This true incident happened in July 2009 in Mander village, PO Madhavpur, District Porbandar, Gujarat. The total population of Mander is less than five thousand.
Valiben Parmar was 33 years old then and already a grandmother. Her daughter Devi ben had just delivered a baby and was staying with them for a few weeks. It was around 3.30 p.m. and Vali ben had just finished washing clothes. She took the washed clothes to hang on the clothes line which was tied to the outer wall of the house.
In most houses in the village, the walls are built with merely bricks or lime stones with no plaster to cover the crevices between adjacent bricks or stones. This provides shelter for snakes, lizards and other insects to reside. As Valiben was hanging the clothes, she felt a sudden, sharp pain in the big toe of her right leg. A cobra that was in one of the holes had latched on to her big toe thinking it was prey. Valiben tried to shake off the snake but it wouldn’t let go of her toe. She had to pull the snake off her toe. Stunned by this sudden attack, Valiben rushed indoors to her daughter. There were no male members at home. Both the women started calling out to their neighbours for help.
The neighbours, seeing that it was an emergency case, rushed to the center of the village where Valiben’s husband, Rammal bhai had gone on some errand. On hearing of the snakebite, Rammalbhai rushed home and along with the neighbours, carried Valiben to an open rickshaw to be transported to the main road where the 108 ambulance service would pick them up. A tourniquet was tied to Valiben’s leg a little below the knee. 30 mins had passed since the bite and Valiben was already showing signs of envenomation. By this time word had spread and the entire village had turned out to help in whichever way possible.
It had rained very heavily during the past few days and the entire area was water logged for miles at a stretch. In many places the water level was higher than 5 feet and had completely submerged the roads. There was no way to ascertain the two sides of the road. The fields were situated at least 3 feet below the roads on both sides. It was therefore dangerous to try driving through the water. Moreover, the small rickshaw would just not be able to move through water of this depth.
Incidentally, the owner of a goods carrier truck was stranded in the village due to heavy flooding. The truck driver offered to help transport Valiben to a higher area where she could be transported to a waiting ambulance. This gesture was a big relief to Valiben’s family but this was only the beginning of the ordeal to get her to the hospital at the earliest possible.
Laxmanbhai, Valiben’s brother in law, was a good swimmer. He volunteered to swim in front of the truck to guide the driver and thus ensure that they were driving on the road. It was a perilous task. The driver deflated the six tyres and loaded heavy rocks in the truck to stabilize the vehicle in deep water. They then put Valiben on a charpoy (bed made of four legs and jute ropes) and loaded her on the stones. This was done to ensure Valiben did not experience bumps and jerks while being transported.
The rescue party had called the 108 ambulance services and it was waiting for Valiben on the highway close to Mocha village. By the time they were able to reach the ambulance, 1.5 hours had passed and Valiben was almost unconscious. She described her trance-like experience in detail. She could see nothing. She could just hear very faint voices of people around her. Valiben was immediately administered oxygen and ASV by the paramedics. The tourniquet was removed in the ambulance itself. The ambulance proceeded to pick Arun Bhai who was a local snakebite healer with much experience. The group proceeded to Mangrol where the govt hospital was situated. They reached Mangrol at 6 p.m. A good 2.5 hours after the bite incident.
A total of 40 vials of anti-snake venom was administered as the victim was in a serious condition. Valiben’s vital signs stabilized in 24 hours and she was discharged the next day. The total cost of treatment and hospitalization was Rs. 15,000. Valiben was extremely weak with pain in her leg and had to be carried back home.
By this time it had rained some more and Valiben’s village, Mander, was flooded even more than when they had set-out for the hospital. There was no choice but to take shelter in a relative’s home at Chingariya Village. Valiben had to stay there for the next 8 days until the rain stopped and the waters receded.
Arun Bhai, the local healer visited Valiben every single day post her discharge from the hospital to dress the growing necrosis that was festering her feet. For 2 months Arun Bhai visited Valiben every alternate day to dress her wounds. The spreading necrosis was an appalling sight and Arun Bhai didn’t allow Valiben to see her feet in that condition. His approach is to keep the patients assured that they were fine and going to make a full recovery.
It took six months for Valiben’s leg to completely heal. She has deep scars, a reminder of the fateful incident that nearly took her life. The family have not changed their belief in worshipping snakes and do not kill them whenever they come across one on their farm.
This story addresses a snakebite victim’s ordeal for survival in rural Gujarat; there are many people who emerged heroes on that day because of whom it was possible to transport Valiben to the hospital. Two such people were Valiben’s brother in law, Laxmanbhai who swam guiding the vehicle and, most importantly, the truck driver who took the risk of damaging the truck’s wheels (each pair of tyres costs Rs 25,000) and engine in the deep waters. The entire community had swung into action on that fateful day and made it possible to save a lady who otherwise would have died.
Written by Priyanka Kadam.
Arun C Devani’s profile:
Arun Bhai is a snakebite healer who medically treats patients under the guidance of local doctors. He has more than 35 years of experience as a snake rescuer. In his younger days, Arun Bhai used to travel across the state of Gujarat conducting workshops on snake awareness. His vast experience of handling snakes and snakebites has made him something of an authority on snakebite treatment and even the local doctors respect his expertise. Snakebite Healing and Education Society intends to work with Arun Bhai on capacity building of the area and has documented victim stories of faith, accurate diagnosis and survival.
Victim’s background: Dharmendra Trivedi lives in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He has worked as a translator in the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha since 1991 and served the then CM Narendra Modi between 2009-2014. He is now a part of the team of the present CM Anandiben Patel. He is married to Shilpa Trivedi and they have a 12 year old daughter, Hirva.
Bite Incident: It was the 8th of July 2008. I was in a bit of a hurry to reach my office when I received a rescue call from an IAS Officer in my city, Gandhinagar-Gujarat. Along with a fellow rescuer I reached the site and saw a big cobra trapped under a huge square cement block. At that time I was not aware that the cobra had been injured by the IAS officer’s family members. Nobody cared to intimate me. I lifted the block from the cobra’s body and it tried to slither behind a potted plant. As I tried to hold its tail it struck the back of my right hand with lightning speed. The snake struck so swiftly that even I wasn’t able to see it biting me. I just felt a slight prick.
After safely depositing the snake in a steel box, I rushed to the Civil Hospital. Immediately after the bite, I experienced severe burning sensation on the bitten area and the swelling started within 15 minutes of hospitalization. Amazingly, I was composed and my blood pressure was normal. There were no other symptoms of envenomation and I reached the Government Civil Hospital within ten minutes of the bite incident. Two vials of anti-venom were administered immediately on my arrival. The affected hand developed heavy swelling on the second day which decreased after the 4th day. Finally I was relieved from the hospital on the fifth day. Totally five vials of anti-venom were used for my treatment.
While I survived the bite, on the first day of treatment an intern rubbed the bite area due to her curiosity to see how a snake bite looks. This caused severe necrosis in the local area. I underwent surgery after 15 days to remove dead tissues. In the coming months I had to undergo skin grafting of the affected area. The tendon of my middle finger still feels sensitive to touch.
I’m sharing my story because my personal opinion is that doctors need to be trained to handle such emergencies. The reality is that in most cases doctors all over India are referring to manuals that are archaic and published decades ago. While science has progressed from that era, our medical journals and manuals have not been updated. A venomous snake bite is a life threatening situation which can be treated successfully if the victim is lucky enough to get to a doctor with the right experience and knowledge. Why should such matters be left to chance? Why can we not have trained doctors to ensure that no snakebite victim dies or suffers due to a medical goof-up?
Written by Dharmendra Trivedi.