Snake Bite and Recovery

Sometimes life in the bush is wonderful, but it can be very sobering as well. One of the realities we live with is poisonous snakes who also think it’s pretty wonderful out here.

This story is about a 12 year old girl who had an encounter with a poisonous snake. I tell this story because it has a happy ending.

Marta was on her way home from school along trail through the bush one day last month. She didn’t see the Puff Adder–so well disguised by its surroundings–and her step landed so threateningly close to it that the snake lunged and bit her just above her right ankle. It was nearly dark and the family lives far from the highway and from town, so the only option was to wait until morning to seek help.

As soon as we heard the news, a mission vehicle was sent as far as it could reach into the bush to pick her up. She had to be carried a distance from her home to the vehicle. A Puff Adder bite generally results in extensive tissue damage, so when we saw her swollen leg, we immediately arranged for her to go to the nearest hospital.

During the first few days in hospital, she experienced excruciating pain and swelling in her leg, both of which are normal. But it was such a frightening experience for both her and her parents that they removed her from the hospital to consult a “traditional healer”. Consulting traditional healers here is common as it forms part of the local “traditional religion”.  After several ceremonies and intercession to “ancestral spirits”, and over a week later, Marta and her family returned to us–this time with a severely infected and gangrenous leg. After a fairly lengthy discussion, and final agreement by the family, we took Marta to the provincial hospital in Chimoio. There, Marta received the immediate treatment needed and her leg was amputated to save her life. It was a difficult time for Marta, her family, and us as we prayed and awaited the outcome.

It was a very happy day for us all when, about two weeks later, Marta had recovered enough to go home. She came to the health post the day after, carried on her father’s back, for her first dressing change and removal of the sutures.

Jodi Dobson (LPN) and Simon Nicolau (Health Worker) doing one of Marta’s dressing changes.

A prosthetic leg may be a possibility but it would require several trips to South Africa for measurements and fittings, etc., none of which is possible at the moment. The next option was crutches which we picked up on a recent trip to South Africa and which Jenn Sanders, a nurse currently here volunteering, was at the health post to deliver to Marta. Jenn’s note follows…

“Upon doing the dressing change to her stump, we were happy to see it was healing well… She took hold of those crutches and without needing a lot of instruction or encouragement, jumped and walked around the health post without any help. She gained back not only her mobilization but her independence as well. With many, many thanks she left the health post this time with her mom by her side!”

During the weeks of her recovery near the health post, we saw many of Marta’s lovely smiles, we helped her keep up with her schoolwork, and the family began to attend a church nearby. We are so happy for this life saved and look forward to the good things yet to come.