Yes, it’s true. I blush to admit it. I got bitten by a snake! So much for the ‘famous last words’ at the end of my last post!
Am I used to having snakes around and so a bit blasé about them? Check.
Is it winter but the days have been warming up? Check.
Have I found snakes in the garage in spring before? Check.
Do snakes like to hang out in pipes? Check.
Did I check the tubes of the vacuum cleaner before I took it to my mother-in-law? Nyet.
Sigh. Here’s how it happened. Andrew’s mum had been talking about buying a vacuum cleaner to replace her old upright model. We had a spare vacuum cleaner in our garage that we hadn’t used since buying our wonderful Dyson machine. When the chance came to visit his mum unexpectedly, we tossed the vacuum in the back of the car to take with us. I know, I should have cleaned it, and tested it outside on the back lawn. But I put it together in her lounge room. I switched the cleaner on but there seemed to be very little suction. So I shook it up, unscrewed the fitting between the two long pipes, and then felt a sudden impact on my finger, at the same time seeing a small, thin something falling onto the floor. I immediately recognised it as a very juvenile Boiga irregularis, aka the brown tree snake. The poor little thing must have been terrified out of its brain, almost sucked into the vacuum cleaner, then shaken violently and seemingly attacked by a giant.
This is the same species that I stepped on a while ago in my house, and that one hadn’t bitten me. I’d done research then, so I knew it was venomous but not harmful to humans. Members of this species are rear-fanged, and are reluctant to even bite if they can help it. According to this website:
Rear-fanged snakes have an enlarged tooth at the back end of the upper jaw. A groove runs down the tooth and conducts venom which is secreted from a special gland. Most rear-fanged snakes are not known to be dangerous to human beings …
There is a theory that the rear-fangedness is an advantage when eating prey like frogs which tend to expand their bodies when caught. The fangs “pop” the expanded prey, making it easier to swallow. Just how accurate this theory is, I don’t know, but it makes a good story. The backwards-facing teeth help the motion of the prey down the throat.
Although I was confident I wasn’t in trouble, I thought it wise to get to the nearest hospital post-haste and get a medical opinion, so Andrew drove me there. It’s only 5 minutes away from the house. I told Joss to keep an eye on the snake, not approach it, and ring emergency 000 while we were away. They could send a snake handler to catch it. I ran through the DRABC of first aid. Danger – yes, snake is still here. So don’t muck with it. R – response – yes, I’m certainly awake. A – my airway is clear. B – I’m breathing. C – circulation – I sure have a pulse. No need for cardiac compression.
I was taken into emergency fairly quickly, and a nurse wrapped up my arm in a couple of compression bandages first thing. This gives a good four or five hours respite as long as you don’t move the limb, as the venom has to go through the lymph system before it gets into the blood stream. The nurse sat me in front of the Internet to confirm identification – Andrew had handily taken a photo of it, too (not good enough for this post, but enough for her to agree with my ID). The previous photo on Andrew’s camera was of a brown snake (highly dangerous) that we’d seen the previous weekend at a reptile workshop, but I assured her it was not the snake in question. So she let me go with a couple more compression bandages ‘for home use’. There was no venom on the cut for ID purposes and I was feeling fine.
While I was away, and before Andrew got back to Joss’s house, she had got onto the police who said they’d send someone out after they’d dealt with a couple of other jobs. The snake, having a snake’s typically short attention span, decided it wanted to find something safe to hide behind, and started heading for hole in the skirting board under a desk. Joss knew she’d never sleep at night if it got there, so decided to drive it out the front door with the hose pipe of the vacuum cleaner. She was lucky not to get bitten herself, what with the snake lunging and trying to climb up her bookcases. Both of them were panicking in their own fashion.
She managed to get it out the front door, and it promptly disappeared under the house. Now this is not a good place for the snake. It’s out of its territory, does not know its feeding and watering places, and there are domestic cats all over. So I suspect it’s in for a short and unhappy life. I apologise from the bottom of my heart. I also apologise to my mother-in-law for nearly giving her a heart attack!