RAMONA AND THE RATTLESNAKE


After retelling the story of what happened last Wednesday afternoon several hundred times, Maya put marker to paper and described it artistically. The person on the right is Papi, whose hair is actually black and less than an inch long, and that thing sticking out from his head is "the doce," our 12-gauge shotgun. The long brown creature at the bottom is a rattlesnake with a big round brown rattler. Above it is Ramona the (blue) Doberman, with blood gushing from the holes in her nose left by the snake's fangs. The scribbling above Ramona represents the confusion of our five other dogs.

Bill and I were two hours away in Nicoya, dragging ourselves through mountains of administrative bullshit in an attempt to renew our residencies, when I got a call from Emily. She was sobbing. Ramona had just been bitten by a rattlesnake. Emily was home alone with the girls and six dogs and two cats. The rattlesnake was still at large under the strangler fig near her house.

"I can't deal with this snake alone, with the girls and the dogs scrambling all over and a dog whose head is swelling up fast!"

"Well, we're two hours away, so call Chan!"

"But he's working."

"You're home alone with your children and a dog whose nose is gushing blood from a rattlesnake bite and five other agitated dogs who may or may not leave the still lively rattler alone. It's okay to call Chan home from work."

Meanwhile, I went to see the vet who took care of Edna when she broke her leg. He explained that there's only a limited amount of rattlesnake antivenom in Costa Rica, since much of it is exported. It comes in at the beginning of the year, and by November (a big month for rattlesnakes becoming active as the rainy season ends) it's hard to come by. The only veterinary antivenom the vet could find was another hour away, in Tamarindo. By the time we drove to Tamarindo and then three hours back home, the crucial first three hours after the bite would be up anyway, so Emily opted to wait it out.

Sometimes the cultural differences between Chan and Emily appear insurmountable to me, but they seem to have things worked out. The topic of dogs is always a hot one. When Ramona and Diggity were puppies, Chan was dumbfounded when Emily and I insisted they sleep inside with us. Not surprisingly, in the Costa Rican countryside, dogs are thought of as animals, not children, as they are in the U.S. Their job is to protect humans, not to be protected by humans. Chan loves dogs, but he treats them like, well . . . dogs. His opinion was if Ramona was stupid enough to stick her nose near a rattlesnake's mouth, she'd just have to recover (or not) on her own. A few years ago, two other dogs Chan had for a brief time were both bitten by a rattlesnake. They swelled up, keeled over, looked like they were dying, and then pulled through.

By the time Bill and I got home hours later, Maya was bursting with tales of the afternoon's excitement. A dramatic child, she did justice to the story with exquisite hand gestures and much rolling of the eyes. Her continuous loop button had been pressed and she went on and on about the rattlesnake, cheerfully filling us in on the gory details: how Papi shot it with the doce and cut off its head with his machete, and how interesting it was to watch the headless snake writhing its way to snake heaven. After Papi shot the snake, he had left it in the woods and reported to the girls that it was dead. They insisted he go get it so they could enjoy examining the corpse. Not exactly an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but still much more educational than anything on a screen.

Ramona looked much the same in the morning, when Emily finally convinced Chan to bring her to the vet in Carmona. There she was given antibiotics and sent home with IV fluids to flush out the poison. Her face and neck were seriously swollen.

The good news is that by Friday Ramona appeared to have recovered. The bad news is that by Saturday, her old case of ehrlichiosis (tickborne illness related to Lyme) cropped up again because her immunity was completely depleted by the rattlesnake venom. At the moment Ramona is extremely anemic and quite listless, so she's not out of the woods yet. She may have residual problems but we hope she'll recover soon so once again the pack will be intact.

Some day I'll tell you all about why we have so many dogs. Meanwhile, I was comforted to read online that dogs are bitten by poisonous snakes about 20 times more often than are people. Being people ourselves, we're all very careful about not putting our noses near the mouths of rattlesnakes.