Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mister Cool and the snakebite

Our son and his daughters returned to their home last week, so Linda and I can get back to killing cockroaches and centipedes. Oh, and snakes. A baby snake somehow got inside the house, and Linda demolished it with a machete before it could reach a hiding place.

Ross and the girls strongly disapprove of killing animals without just cause – including all insects besides mosquitoes. Flies, roaches, centipedes and lizards all have to be caught and released outside. The ten-year-old trapped a cockroach under a tumbler, and I had to find a thin-yet-sturdy sheet of cardboard to slide underneath so the beast could be carried out to safety.

Linda and I have never felt comfortable squashing geckos and other lizards, I have to say – even those who live in the house. We tolerate their nesting-places in the secluded spots where they lay their eggs, although our principles slip a little when their pellets of poop become too intrusive. Poop in the cutlery drawer, and on our pillows? Way too intrusive!

Iguanas are lizards, technically, but they grow to six or seven feet long including the tails, and they poop more like cows. The stench is more like cows’ poop, too – embarrassing when they drop their bundles beside our underground septic-tank just outside the bathrooms. We have to explain to visitors that our tank is not overflowing, and that we are having the problem seen to. In fact it is our next-door neighbour who sees to it, in order to protect the ripening mangoes on her mango-tree.

She hires an experienced iguana-catcher, who sends his wife up all the nearby tall trees with a noose at the end of a rickety pole. She manoeuvres the noose over their heads, and he collects them on the ground and duct-tapes their mouth and legs before they can gather their wits. The wife is from Honduras, and Honduraneans love eating iguana meat.

Traditional Caymanians eat mud-crabs and turtles, and also agoutis, which are the rabbits of the region. Not snakes, though, which is surprising. After all, we are regularly assured by our authorities that all Cayman’s snakes are non-venomous, and therefore (presumably) safe to eat. I can vouch for the non-venomosity, although my one experience probably doesn’t constitute a credible statistical sample.

Here’s what happened. Two summers ago I was walking around the house checking the security of our outside back windows, filling in time until our Saturday evening flight to Norway. I caught my foot in the tendril of a weed, and tried vigorously to shake myself free. In irritation, I looked down to find that the tendril was a middling-sized snake – maybe three feet long. Struggling to get out from under, it nipped me (gently, be it said) above the ankle.

Now, then...! My early childhood was filled with the fear of snakes, in the Queensland bush where all snakes are poisonous. Linda tells people I went white with fright, but as I recall the event, I was Mister Cool from start to finish. A nurse at the Hospital reminded me that Cayman snakes were indeed non-venomous, and if I did come by she would just give me a tetanus shot and an aspirin. So I sat down and reviewed my options.

We had to check in at the airport in two hours, and the wait at the hospital would be at least two hours. Either the snake was local and non-poisonous or it was an illegal immigrant and poisonous as likely as not. I decided to wait for a clear sign of danger, before panicking. Linda dabbed some Dettol on the tiny punctures while I sat and sipped a cup of tea, on the alert for a sign. Pain or swelling would mean a trip to the Emergency Room and maybe a night or two in hospital; no pain would mean no problem.

And that’s how it was. A week later, in Ross’s forest-cabin, a nasty boil appeared on the side of my shin, for the first time in my life. But it went away again, and probably had nothing to do with the snakebite anyway.Who knows?