Surviving a Black Mamba Bite

Jabulane, a 20 year old man, was bitten on the finger by a snake when he placed his school books in a box. He saw the snake, and recognised the snake and went cold when he realised he had just been bitten by one of the most feared snake in the world, a Black Mamba.

He threw his books down and ran form his room, screaming for help. People came running someone handed him a piece of wire to use as a tourniquet. He quickly tied the wire around the upper part of his arm, trying to ignore the pain it caused.

Jabulane lives with his family in a very remote and rural part of Swaziland. There are no official roads and public transport does not pass his home. Frantically, they started looking for someone with a car to take him to hospital.

Jabulane sat down under the family tree, facing the reality that he was most probably going to die.  Hanging his head, tears ran down his face. He had on a pair of old sneakers with bright orange laces, a gift from his younger brother. His brother came to sit with him, trying to reassure him that they would find a car to take him to hospital, but Jabulane was inconsolable; “I’m going to die, I’m going to die” he repeated over and over. The younger brother looked down at the bright orange shoelaces he had given to Jabulane just a few days earlier. “NO! You are not going to die” he shouted, “use this lace to bind your arm”. He removed the bright orange shoelace and tied it around his arm as well.

Jabulane was in agony, his arm was throbbing with pain and had started to swell. Thinking it was the venom that sas causing his arm to hurt and swell (the wire and shoelace acted as a tourniquet, stopping all the blood flow), Jabulane took an old rusted blade and started cutting his arm in an attempt to bleed all the venom from his arm.

It took them 3 hours, but Jabulane’s family managed to find a vehicle to take him to a hospital that had antivenom and the training to deal with snakebite. The doctors quickly realized the severity of the situation, and immediately started administering the life-saving drug. Although extremely controversial, the tourniquet saved Jabulane’s life.

In Swaziland, bites from a Black Mamba are often fatal.

This snakes’ venom is highly Neurotoxic and a bite should be considered a medical emergency. Immediate and urgent medical assistance will be necessary. Symptoms will appear within minutes and full paralysis can set in less than an hour. Small children may become paralyzed in a few minutes.

The symptoms include; minimal to mild swelling at the bite site and the pain can be minimal to mild. One of the first symptoms to appear will be a feeling of “pins-and-needles at the bite site and later around the lips. There is often a metallic taste in the mouth. The victim will have difficulty in focusing his/her eyes and will appear agitated. The arms and legs will become weak and the speech may be slurred and the victim will have difficulty to swallow. Nausea and vomiting is also a common symptom as well as increased salivation and perspiration.