Friday, November 25, 2005

Interlude: Pause for a Shudder

Scolopendra Subspinipes or Tropical Centipede
Grows up to 8 inches (20 centimeters)
This is probably a “yawn” blog posting to my SE Asian friends, but I’m sure it’ll provide a good “yuck” response from my North American visitors.

About 3-1/2 years ago, I saw one of these things on a pile of ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Being new to SE Asia, I approached it to get a good picture and my native guide rather roughly grabbed my arm and pulled me away, cautioning me to steer clear (and ruining my picture in the process). He made it sound as though the thing would jump on me from a couple meters away. Actually, it turns out these are rather slow-moving creatures (all the easier to stealthily sneak into bed with you at night).

Last year, one of my university students was bitten, and told me the spine-tingling details. Like most students (and rural Isan residents), his bed in the dormitory is a palette on the floor. Therefore it was easy for one of these creatures to crawl up onto his neck and inflict a bite during the night. (Talk about a living Daraculan nightmare.)

He said that the pain was near-paralyzing. The medical clinic is just across the road from his dormitory. However, it hurt so badly, he lay there (near-motionless) for 2-1/2 days before being able make it across the road for medical help (he lives alone).

I just asked another native Isan resident about the local folk treatment:

  1. Heat up cow manure to just below skin-burning temperature.
  2. Mix it with a local herb (he can't remember what it was; probably the main effective ingredient!).
  3. Spread it on the wound, and keep it there until the pain subsides.

As a little boy, this informant was bitten and was treated by his grandfather many years ago. He said it took three days for the pain to subside. However, from what I hear, two to three days for the pain to subside is about the lifetime of the agony anyway. So who really knows if the folk remedy speeds up recovery or not?

I would be quick to add that I'm not purposely discounting most of the Isan folk medicine. These guys know stuff that the Bangkok-trained (or abroad-trained) doctors have never laid eyes on, and a lot of it is quite effective (personal experience).

After hearing some of these local stories, I've made a few New Year's resolutions:
  • I'm checking my shoes in the morning
  • I'm checking the bedding before I hop in at night
  • No more sleeping on the floor, which I've done often.
  • No more walking around in the dark (inside or outside) in my bare feet, which I've also often done since moving to Isan.
I'm no four-year-old wimp, but I've heard enough stories that make me want to exercise just a little more caution in daily life.

UPDATE: "Emergency and Chaos!" Read one of our readers' first-hand accounts with a centipede. At that web-site, scroll down to the Jan. 17, 2006 entry.


trangam said...

Nice to hear from you again! When we were kids we had this 'myth' (or is it true?) that the more we get bitten by various insects the better our strength as we grow. Of course I allowed only ants and bees to bite me yet! The latter being rather painful and long-lasting.

SiamPhile said...

To add to the list of resolution, "place your mobile phone nearby when you go to bed", but have it switched off because may affect your sleep.
Happy new year.

witheringintuition said...

*Shudder* I have not read much about these insects yet, but another student (who studied in Khon Kaen last semester) told me about an experience with fire ants. Apparently she forgot that she was on the floor in a small village. In the middle of the night she had to blow her nose so she picked up a Kleenex from the floor and used it. The next morning she woke up with bumps and bites all over inside/outside her nose. The story that you shared is much worse!