(Feature Image Credit: African Snake Bite Institute (https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/))
Doctors save lives on a regular basis. Itâ€™s what theyâ€™re trained and expected to do. But nothing could have prepared Sedgefield veterinarian Dr Anuska Viljoen for the series of events that occurred on what was supposed to be just an ordinary Saturday.
It was 6 May 2006. I was visiting a friend, just outside Sedgefield, when I received an emergency call-out for a Staffie that had been bitten by a puff adder,â€ recalls the petite doctor. â€œTime being of the essence, I left immediately and arranged with the dogâ€™s owners to meet at the surgery.â€
With roadworks underway at the time, Dr Anuska encountered a gravel detour en route to the surgery. Usually a cautious driver, but being in a hurry to get to her patient, she took a corner just a little too fast, causing the car to slide out and hit a tree.
â€œI could feel my face was a little banged up, but other than that I felt okay. Thank goodness my receptionist Jayne just happened to be driving on the same road at that time, and arrived on the scene just two minutes after my accident. Of course, she was completely surprised to see my car hanging onto a tree, but at least she was able to drive me the rest of the way to the surgery.â€
When Dr Anuska and Jayne arrived, The Maasdorps and their Staffie, Attila, were already at the surgery. Attila had bitten the snake in half and theyâ€™d brought it along in a bag for identification. Dr Anuska emptied the severed front end of the snake onto a table and confirmed that it was a puff adder, then turned around to the adjacent fridge to fetch the appropriate anti-serum.
â€œI suddenly felt a sharp burning pain in my right wrist, which was behind me as I had turned. It started to bleed. At first, I couldnâ€™t understand what had happened. Then, looking at the dead snake, chomped in half and lying absolutely motionless on the table in front of me, I realised it must have somehow bitten me!â€
At the time, Dr Anuska had not been aware that the bite reflex of a snake could remain active for several hours after death â€“ even if itâ€™s just a severed head!
â€œI had to get the catheter into my patient as quickly as possible. The snake had bitten me in the crease of my right wrist and I knew I wouldnâ€™t be able to manage the procedure with my left hand alone. During this time, I kept dosing both Attila and myself with Simply Natural homeopathic snake bite remedy.â€
Once she was satisfied that she had done everything she could for Attila, Dr Anuska asked to be taken to the hospital. The ER had earlier been notified to expect her. She arrived at the hospital approximately an hour after the bite, having taken the snake bite remedy the whole time. On arrival, the swelling and pain had only progressed half-way up her arm. However, hospital protocol required that she immediately discontinue use of the homeopathic remedy in order for the surgeon to commence with his own treatment.
â€œThe surgeon arrived about half an hour after I stopped taking the remedy. At this point, the pain and swelling had progressed quite rapidly and the lymph nodes in my armpit and groin were the size of golf balls. My fingers were also very swollen. I was then taken to ICU, where I was given a test dose of the anti-venom.â€
They say things happen in threeâ€™s and for Dr Anuska, on what was supposed to be just an ordinary Saturday, this could not have been more accurate. As luck would have it, she was allergic to the anti-venom and her body went into anaphylactic shock.
â€œOf the whole experience, this really was the worst part. I remember saying my feet were burning, then passing out and coming to again. It was all quite surreal and it was as though my brain became disassociated from my body, probably because of the intense pain.â€
The swelling became progressively worse. Dr Anuskaâ€™s right hand eventually looked like a purple mitten and one could no longer distinguish between her fingers. The surgeon explained that he would need to operate and that Dr Anuska would definitely lose her hand. He had to open up the muscles in her forearm. Possibly amputate up to the elbow.
â€œBeing a surgeon myself, I simply couldnâ€™t lose a hand â€“ least of all my dominant hand! I asked him how much time Iâ€™d have before going into theatre and I was told half an hour. I immediately started with the remedy and by the time he came back, he could see that the swelling was coming down. He then gave me another hour and the swelling went down even further, with the colour normalising in my fingers.â€
With the situation less dire, the surgeon left for the night. The nurses, who could see that it was helping a lot, continued to help Dr Anuska to take the remedy as she slipped in and out of consciousness.
â€œI only had a small bottle of the homeopathic remedy with me, so I asked for a bottle of water and mixed the remainder of the remedy into it to make it last longer. With the possibility of surgery still quite strong, I wasnâ€™t allowed to drink anything, but I was allowed to wet my tongue. So thatâ€™s what we did – every 10 to 30 minutes.â€
By the next day, her hand was almost back to normal. Still swollen, but at least it looked like a hand. The surgeon checked in and advised that she would need to be hospitalised for two weeks, which was the norm for puff adder bite victims. She would also need to return after six weeks to determine the extent of the scar tissue from permanent tissue damage, as this would need to be removed. Quite incredibly, Dr Anuska was discharged within four days, as opposed to the usual fourteen.
â€œAs soon as I arrived home, I started looking into methods to prevent scar tissue. I discovered BEMER (Bio-Electro-Magnetic Energy Regulator) physical vascular therapy and arranged for a monthâ€™s worth of treatments, which really helped for healthy blood flow and circulation. When it was time to go back to the surgeon for my check-up, there was absolutely no tissue damage. Mine really was a phenomenal, unprecedented case. Technically, I should have lost my hand, yet itâ€™s perfect.â€
Youâ€™re probably wondering what happened to Attila the dog. Well, he was just fine, thanks to Dr Anuskaâ€™s quick-thinking and selfless dedication to saving his life before her own. But the story gets even better, for it was more than her quick-thinking that saved them that day. The snake bite remedy, that had saved both of their lives, had been developed by none other than Dr Anuska herself!
â€œI had used the remedy successfully before,â€ she explains, â€œbut that experience made me understand the true nature of the pain that my snake bite patients were experiencing. I was therefore able to add more remedies to alleviate those symptoms.â€
To date, Dr Anuska has personally saved approximately 40 animals with her snake bite remedy, including a pet rat and a dog that was bitten three times in the space of one month! She has also made the remedy available for public purchase as part of her Simply Natural range of natural remedies.