In Stories

Cobra in the Flour Mill – The Arunbhai Devani series

This is the story of Varjanbhai Alabhai Kadachha, a 40 year old primary school teacher.  Along with his day job as a teacher, Varjanbhai is also a farmer and the family owns a flour mill. Varhanbhai is married and has three children. The family lives in Kadachha village in the Porbandar district of Gujarat. Kadachha is around 13kms from Madhavpur (Ghed) where Arun Bhai Devani is based and 35 kms from Mangrol where the Govt hospital is situated.

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Bite Incident:  On the 12th of Dec 2008 around 5 p.m.  in the evening Varjanbhai was manning the flour mill to grind wheat, millets and pulses that the villagers had deposited at his shop. The flour mill was a square shaped structure built out of huge rocks with open gaps.

stone house image

In the middle of the room stood the grain grinder machine. Depending on what is being grinded, the machine needs to be adjusted to refine the flour. A Spectacled Cobra had taken refuge in one of the bigger crevices in the wall close to the machine where the refinement button was located. Varjanbhai bent to adjust the knob and was immediately struck on the inner ear lobe by the startled cobra.

The pain was excruciating. Varjanbhai did not see the snake. The ear was bleeding profusely by this time.  Varjanbhai was sure it was a snake bite and asked a few people to take him to the village doctor. Varjanbhai reached the doctor’s clinic in 20 minutes from the time he was bitten.

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In no time Varjanbhai started experiencing neurotoxic envenomation signs – ptosis accompanied by blurred vision and vomiting. Varjanbhai was finding it difficult to even move his hands. The doctor immediately called Arunbhai Devani, a local snake rescuer who had much experience of treating snake bites.

For the last 10 years, Arunbhai has been assisting Dr Makwana in Mangrol Govt Hospital and Dr Ashwin Vanza in Krishna Health Centre in Madhavpur and has successfully treated hundreds of snakebite cases. He is therefore considered to be the local expert and called by the locals in a snakebite situation. Arunbhai called the 108 emergency ambulance services to transport the victim to the Govt hospital in Mangrol.

Meanwhile the victim’s friends asked him to chew some neem leaves and enquired whether he could feel the bitter taste of the leaves. Varjanbhai informed them that he could not.

The 108 ambulance arrived in 15 minutes and the victim was transported to Mangrole Govt Hospital. It took the patient party about 40 minutes to reach Mangrole. The paramedics realized that the victim was getting critical with each passing minute and with guidance from their call centre located in Ahmedabad, they administered 8 vials of anti-snake venom (ASV)  along with supportive drugs during the travel time from Kadachha to Mangrole.

On arrival at the Mangrole Govt Hospital, another 20 vials of ASV was infused. By this time the victim was entering respiratory distress and his breathing tract was cleaned with a suction machine. With assisted breathing, the patient was stabilized by 8.30pm.

By around 11 p.m. the patient revived enough to have some tea. Varjanbhai was given a total of 32 vials of ASV  and discharged the next day at 9 a.m. The local bite area was dressed for the next two days by Arunbhai. Within 3 days, Varjanbhai resumed work. The total cost of treatment in this case was Rs 16,000.

This story is typical of the exigency that accompanies a venomous snakebite in India. Varjanbhai was lucky to have all the elements in his favour and hence survived. The absence of good  local conveyance facilities  in remote areas of India coupled with the  lack of first aid and preliminary treatment  ensures that the  chances of survival of venomous snakebite victims is almost nil.

Written by Priyanka Kadam.

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