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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Snake Bites and More
August 4, 2007

      Another day, another medical emergency – US Army to the rescue.

      One of the ABP Soldiers brought a small girl into our FOB today who had been bitten by a snake last night.  Turns out the snake was poisonous, and she was suffering.  This girl was the policeman’s niece, a small, pretty girl in multi-colored dress.  She looked like she was about 5 or 6 years old, weighing about 45 pounds.  We were told she was 9.

      A three-foot pit viper had bitten her ankle last night, and the wound was still bleeding, so the uncle brought her to us to check on her.  This task fell on me, as both our medics had left for Waza Khwa (unfortunate choice on management’s part, which I must take partial blame for, as I would be considered part of “management” here, due to my rank).  Anyway, I sat her down, cleaned out the wound, wrapped a bandage tightly around the ankle, got one of our interpreters, and asked about the bite.  They brought me a dead snake in a plastic bag, crushed after it bit the girl.
      I heard some astounding treatments for snakebite in this part of Afghanistan.  The girl’s family killed a dog after the snake bit the girl, in order to put her foot in the dead dog’s entrails.  This is a common treatment – a dead chicken may also be used, as well as the mouth of a dead frog.  It sounded like voodoo or witch doctor treatments to me, but our “terp” (interpreter) said this was common.

      “Captain Kirk” came over to assist, and told me the dead snake was in fact poisonous.  He had been a snake hunter for quite a while, and he told me about the difference between snake venom which operates on the nervous system (more rare) versus venom which affects the victim’s blood (more common).  Since the girl’s wound was still bleeding after over 12 hours, it appeared the snake’s venom was affecting her blood: the blood could not clot. This in effect was making the girl a hemophiliac.  We saw more evidence of this when the poor girl bit her tongue by accident, and had to keep spitting out blood (the cut on her tongue would not heal for over two hours).

      The 508th managed to get a MEDEVAC helicopter to come to us, after some bitter arguing.  It was suggested to us that the girl’s family take her to the closest medical hospital in the area.  We had to point out that the closest hospital was in Pakistan, and was hours away.  The Platoon Sergeant found someone who would assist with medical support, and the girl and her uncle were spirited away via helicopter, the girl wide-eyed with amazement and fear.

      It still surprises me what passes for medical knowledge in this country.

      Later, we had an argument with one of the ABP drivers regarding training new drivers.  Most of the ABP Soldiers here cannot drive their trucks; in fact, there are only as many drivers as there are trucks.  Moreover, each driver is held personally responsible for the condition of his truck.  We have a similar way of operating in the US Army as well – Soldiers may be assigned to a vehicle, and they are responsible for maintaining it as well as operating it.  But we don’t take it to the same degree as the Afghan forces do!

      The driver told me he was afraid of what might happen to him if someone so much as scratches the truck assigned to him.  He reported to me something that had happened to another driver within our ABP brigade less than a year ago: another driver (one that now is assigned to our ABP here in Do China as well) was involved in a collision.  There was an investigation.  During the investigation, the other driver was interrogated, and during the interrogation, the driver was beaten and his arm broken.  I checked this story out with one of our terps, and he had heard of this, too.  So the reluctant driver instructor has some reason to fear.

      We still need to train additional drivers, so this will be an issue we will have to work through.  I can’t really blame him for not wanting to use his truck, though.

      Meanwhile, we discovered that the ABP have run out of food, with the exception of flour.  Yesterday the Soldiers ate bread and seeds.  Today we gave them some rice and beans that we normally give to local villages.  (Normally the ABP commander has money given to him to purchase food, but the commander still hasn’t returned from his supply trip; when he returns, he will also have money for food.)  We had some ABP Soldiers who discovered some fruit in the US’ wooden garbage box – our cook found the fruit was spoiling, so he threw it away.  One of the ABP took some of the fruit and sold it in the local village, not bothering to share any with his fellow ABP Soldiers.  We talked him into using the money to buy a couple chickens for all the ABP Soldiers instead of simply keeping it all for himself.

      Such a strange country this is!

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.