Snake Bite!

Mexican Horse Thief Burrowing Adder

I had made a wrong identification of a snake outside a pub near Kyalami and got bitten.  Since I was five years old I have been catching  and collecting snakes, and up till this moment never been bitten by a dangerous one a few semi-venomous bites and lots of harmless ones is all.  It was just before 9 pm on New Year’s Eve and I was drinking coke and listening to a musician, Dwayne Rockwell, the son of the more famous Gene. I was friends with the owner’s daughter, Michelle, and had come to know Dwayne quite well, so was planning to bring in the New Year with them. Some guys came in saying that there was a snake outside, and since I used to bring my Burmese Python and the Anaconda for Michelle to play with on occasion, I was called to catch the thing. No real excuse but it was pretty dark outside and I presumed after a quick look that the creature was a blind burrowing snake of some kind, and harmless. I picked it up and immediately knew I had made a mistake. Instant pain to the middle finger. Shit! It was a huge (for the species) Burrowing Adder.

When I dropped it with a loud shout, someone immediately killed it, which was a pity. This was the worse pain I have ever felt from a bite or sting. It felt as if I had shoved my hand in boiling oil and my fingers swelled up like little sausages. A glass of ice water was produced and my fingers were duly shoved in that, with very little relief.  While the sweat dripped out of my beard I contemplated that I had caught and collected snakes for thirty two years without being bitten by a venomous one. Some herpetologists like to brag about how many different bites they have survived; I was quite happy to brag I had never had a serious bite. In less than an hour my hand resembled a blown-up surgical glove, and I observed in the bathroom that my pupils had dilated as if I had been smoking pot. I also felt a bit high, first time in about three years. Not being a believer in serum, and having a pathological dislike and mistrust of the medical profession, I was trying to remember if any deaths were recorded after bites from this particular snake. Mike had my snake books and he was visiting his sister, Lily, in Cape Town. In fact most of my friends were away for the festive season. So I thought, ‘What the Hell,’ parked off and enjoyed the party as best I could.

At midnight after kissing all the pretty girls Happy New Year I decided it was time to go home. By now my arm was the size of my thigh, and I was very wonky. The pub was about 15 km from my house and on a lonely back road. Fortunately I have had vast experience of driving when wonky from booze, so closed one eye and followed the white line home. Feeling decidedly ill, I decided to call Mike to tell him to check on my animals when he got back from holiday if he did not hear from me. The first thing he said when he heard me speak was, ‘You’ve been drinking again!’ I explained the situation and went to bed, propping my arm up on a continental pillow. To touch it even lightly was agony. My temperature was up and I did not feel good at all. I didn’t know if I was going to make this jol … It turned out that there were only four recorded deaths in South Africa from Burrowing Adder bites; usually a victim just lost the bitten digit to the secondary infection of gangrene.

I slept fitfully for the next day or so. By now my underarm gland was sore and getting swollen, so I decided to drive to the emergency chemist at Sunninghill Clinic. The staff there wanted to get the doctors but I insisted that all I needed was a strong antihistamine. That sorted, I drove home, only to find my male Shar Pei was dying. It had a type of biliary that attacks the brain and since I only noticed it was sick when it was already too late, it never stood a chance. I had to lie down for a bit and then took the now dead body into the veldt; I could not bury it as my right arm was useless and I had very little strength. I slept for a long time, and a day or so later the swelling had subsided a little.

My friend Will had invited me to dinner, he is a surgeon and the rest of the dinner guests, six of them, were all doctors. As my arm was still very swollen they commented on it and criticized the fact that I did not consult a doctor.  I asked my learned friends how they would have treated the bite. All said they would have given me serum, but none knew which; hell, they did not even know that different snake bites require different serum, or the fact that about half the people ever given serum are allergic to it. Next, some bright spark suggested cutting the bite and sucking the venom out, this practice was proved to be disastrous back in the sixties, as it accelerated the chances of secondary infection – gangrene.  Off with the finger! Another came up with the fact that venom is protein, which is correct but of little use. A tourniquet  was suggested; with adder venom being mainly cytotoxic (destroying the tissue) this would have kept the poison in a small area and … Off with the finger! It was all right to have dinner with this lot, but to consult them on a professional basis? I think not.


This is what Wikipedia has to say:


Most of these snakes are inoffensive or far too small to envenomate a person effectively. However, some can inflict severe tissue necrosis; e.g. if the victim’s thumb is bitten, the tip of that digit may be lost. Relapses may occur long after the bite.

Very few deaths have resulted from accidents with these snakes, although large individuals of Atractaspis microlepidota and a few other long-glanded species are very likely to be dangerous.[8] Some of the long-fanged species are able to stab their prey (or an unfortunate human) even while their mouths are closed, and the typical grasp used by herpetologists to securely hold venomous snakes is not necessarily safe for this group.[9][10] This ability to stab sideways even with a closed mouth is the basis for an English name used for some of them – side-stabbing snakes.


You can find the full story here.

The Chronicles of the Mexican Horse Thief II – Renaissance


Nosce te ipsum

View the Mexican Horse Thief’s Page

Short Story




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2 Responses to “Snake Bite!”

  1. Wayne Bisset Says:

    Reblogged this on Section Eight Solutions.

  2. An Ex-JW in the SADF IV | One Man's Opinion Says:

    […] get bitten the last person I would consult is a common Medical Doctor. (Short Story on them here:  Snake Bite! […]

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