I had just arrived at the local pub with my overland group in the evening in Malawi, when I sat down, put my bag in my lap and felt something really sharp stab my right wrist. It was really strange because I didn’t see what did it, but it felt like there was still a needle stuck in my wrist, yet there was no trace of a bite or cut.
A few minutes later, I felt something on my dress, so I instinctively brushed it away with my left hand when something bit or stung my left finger, but much harder this time. I jumped up in a panic. One of the girls looked all over and under my dress for what had done it, then she turned me around and said “there’s a scorpion on your back”.
The locals and my tour guide were freaking out and yelling, but I barely noticed because I was processing what had just happened and the potential severity of it all. When I was told there was a scorpion on my back, I came to the horrible realization that that was what had stung me not once, but twice, and that the other experience I had with a scorpion was in northern Mexico when I found a huge black scorpion in the place I was staying and I specifically remember the locals saying that if you got stung, you had to seek medical attention immediately or you could die. I thought of that and how I was in the middle of nowhere in Malawi at night, so getting anywhere quickly wasn’t going to happen because the roads were so terrible.
I asked my guide to tell me the truth, what was going to happen and if I might die if we didn’t get to a hospital in time. He said scorpions in Africa weren’t fatal, which was reassuring, but the poison would make me feel terrible. But the locals were freaking out and said they’d never seen a scorpion in Malawi before, which was unsettling (usually scorpions are a threat in the dry parts of Africa, but apparently they’re in Malawi too, where it’s very wet).
At first, the areas that got stung felt like really bad bee stings, but they got progressively worse very quickly to the point where my entire left hand felt like it was broken and I couldn’t move it.
I was given some painkillers, but I couldn’t sleep at all that night because the pain was so severe and it kept getting worse.
We got up at 4:30am for a long drive to Tanzania. The pain was horrendous. The scorpion’s poison is a neurotoxin, so it attacks the nervous system. My entire right forearm was numb (like the pins and needles feeling x 100), yet it was also incredibly painful. I could use my right hand a little, but I couldn’t move my wrist and I couldn’t do any that required strength. My left hand and arm were excruciatingly painful and couldn’t be used or touched at all. The finger that was stung consistently felt like ten knives were stabbing it, while injected with gasoline and set on fire. It felt like it was going to explode. And the numbness in both arms had spread to my jaw.
With the way my finger was feeling, I was worried there might be tissue damage and that I could lose my finger. I asked the guides if that was a possibility, but they didn’t know for sure, so they begrudgingly said I could go to a hospital if I wanted to.
When I washed my hands, my finger freaked out from the water and became about a hundred times more painful, which I didn’t think was possible. The pain wouldn’t subside and it was unbearable. I was given two heavy duty painkillers and was out cold on the floor of the moving truck for the next few hours, so much so that some of the people in my group were worried I might be dead.
They woke me up when we arrived at the hospital in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania, which was a filthy, run-down, terrifying dump of a place that looked like it was straight out one of the horror films “Saw”. There are images from that hospital that I will never forget. After a few hours of waiting, the doctor confirmed that I would not die or lose my finger.
I couldn’t use my left hand or arm at all for four days and I couldn’t use them properly for a week. After five days, as warned, I broke out in a terrible fever, which knocked me out badly for a few days and I felt nauseous for a week. All in all, the scorpion messed me up for over two weeks and it took over a month for the nerve damage in my finger to heal properly.
(Photo by Musides. Wikimedia.)