Snake bite survivor tells of painful encounter

2019-03-31 13:03
Hilton resident Sarah Alcock describes the moment she was bitten by a 1,5m spitting cobra while recovering in Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic. She was bitten last Saturday evening and is still in ICU.

Hilton resident Sarah Alcock describes the moment she was bitten by a 1,5m spitting cobra while recovering in Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic. She was bitten last Saturday evening and is still in ICU. (Ian Carbutt)

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Hilton woman Sarah Alcock has spent a week in ICU after being bitten by a 1,5-metre Mozambique spitting cobra while in bed at her family home in Msinga, near Tugela Ferry last Saturday evening.

Alcock, who is group human resources manager at Wessa in Howick, sustained tissue damage to her right arm where the cobra bit her and is still waiting for the toxins from the cobra venom to exit her system.

Alcock spoke to Weekend Witness from her hospital bed in ICU on Thursday morning, saying she was only supposed to be in ICU for “one or two days” before being moved to a general ward. “I did not expect to still be here,” she said.

Alcock said she, her husband Rauri and her two children had gone to her husband’s family home in Msinga last weekend for a long weekend when the cobra struck.

She said her two boys had been watching movies on Saturday evening and she had gone outside to check on some things.

“I saw a snake, the cobra, on the porch but it just slithered away into some bushes and we didn’t really think too much of it.

“I went to bed at around 10 pm. My husband was already in bed, so as I was climbing over him to get to my side, I felt this sting, like a wasp sting on my arm.”

Alcock said she pulled back and told her husband she thought she had been bitten by something and when he turned on the light, he saw it was the cobra. “About 20 seconds after I was bitten, I started to feel pain. The cobra was curled between the bed and the wall.”

She said her husband shot the snake and her two sons, aged 12 and 16, ran to their grandmother’s home nearby on the property to tell her what had happened. “They were all so amazing. We all got dressed and jumped in the car and rushed to Estcourt Hospital.”

Alcock said there was no cellphone reception where she was and they had to drive 19 km down a dirt road before getting a signal.

“I kept vomiting all the way to the hospital. When I got there, the staff was very good but they did not have any anti-venom.

“We were then told that we would have to wait two hours for an ambulance to come fetch me and transfer me to a hospital that did have anti-venom.

“I was shocked. My husband left the hospital in his car as the ambulance left to rush me to hospital and he still got to Pietermaritzburg before me.”

The bite marks on  Sarah Alcocks arm.Photo.Ian Car

The bite marks from a Mozambique spitting cobra on Sarah Alcock’s arm. 

She said although she had been bitten at 10 pm on Saturday, she only arrived at Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic at 2.30 am.

Once in hospital, Alcock said she had a team of four doctors around her as they prepared to administer the anti-venom.

“Because so many people have allergic reactions to the anti-venom, they gave me a shot of adrenaline in case there were any complications but luckily there were none.

“I am not sure what is going to happen with my arm as I have no idea how severe the damage to my arm is.”

She said the swelling had gone down but that she had started to get blisters which is apparently a sign of “the start of necrosis”.

She added that the pain was terrible, it was a constant throbbing and that she constantly needed pain medication for some relief.

African Snakebite Institute director Johan Marais, said all anti-venom is made by the South African Vaccine Producers in Johannesburg, and is part of the National Health Laboratories.

“State hospitals in high risk areas keep stock but not all of them. Some hospitals run out of stock and forget to re-order,” said Marais.

He said a vial of anti-venom costs around R1 426  and the average patient needs between 10 and 12 vials for treatment. He said it has a shelf life of three years. “The sooner anti-venom is given the better, however, more than 85% of snakebite victims do not receive anti-venom because the bites are not that severe.

Marais said most bites happen in Zululand, with around 400 hospitalisations a year.

KZN Health Department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said “the department has adequate amounts of anti-venom within its hospitals and community health centres”.

Hilton resident Sarah Alcock describes the moment

 In a different incident, Juliette Roos from Pretoria found a Mozambique spitting cobra in a North West toilet. 

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  snake bite
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