Here's a Chinese New Year tale. However, it's very un-CNY-like. It's a creepy story of two snakes, told to me about a week ago.
When I warded my aunt in the private hospital last week, sharing the same ward with her was a woman who had just had the ring finger on her right hand amputated. I didn't realise it until she showed me her hand, all heavily bandaged up but with only her thumb and remaining fingers visible. What happened, I asked.
Bitten by a cobra, she said. It was about a week earlier. She stayed in Junjong, in the interior part of mainland Penang near to Kulim. It was one of those kampong-type houses with an unkempt backyard where almost everything that's not immediately needed were thrown there. She went there to search for something, saw what she was looking for and put her hand in to pick it up.
Immediately, she felt something stung her. She pulled back and saw two punctures on the skin of her ring finger. As blood oozed out, she saw out of the corner of her eyes a cobra slithering away. Her screams brought her daughter running who took one look at the wound and decided to suck out the blood and poison. Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do because I heard that the poison could have affected the sucker too.
But anyway, the family immediately took the lady to the Kulim hospital where they treated the wound and the poison. But her finger wasn't getting any better. The family then took her to the specialist private hospital where the surgeon took one look at the finger and decided that it had to go. "I am lucky to be alive," she told me. "The hospital said that cobra bites are very poisonous and usually fatal. And if I had waited longer, the effects of the poison would have spread to more areas of my body."
This will teach me not to walk in the undergrowth of the Bukit Mertajam hill. It's best to keep to the beaten track.
Anyway, by a coincidence, that very same night I received a telephone call from a friend in Kulim. Less than an hour ago, he had killed a cobra lurking at the back of his house. The snake was hiding behind some planks or household stuff and he heard a distinct hiss. Must be a snake, he thought and true enough, not more than a yard away was a cobra. It had reared itself and flattened its upper trunk into a hood, all tensed up and ready to strike.
My friend picked up a stick and took a well-aimed whack at the snake. A few more whacks killed it. When it was stretched out, he claimed that it measured four feet, the length of four floor tiles. Echoing the lady in the hospital, I told my friend he was very lucky to have killed it. But be careful, I warned him, because snakes are known to travel in pairs and the other one may not be far away.
I know, he replied and said that he had heard the same tale too. The dry months of January and February are normally their mating period. He did look around the compound but couldn't find the other snake.
These two close encounters reminded me of a conversation with a doctor recently. According to him, snake poison was a neurotoxin. Once it travelled in the bloodstream to the nervous system, the body's defence mechanism would shut down and paralyse the victim. All muscular movements would be affected, including the heart. Unless treatment was immediate, death could occur within hours. So the lady was very, very lucky indeed.
So what to do in case of a snake bite? Tie a tight torniquette as close to the wound as possible and the victim should be advised to lie down still on the ground until help arrived. While it's not possible to prevent the flow of the poison through the bloodstream, it would be important to slow it down as much as possible.
Creepy, isn't it?