Before leaving for camp I saw a dentist. He said the bubble on my gum is not a malignant tumour, just a blood blister, caused by plaque thatís calcified between my teeth. He says I must floss to dislodge the plaque and the blister will burst and disappear.
I scratch the red welt on my ankle where I slapped a mosquito left a bloody smear. I hope the Dutch girl is right.
MANAGEMENT OF SNAKE BITE
1) Allay the patientís anxiety. Stay as calm as possible.
The ground in the camp is dusty but the trees are green. The tags identifying them in Latin have rusted and I donít know their English names. The bird calls are unfamiliar too, sounding like hammers on anvils, rusted hinges, rasping, grating. My daughter said I must be on the look out for the yellow-billed hornbill. She said they studied it in school. An insect flies into my eye. I wash it out with saline from the Dutch medic. I canít be bothered to read the bird book after that. My eye keeps watering. I ignore the bird search.
2) Shock can be more toxic than the bite itself. Deaths have been reported where patients have been bitten by harmless snakes.
At 9 am I wind along the road towards the campís exit under a hazy sky, wearing sunglasses. My windows are closed but dust swirls though the air vent, along with dried out seed husks, dead beetles, shards of twig and grass. I snap the vents shut then cross the dry riverbed where snakes catch frogs. Iíve seen the little popeyed frogs at my door, nearly stepped on one in the dark.
3) Not all snakes are poisonous.
The gap below the door to my rondavel is big enough to let through a snake, but not a frog. Before I enter, I rattle the doorknob, jiggle the door. In case. Iím scared to look under my bed. Before I put my shoes on in the morning, I shake them out. I even check the gloves of the pot holder in the kitchen, in case something has fallen from the grass roof. This wariness feels like being married again.
4) Not all poisonous snakes are fully charged with venom.
I drive in second gear, watching for buck among the thorn trees, afraid one might leap out. On the road outside the camp, I speed up, plug my earphones in, dial my ipod, looking down. I want to listen to something calming. When I look up again, the road is curving sharply. A cow is meandering across the road. Itís too late to brake; I speed up, swerving around it. Just beyond, I pull over, shaking, sweating. The Cell Block Tango from Chicago pipes through the earphone:
He had it coming. He had it coming. He only had himself to blame.
If youíd a been there. If youíd a seen it. I betcha you would a done the same!
5) Even snakes fully charged with venom do not always inject a lethal dose.
I recognise the trees and flowers that grow beside the public buildings as I drive into Hoedspruit: poinsettia, jacaranda, cannas and frangipani, their heady scents, the violently coloured flowers with poisonous milk that flowed from their picked stems. They grew in our Pinetown garden when I was a child. There were green mambas in those trees too. I watched the gardener kill one once. It writhed for hours after heíd decapitated it with a panga.
6) Reassurance lowers blood pressure, reducing palpitations, tremors, sweating and rapid breathing, hence reducing the speed of absorption of toxins.
We sit, my friends and I, on their patio overlooking the bush, sipping lemonade. Theyíre the new doctors in town, a husband and wife team from Joburg. He does the general practise; she does the pathology and womenís medicine. He asks about my eye. I dismiss it. Let me look, he says. I turn to him, he holds open the lid. Itís infected already, he says. If itís not better by tomorrow come in to the practice. Iíll set you up with antibiotic drops.
7) Some patients get infections or allergic reactions from so-called harmless snakes.
On the way back to the camp I drive slower, mindful of cows. My ex calls. His initials flash on the cell phone. I donít want to answer, but Iím too afraid not to. Heís in Pietermaritzburg looking at church schools. He says, donít shoot me, Iím just the messenger. Kate has asked me to call you. Sheís sitting right here. She wants me to tell you that sheís really terrified of you. She says you make her feel guilty about wanting to go to boarding school. Now Iím just the messenger, rememberÖ
Per Contra Summer 2007