Years ago, Robert Kelly and Darian Morgan wrote a song called “The Snake.” The song tells the story of an innocent woman, who, while walking to work one morning, along the side of a lake, sees a “poor half frozen snake.” Captivated by the snake’s beauty and moved by the compassion of her heart, she takes the viper home and heals him back to health.
“She clutched him to her bosom, "You're so beautiful," she cried
"But if I hadn't brought you in by now you might have died"
She stroked his pretty skin again and kissed and held him tight
Instead of saying thanks, the snake gave her a vicious bite
"Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven's sake
Take me in, tender woman," sighed the snake
"I saved you," cried the woman
"And you've bitten me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die"
"Oh shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin
"You knew darn well I was a snake before you took me in
"Take me in, tender woman
Take me in, for heaven's sake
Take me in, tender woman," sighed the snake
Although I am a tender hearted woman, I am not so kind as to embrace a snake. Yet, somehow a snake decided to embrace me. On a recent Friday evening, while resting in my bed, my thoughts kept racing. When I heard rustling in the room, I put the book aside that I was reading. It was windy outside, a storm was brewing, and branches were brushing against the bedroom window. Knowing that sleep would not be soon in coming, I decided to take a prescription sleeping pill. With the side lamp turned off and the covers pulled to my chin, I rolled onto my side and tucked my right hand beneath the soft pillow. While in the state of somewhere between being asleep and being awake, I felt a gripping bite on my right pinkie finger. Without thought, I reached across my body with my left hand brushing against the soft cotton fabric of my nightgown and felt the smooth skin and easily discernible shape of a snake. It was holding on seemingly enjoying the taste of my little finger. Tender I was not; I tore the snake from my baby digit and threw him across the room. In what direction he was flung, I don’t remember.
My sleeping medication, beginning to take effect, calmed me as I walked slowly, without turning on the light, to the kitchen where my husband was enjoying a night-time snack. With no inflection in my voice, I quietly told my spouse, “I think I’ve been bitten by a snake. Well, if not a snake maybe a rat, but it felt like a snake.” Having been married for over 35 years, I recognized the look of disbelief on my handsome husband’s face. His demeanor instantly changed, however, when he saw the droplets of blood from my hand making a tiny, red, glistening pool by my bare feet. I referred to the movie “True Grit” and suggested to Chris that he draw the venom from my finger with his mouth. His response was simple, “This isn’t the movies.” While ushering me to one of the blonde colored pine chairs at the kitchen table, he began squeezing my finger. We later learned that the squeezing technique, like the sucking technique, is best left to dramatic movie moments.
Chris called our dear friends for help. Mel and Robin du Plessis are our closest neighbors. Mel is a professional hunter and extremely familiar with the venomous creatures that live in near-by proximity to the residents of South Africa.
The words Chris spoke were brief and to the point, “Tonya’s been bitten by a snake.” Chris asked me to remain seated and hurried to get his .177 bb gun. He also grabbed a broom. I wondered if the broom or the gun would be his weapon of choice. I could hear him overturning furniture while looking for the viper. When I heard the explosive shots of the weapon, I knew the snake had been found. I later learned that the broom had been used during the search to open dresser drawers and closet doors.
By then Mel and Robin arrived. Robin gave me several antihistamines. She told me to chew them so they would enter my blood stream more quickly. She also suggested that I put on street clothes. I kept insisting that I was fine. I was sleepy and ready to return to bed. At that point, my finger was barely bleeding. I could see several scratch marks and a very slight discoloration of red and purple similar to tiny bruises.
Chris yelled from the bedroom for me to stay put. Mel exited the kitchen door and return with a 22. Although the snake was shot several times by Chris, the small calibre bb gun was not adequate for the job. In fact, the Mozambique spitting cobra even spat at Chris, hitting him on the forehead with a fine mist.
I was still feeling fine when Mel carried the snake out the kitchen door to the burn barrel in our braai area. Robin again suggested, a little more firmly this time, that I get dressed and pack an overnight bag. I wasn’t in pain or distress. I felt calm. Although I did what Robin asked, I was convinced that there was no need to travel the 45 plus minutes to Mokopane to visit a physician or local clinic.
