Friday, October 3, 2008

Mumba madness

Thursday was my hottest day in Swaziland so far. It was more like what I imagined my time in Africa would be like. So far, it has been extremely cold at times and I have often cursed myself for not bringing warmer clothing. I sat in Outpatients, pouring with sweat and fanning myself with a piece of paper between patients. It was most uncomfortable.

The arrival of the warmer weather has also heralded the arrival of my greatest fear in Swaziland- the Black Mumba.

It was about midday when one of the doctors ran into my consulting room asking me to urgently see a patient who had been bitten by the feared creature. I quietly cursed under my breath (sorry Mum, but yes, I do actually swear) and thought to myself “Why is it that I am always called to see the most unsalvageable patients?”

I went into the emergency room and there was absolute chaos. The patient was lying on the stretcher moaning and groaning and everyone was looking on helplessly as if he was about to die eminently. Thankfully, I have been trained well in emergency medicine and despite the chaos, I was able to think clearly. He was breathing and had a good pulse. I instructed the nurses to get bandages and something to immobilise his arm. His co-workers (at a local school for the deaf) had tied a tourniquet with a plastic bag. Once I had applied the pressure bandage, I removed the tourniquet and performed a much more thorough examination. It was soon evident that despite the large bite on his hand, he had not been envenomated. I was able to instruct the nurses on the vital signs and symptoms they needed to monitor and instructed them when to notify me. After peace had settled upon the emergency room, I went back to OPD.

I was soon called by one of the nurses, the patient was fine. However, the police had arrived and they had the “offender” in the back of their paddy wagon. They insisted that I go and look at their proud capture. I am absolutely terrified of snakes and was extremely reluctant to go and see it, but I thought it might be useful for my own protection to be able to identify the creature. I was first proudly shown the bullet that was used to blow the snakes head off. I politely congratulated the shooter and silently wished that he could escort me into Siteki every time I go in for shopping. He was obviously a good shot. I was then shown the feared creature- sans head. It was terrifying and revolting at the same time. A huge crowd had gathered around to pay witness to the big event and it was obvious that this would be the biggest news to hit Siteki all week.

This event has left me with a perpetual sense of dread. I know that my friend Iain has reminded me that I come from a country that is infamous for its dangerous snakes, but thankfully, I have always lived in the suburbs where the risk of an encounter has always been low.
I am now living in RURAL AFRICA and my little flat just happens to be perched on what is known by the locals as “SNAKE HILL”. Apparently, the hill is densely populated with snakes and encounters with the deadly creatures are common. This is why, when I first arrived, I was warned to always keep my windows closed so that I didn’t get any unwanted visitors. Last night, I got out of bed several times to ensure all the windows were closed.
Chris and Jenny also had a scorpion in their house on Wednesday and I have been told that I need to check my bed before I get in each night and check my shoes before I put my feet in. I truly am terrified.
Just so you don’t think I’m a paranoid lunatic (although I’m close to becoming one…), I had found some information on the dreaded Black mamba that I would like to share with you. Read closely and understand why I feel like I’m risking my life every time I step outside my door….

The Black Mamba (nicknamed The Shadow of Death) (Dendroaspis polylepis) is an elapid snake. They are one of Africas most dangerous and feared snakes.[1] The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa and the second longest venomous snake in the world. Only the King Cobra is longer. Adult black mambas have an average length of 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) and a maximum length of 4.5 meters
The black mamba is reputed to be the fastest moving snake in the world, and has been claimed to move at up to 19.2 km/h (12 mph).
A single bite from a black mamba may inject enough venom to kill 20-40 grown men, easily killing one unless the appropriate anti-venom is administered in time. When cornered, they will readily attack. When in the striking position, the mamba flattens its neck, hisses very loudly and displays its inky black mouth and fangs. It can rear up around one-third of its body from the ground which allows it to reach heights of approximately four feet. Black mambas are diurnal snakes that hunt prey actively during the day. When hunting small animals, the black mamba delivers one or two deadly bites and backs off, waiting for the neurotoxin in its venom to paralyze the prey. When killing a bird, however, the black mamba will cling to its prey, preventing its departure. When warding off a bigger threat or feeling very threatened, the black mamba usually delivers multiple strikes, injecting its potent neuro- and cardiotoxin with each strike, often attacking the body or head, unlike most other snakes. It can strike up to 12 times in a row.
Black mambas are among the most venomous snakes in the world. With a LD50 of 0.25-0.32 mg/kg, the black mamba is 3 times as venomous as the Cape Cobra, 5 times as venomous as the King cobra and about 40 times as venomous as the Gaboon viper. Black mamba venom contains powerful, fast-acting neurotoxins and cardiotoxins, including calciseptine. Its bite delivers about 100-120 mg of venom on average, however it can deliver up to 400 mg of venom; 10 to 15 mg is deadly to a human adult
Depending on the nature of a bite, death can, and has resulted in as little as 15-30 minutes or it may take up to 120-180 minutes.


james said...

They should have AntiVenom-X all over the world.
Check out for more info

ian said...

I would be very interested to discuss youe experiences at the hospital with snakebite.