  

 I asked why his finger had a gash instead of puncture holes from a snake. I was told that per tradition, the puncture site had been cut open to remove possible fangs left behind by the snake. I know about this tradition, actually. So I launched into my usual explanation that the chance of a fang being left behind is very, very low while the chance of the wound becoming infected is very, very high. Rather just leave it alone. But I know letting go of long-held traditions and beliefs is difficult. I have some myself. We all do. And even though my explanation is received with subtle skepticism, I give it anyway. I am convinced that things can change over time if we are patient yet consistent.

Anyway, to wrap things up... We decided on the best course of treatment, gave him medicine to help bring the inflammation down, and prayed for him. Today, the boy and his uncle stopped by for a check up. The boy reportedly had slept soundly and his hand was visibly less swollen. He was in much better spirits and chattered away with me while I cleaned and bandaged his finger. 

We'll closely follow his recovery and trust we can keep damage to a minimum. When they left, I told him that next time he's out mouse hunting for meat for his "caril" (stew), rather probe the holes with a stick than his hand. And I couldn't help but restate the part about not cutting a snakebite open to search for fangs. He's young, and impressionable, and I hope he remembers. I also hope that when he tells his friends his story, he includes that and the part about using a stick to probe the burrow instead. Maybe we can save someone else needless injury and pain.

A hand is far too high a price to pay for a bit meat.