Monday, October 17, 2005

The Snake Doctor

Last night I sent some photographs off to some of the people from Britain I travelled with on my trip to Africa. They were such a good group of people--likeable, smart, funny people, all of them.

I immediately got an email back from Helen who has been busy collecting and sending off medical supplies and various other items to a clinic we visited in Tanzania. She had just received word that her supplies had made it to their destination. I was so glad to hear from her, and what a good idea!

At the end of the trip our group leader requested that we donate what we could spare from our first aid kits: bandages, aspirin, skin ointments, whatever we could come up with. It would all be given to the clinic at the Meserani Snake Park which provides free services to the local Masai people.

The clinic was located on the grounds of one of the campsites we tented at, very near to the Masai village we visited. The camp was also home to an extensive reptile zoo---venomous snakes, crocodiles, turtles---and the first thing that greeted us on our visit was a row of caged snakes.

The clinic was small: two rooms with bare concrete floors. It REEKED of pine cleaner.

There was a sink, a small table, one bed, and a very inadequate supply of medical equipment.

We met the "doctor", a friendly man who confessed that he wasn't trained as a doctor professionally, but had grown very experienced treating common complaints like diarrhea, infections, malaria, and snake bites.

He was particularly an expert on toxic snake bites. "Actually, I am a snake man", he said, nodding. His other job was snake- handler.

The doctor told us of a few of the cases he'd treated over the years. One Masai man came to him with a festering sore on his shoulder which had been left untreated for THREE years. The wound had been infected all the way down to exposed bone. Luckily the man recovered, but he had to report to the clinic every day for a long time to have his shoulder re-dressed with a bandage.

The doctor explained that the Masai often avoid seeking medical help, being self-reliant, or are simply too isolated to find it. Some of the villages we passed were way out in the middle of nowhere, where no transportation by vehicle was available.

What would it be like to have a medical emergency here?

Well, somehow the patient would have to get to the hospital in Arusha, the nearest city, because they simply couldn't handle anything that required surgery, for instance. "It's very difficult", the snake man told us soberly.

Before we left, the doctor let me handle one of the kinder, gentler snakes. It was a hook-nosed snake, which is non-poisonous. It just bashes its prey against the side of their burrows.

As I held the snake I looked up to see a grinning Masai child's face pushed up against the grill of the window. He was very curious to see why the muzungus (foreigners) would want to hold a snake, I think.

We would have liked to stay and ask more questions (Sarah, the doctor in our group, had come up with some good ones), but we noticed that there was now a line-up of men and women clad in the Masai's traditional red blankets, stoically waiting on benches outside in the dusty yard.

We hurriedly excused ourselves. We didn't want to make those people wait any longer than they had to. I will never complain again about having to wait around in a doctor's waiting-room here at home.


WandaWan said...

Your stories are really interesting. How do you get to travel so much?

Bill said...

That is a really cool story! Thanks for sharing. Wow, what an experiance!

Julie Julie Bo Boolie said...

Gosh that must have been an amazing trip! To think how flustered we get with wait times at our clean, well stocked and state of the art hospitals...

Thanks for sharing!



Krista said...

I just read your little blurb at the seem like a very intriguing person and I will definitely have to read your blog again soon. Have a good one. :)

Grant said...

It's so easy to get spoiled in this country. I try to remind myself of how I felt upon returning after Desert Storm all those years ago. After seven months in the desert, a room with access to flushing toilets, washing machines, and hot food seemed like a vacation in club med. Note - I burned my tongue on an espresso since I totally forgot that civilian foods were sometimes served hotter than lukewarm.