Thursday, March 17, 2016. At around 10.30 am my phone rang. It was displaying an unknown number. Someone wanted to report a snakebite case from Rajasthan. The caller introduced himself as Rohan Shringarpure, a scientist working with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) posted at Bhopal as Centre Manager for Vulture Conservation. His colleague Purushottam Ingle had guided him to reach out to Snakebite Healing and Education Society to report a peculiar case of snakebite. Purushottam had looked for us on the internet and found our contact details on the SHE website.
The victim was in a remote village in Rajasthan. He was bitten about 3 days ago, supposedly by a snake and the family had restored to faith healing at the local temple. The boy was developing black patches on his body. His urine seemed blood red – signs of Hematuria (presence of blood in the urine).
The author was busy attending an important meeting and called her colleague Vishal Santra based in Kolkatta, West Bengal to help guide the victim’s family take him to the nearest hospital. Vishal spoke to the family and guided them regarding importance of timely treatment as it seemed like a case of venomous snakebite.
Victim’s background: Jeetu Gujjar is an 18-year-old lad from Vallabhgadh village, Tehsil Bhusawar, Dist. Bharatpur, Rajasthan. He was then a second year under graduate student in a college about 10 kms from his village. The eldest amongst four siblings, Jeetu belonged to the shepherd community. They owned huge flocks of goat and sheep.
On 15th March at around 9 p.m. Jeetu was returning from the Hanuman temple. He stepped on something in the dark and felt a sharp piercing pain on his toes. When he reached home, he saw blood oozing out of two clear fang marks. The family concluded that it was a snakebite. Jeetu was taken to the village priest who warmed some neem leaves and applied it to the bite area. After chanting a few mantras, Jeetu was packed off and asked to return the next day for more healing.
The ‘treatment’ didn’t provide any relief to Jeetu. In fact the bite area had swollen accompanied by extreme tenderness. In the meantime, Jeetu’s aunt’s husband Timan Singh who was posted as a Sr Vulture keeper at the Bhopal facility of BNHS (Madhya Pradesh) called them and was told about Jeetu’s ordeal. Timan Singh related this incident to Rohan and Purushottam and that’s how the two scientists had sprung to help an unknown boy in a village hundreds of kms away.
A day after Vishal Santra had called the family, the author called to inquire about Jeetu. She was told that the patient was still at home. The author reasoned with the family and asked them to take Jeetu immediately to the hospital in Jaipur as Jeetu was bleeding from his gums by this time. The author knew there were insufficient facilities at Bharatpur to treat renal failure cases. She put an alert on her phone to inquire about the patient in the afternoon. The family was still at home in the afternoon when she called. The family’s easy approach annoyed the author and she castigated them to leave for Jaipur immediately.
Despite the author’s pressure to leave immediately, the family finally started for Jaipur only that evening. By this time, Jeetu was bleeding from his nose. Hatesingh Gujjar, Jeetu’s father along with other family members took the train from Bayana Junction (about 25 kms away from Vallabhgadh) to Jaipur at 10pm and reached Jaipur in the middle of the night around 1 a.m. The patient party had a short snack at the railway food stall and proceeded around 4 a.m. for the Govt Hospital in Jaipur.
The author had asked the family to call her the moment they reached the hospital so she could speak to the doctor on duty. The family called as promised and the author provided a quick background of the case and also contact numbers of two prominent snakebite expert doctors in case the doctor on the ground would like to consult in case of renal complications.
Jeetu was admitted early morning on 23rd March 2016. Most of India would celebrate the festival of Holi that day while Jeetu was struggling to survive. The next 5 days were crucial. Jeetu was administered ASV and other supporting medicines. We do not know the number of vials that were administered. Jeetu was also given 8 units of blood as there was excessive internal bleeding which is one of the symptoms of an untreated saw scaled viper bite. The area where Jeetu lived has a distribution of Echis carinatus sochureki (saw scaled viper).
Jeetu’s ordeal was finally coming to an end. He had not eaten much in the last 7 days and started consuming solid food only after his treatment started in the hospital. He had regular bowel movement only after 9 days from the bite.
Jeetu was discharged from the hospital on the 6th day with antibiotic medicines for the next 15 days. He was also given an antibiotic cream to be applied at the bite area. The swelling around the bite area finally went down in a month’s time.
The author moved on after this case but Jeetu’s miraculous survival was always at the back of her mind. She left a message with Jeetu’s uncle Timar Singh asking him to ask Jeetu to call her. And he did!
One Sunday afternoon, sometime in May 2016, the author got a call from an unknown number. The caller said he was the same boy from Rajasthan that she had helped save. The happiness of hearing the voice of the kid that we thought would not make it was unimaginable. While Jeetu spoke about his ordeal, his other aunt who was just a year older than him snatched the phone and asked the author, “Do you know what you have done for us?” There was complete silence as tears of joy flowed freely!
India experiences many cases of venomous snakebites where the victim’s family resorts to faith healing. In this particular case, Jeetu’s family didn’t know that a snakebite is treated at a hospital. Everyone in their village went to the local temple whenever a snakebite occurred.
Post this case, the author asked Jeetu and his young aunt to become proponents of snakebite awareness in their village and spread the word that only Snake anti-venom could save a venomous snakebite victim’s life.
Jeetu is now aspiring to join the Indian Army!
Written by Priyanka Kadam.