‘Lucky’ brush with adder

2012-01-13 00:00

A HOWICK man had a lucky escape yesterday afternoon after he was bitten by a venomous puff adder and survived, largely unscathed, to tell his tale.

Local snake expert Mark Enslin warned last night that Pietermaritzburg, with its soaring temperatures, is crawling with the slithery reptiles.

“It’s full up. It’s not even a joke. I’m getting seven and eight and more calls each day. It’s a ‘puffy’ time. There are plenty of puff adders around.”

Speaking from his hospital bed yesterday, Johannes Ferreira (38) said he visited a friend in Thornville and was helping to clean an overgrown area in his yard. He had picked up a piece of asbestos, under which the snake was hiding.

As he picked up the asbestos, he felt a slight graze on his fingers and quickly let go when he spotted the snake.

“When I saw the snake, I knew that it was a venomous puff adder and I rushed to the sink to try and wash off the poison and told my friend to call an ambulance. My friend also tied his T-shirt around the top of my arm to try and cut off the infected blood from flowing all over my body.”

“My friend also came over to the sink and tried to squeeze the poison off my hand.”

Ferreira said within five minutes after the bite, his hand started to swell.

“As we were trying to squeeze the poison out, my hand started swelling and I could no longer fold my hand into a fist and we had to stop. And in the meantime, the pain was growing.”

Blood was still oozing out of the small pinholes from the snake’s bite when Ferreira arrived at Edendale Hospital’s casualty ward.

The skin on the swollen hand was beginning to crack and he said it was likely to rot and fall away.

“My friend,” he said, “I cannot lie, this arm, especially the hand, is still very sore … If it continues to swell up the arm, they would have to cut me open to alleviate the pressure on the arm.

“The shirt that my friend tied around my arm was a good idea, but the doctors said in this case we should have let the poison flow through the body.

“It was just fortunate that this happened to me, an adult. I fear what the situation would have been if this snake had bitten a child.”

The snake bite is the second misfortune to befall Ferreira in just two months. Last month, he was seriously injured when he was pushed off a moving truck on the freeway near the Townhill area, after he hitched a ride and could not pay.

A doctor, who cannot be named because he’s not authorised to speak to the media, said they had not administered anti-venom as it could have an allergic reaction and because the swelling had not spread all the way up Ferreira’s arm.

He said puff adder bites, which often affect the limbs, were not commonly fatal, unlike the venom of a mamba, which affects the nervous system and could result in death within hours.

Meanwhile, Enslin said he had received many calls from the Cascades area recently. “One woman had a puff adder living under the thatch roof at the entrance to her house. We got it the third time we went out.” He said the plantation in the area could explain the emergence of snakes there.

He said the Cramond area had mainly black mambas and Cato Ridge and Ashburton had many spitting cobras. Thornville had many puff adders.

“It’s the heat. Everything’s changing. It’s weird. We had a hot winter and saw snakes throughout in their droves. They were even breeding in winter. On warm winter days they would come out and I would get calls for puff adders.”

Enslin advised anyone who came across a snake not to interfere with it.

“Don’t approach it. Don’t try to catch it or kill it. In Estcourt recently we had a case where a man found a Rinkaals. I told him to just leave it alone, but he tried to catch it and it spat in his eyes.”

Enslin does not kill the snakes he catches, but releases them far away from human habitation.

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