Parasitology and my shower guest.

4 06 2011

by Sarah Lombardo

Galle, Sri Lanka

You know that really unattractive, back-of-you-throat sound that you make when something small but yucky really startles you?  Like when a mouse suddenly runs across your foot during an evening stroll through the city, or when you pick up a pile of clothes from the floor to find a gigantic hairy spider lurking beneath.  It’s something between an “aaaahhhh!!” and an “uuugghhh!!,” but with just a touch of shivering tremble.  That is precisely the noise that I made when a small gecko-like thing scurried under my foot in the shower this morning.  Uuggghhh….

Newts, geckos, salamanders, lizards, snakes – these guys don’t bother me.  Not that I’m going to go up and start petting or befriending them, but I’m perfectly comfortable being around the reptilian type of household “pest” and just sharing that space.  Now spiders and cockroaches are another story.  Ever since watching Arachnophobia back in elementary school I have been quite arachnophobic (thanks a lot Hollywood).  But in Sri Lanka most of what I’ve seen about are these pale little geckos?  Newts?  I don’t honestly know the difference. These nocturnal critters produce a mocking, hyena-like laughing noise and run for cover behind the nearest picture or cabinet. Whatever you are I just want you to know that I’m not scared of you, you just startled me.  Please don’t do that ever again.  Especially in the shower.

"Caught like a deer in the headlights.

Luckily for me Sri Lanka is not known for their spiders. I’m sure bad ones exist here, but I’ve yet to come across a website or tourist book that warns about a particularly mean eight-legger. What Sri Lanka is famous for, however, is its snakes. Or perhaps its snake-bites, to be more accurate. Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of snake-bite fatalities per capita in the entire world. Fun. Reasons for this are probably 2 fold: one, it’s hot and jungly here, people walk around in sandals, and snakes live on the ground beneath all of that beautiful greenery. It’s an obvious recipe for snake-bite disaster. The second reason for the high fatality rate is likely related to our (meaning the discipline of medicine) inability to accurately and effectively treat certain poisonous snake-bites. All antivenin isn’t created equal; you need to know precisely which snake bit you AND you need to have the right antivenin on hand to administer within a proper timeframe.

The typical view: S-curve running right out of the frame.

Snakes are such a problem here in Sri Lanka that the parasitology portion of the medical curriculum requires students to learn how to identify and differentiate between the poisonous and non-poisonous varieties. Since only 5 of the 96 species are potentially lethal you’d think that the average student need only to recognize 5 species. But a recent exchange with Chamika, a medical pre-intern (meaning someone who has graduated from medical school and has their MBBS, but has not yet become a full-fledged doctor), revealed that these well-trained healers could easily double as gamekeepers at the most well stocked of reptile houses. You may remember Mr. Snake from one of my earlier forays into the Leijay garden. Well Chamika took exactly 3 seconds to identify him as a Rat Snake, pointing out the defining features of dark scales beneath the eyes and something else about the nose that I didn’t quite catch. It was really impressive. In the States we are expected to be able to differentiate a tick from spider, or a bedbug from a flea perhaps. This is a whole other level of medical education.

Mr. Snake.

Now while snakes don’t give me the same ick factor that spiders, ticks and fleas do, I think this time I’d rather take the guys with the legs. Even better, I’ll just stick to hanging out with my new shower mate. At least I know he can’t hurt me.

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One response

4 06 2011
Joy Ogunmuyiwa

AHHHH! I know exactly what sound your talking about because those gecko/newts things are in Nagaland too. I couldn’t have described it better myself!

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