Since I did not understand the urgency of the situation, I took my time getting ready. I got dressed, packed an overnight bag, brushed my teeth and even wet my hair to get rid of my bedhead. My sleeping pill had done its job. I was moving slowly, feeling groggy, and wanting to sleep. I felt no need to rush. There was no pain or blood. My finger was only slightly swollen. While those around me seemed distressed my dreams were calling.
In the meantime, Chris and Mel were frantically making phone calls. It was midnight. Our personal physician wasn’t answering his phone and the several calls that were made to area clinics went directly to voicemail. Chris reached out to our kind friends, Korny and Sonya. They had just returned from an event in Polokwane and were enjoying a cup of tea before bed. They were able to reach our physician and a plan was made for my care.
I was ushered to Mel and Robin’s car. Chris sat in the backseat of the Fortuner with me and kept insisting that I drink water. Robin and I carried on a conversation of this and that, and Mel drove intently navigating the rutted dirt roads and pot hole filled tar roads to Mokopane. When we arrived at Korny and Sonya’s home an ambulance was waiting to take me to a private hospital in Polokwane.
I hugged and greeted our friends and thanked them for their assistance. I was hurriedly escorted to the ambulance and then helped to sit on small black colored cot. The two attendants examined my finger. My blood pressure was low, but my glucose level was high. I had eaten a generously buttered, smothered in pure maple syrup pancake just before bed. The attendants decided that the snake bite was more than likely a dry bite, meaning very little to no venom had been released.
A man entered the ambulance and sat down on the vinyl covered bench across from my make do bed. He asked to see my finger. “Are you a snake expert?” I asked half-heartedly. “Of sorts,” was his simple reply. He looked intently at my pinkie. He looked again and asked questions mostly directed at Chris. He was insistent on knowing the time of the bite. I didn’t realize until later that he was building a time line in his head. Usually extreme swelling and flesh decay begin within 45 minutes of a venomous bite. My finger was hardly swollen and my flesh was natural in color.
An intravenous bag of fluids was started and the ambulance began its hour trek to Polokwane. I dozed off to sleep to the kind voice of the female attendant asking Chris for more information about the snake.
Mel, Robin, and Korny followed the ambulance in the Fortuner. We arrived at the hospital between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. My finger was photographed time and time again by Korny who was sending the pictures to Mr. Snake Expert. I felt reassured that he was keeping tabs on my well-being.
While Korny handled the medical paperwork, Chris accompanied me to the emergency exam room. I felt drowsy, yet I was awake enough to know my surroundings and to continually express that I was in no pain.
The nurse was very calming and the doctor reassuring. My finger was examined over and over again. Other than a few scratches and a little redness everything was fine. I was given a tetanus shot, more intravenous fluids, pain medication, and antivenin. It was decided that I should spend the night in the hospital for observation.
Korny left the room so Chris and I could speak privately. I could see the look of relief on my husband’s face. He wanted to stay with me at the hospital, but I insisted that it wasn’t necessary. I had been fighting sleep for three hours and knew as soon as my head hit the pillow that I wouldn’t wake until morning.
The follow morning, I was called “the lucky lady,” “the blest woman,” and “the miracle.” Doctor after doctor paraded through my room - some telling me horror stories about the effects of snake bites: blackened skin, amputations, even death.
I was thirsty, hungry, and anxious for Chris to take me home. With an oral antibiotic and antibiotic ointment in hand, we left the hospital around noon on Saturday. We stopped for lunch at Rocco Mama’s in Polokwane. This American style burger joint encourages the use of a pseudonym when placing an order. I called myself “Snake Killer,” but in reality Chris was the snake killer and the hero of my ordeal.
On the way home, with a chocolate shake and a lemon meringue shake as our companions, we stopped by Korny and Sonya’s lovely home. Our friends greeted us with hugs, smiles, and declarations about miracles. The shakes were placed in the refrigerator for later enjoyment as we discussed the events of the previous evening. And, of course, more pictures were taken and sent to the “snake man” (also known as Peter).
Tonya and her husband, Chris, are the directors and founders of Strong Cross Ministries, a U.S. basd non-profit organization. They live in Sterkrivier, Limpopo, and work with local organizations in providing spiritual and humanitarian assistance. Tonya is the author of two books: The Whispering of the Willows (a late 1920s novel set in the Appalachian mountains of West Virgina) and Soothing Rain (a women's devotional). Both are available on Amazon.