Many were the reasons we settled on New Zealand. Canada, while tempting, was possibly not quite not-American enough — my apologies to any Canadians reading this, but there’s a reason why you lot all live within sight of the American border. I did consider moving the family back to England, but when even my own father was saying “Don’t come home, son,” then I decided that there had to be a reason why the UK was one to scratch off my list. I briefly — briefly — offered Dubai as a possibility (there’s certainly no shortage of well-paid work), but Deb roundly dispatched that idea; she’s right, of course — the Middle East simply isn’t the stablest place on the planet right now.
We considered Australia, too. It’s OK — I can admit it. But while there were some positive things to be said about the West Island, one comprehensive deal-breaker, for Deb at least, was the wildlife. Australia has, to be blunt, more things that can kill you than, probably, any other country in the world.
(We’re talking about natural things here, of course. If we opened the discussion up to anything that can kill, then it simply wouldn’t even resemble a fair fight, with the US winning by a distressingly large margin. No, we’re keeping this focussed on living things.)
A quick read of Bill Bryon’s Down Under (Americans might know it as In a Sunburned Country) will leave you with a clear image of a country filled with spiders, snakes, even octopodes, that will kill you as soon as look at you. Believe Bryson, and even Sydney or Melbourne is heaving with creepy-crawlies that ooze venom from every inch, and anyone careless enough not to shake their shoes out before putting them on is plunging his toes into a mess of lethal, angry spiders whose glance can be deadly.
While this is, clearly, just a slight exaggeration, it was enormously comforting, when we finally arrived in New Zealand, that our choice of country was pleasingly snake-free. It was also, as far as we were aware, quite satisfyingly free of the spiders that terrorise Australia, the funnel-webs and black widows and countless other death-on-eight-legs nasties.
There is, though, one spider that calls New Zealand home but that you’d rather it didn’t call your house home. The white-tailed spider, so called because the arse-end of its tapering black abdomen looks like someone’s dipped it white paint, is capable of inflicting a rather ugly, although not deadly, bite. I had the great good fortune of discovering how ugly last month.
One Wednesday morning, I noticed a tiny bump on my right index finger, just below the outermost knuckle; I wrote it off as a minor insect bite. It itched, slightly; I rubbed and scratched it, slightly. As the day went by, it itched a little more, until, that evening, I was aware that it was looking, and feeling, rather inflamed. The next morning, I rolled over in bed and happened to bump it against Deb’s elbow. It hurt. I turned on the light, and took a close look. What had been a small bump the night before was now a swollen black-and-purple eruption on my finger. I called the doctor’s surgery, and spoke to the out-of-hours nurse, who said that it sounded like a white-tailed spider bite, and that it was clearly showing signs of infection. Wait until the surgery opens, she said, then call and make an appointment. There was, definitely, a note of urgency in her voice.
So when eight o’clock arrived, I called in and made an appointment for eleven. By the time the doctor saw me, the red streaks of infection were visible past my wrist, and my hand was aching quite unpleasantly. The blister, or boil, or whatever it was, was most painful. The doctor put me on a hefty dose of oral antibiotics (he toyed, he said, with the possibility of intravenous drugs, but in the end I was glad that he’d not sent me to hospital to get dosed up), and then lanced the boil and gently squoze out the oozing nastiness.
That evening, as I ate dinner, Deb saw something on my arm and asked me to show her. I rolled up my sleeve past my elbow, and we were both a little concerned to see that the infection had visibly tracked up my forearm past the elbow; while I didn’t have a fever, the skin under the infection tracks was quite warm. I called my friend Dean — he’s an ophthalmologist by trade, so while this wasn’t entirely his speciality, he knows a thing or two about how bodies work — to ask for a little reassurance and peace of mind. He told me that it was likely just a matter of time before the antibiotics kicked in, and so I relaxed. I went to bed quite early, having spent much of the afternoon lying on the sofa, feeling quite exhausted.
In the morning, the infection tracks had disappeared, but I still felt quite weary, and called in sick to work for a second day, not something I make a habit of doing. I went back to the doctor’s, as I had been instructed, and was told that the infection was clearly fading, but that it would take a while to go away completely. I religiously finished off the medicine, and changed the dressing on what was now a nasty, wide, blistery wound on my finger that continued to weep yellow pus. Deb helped me clean it – her idea of colloidal silver definitely gets some credit for finally making the oozing go away.
I went back to school on Monday, but was still tired, very tired. A week later, I went to the school nurse to get the dressing changed, and was quite surprised by what she told me. White-tails, she said, aren’t terribly common, but when they bite, they deliver quite a hit. She wasn’t at all surprised to hear that I was still, a week and a half on, feeling exhausted — the venom, she told me, can take weeks to work its way out of the body. She said I had done the right thing in taking myself to the doctor — “You could have lost your hand,” she said, and while this sounds a little excessive, clearly the little buggers can do a decent bit of damage.