Everyday Adventures: Centipede Attack


My exotic dropout lifestyle is a pale shadow of its former self. I spend my nights lying in a darkened bedroom beside Miss M with the new baby swinging in his hammock in the corner.

I watch episode after episode of CSI, the one set in Las Vegas. Because that’s the biggest boxed set the pirate DVD shop had on my first excursion out of the house when we returned to Ho Chi Minh City.

I’m up to 2004 in CSI-land. Otherwise known as Disc 5.

And as I lie there in the dark, I remind myself again and again that this too shall pass. Miss M won’t always be a difficult-to-get-to-sleep four-year-old who refuses to sleep in her own bed. Darling Man won’t always be working nights. The baby won’t always be a baby. I will get my life back, I tell myself.

And just when I think I’ve sunk to the depths of mundane-dom, something happened to shake me out of my self-pity and realise how much I have to live for.

That something happened last Saturday night, as the CSI types were soulfully staring at things held between tweezers. I was thinking about shutting my laptop and nodding off when suddenly there was a flurry of movement up my arm and a stab of hot sharp pain.

I flung my laptop to one side and leapt out of bed – a typical arachnophobic reaction. I snapped the light on as my skin crawled at the thought of having just brushed a spider off my bare arm. All my energy was directed at the task of not screaming like a banshee and waking the kids up.

With the light on, the bed seemed clear. Feeling very panicked, I lifted Miss M out of bed and put her on the floor, as far away from the unseen invader as possible. The baby I judged clear of danger, swinging in his little hammock. I silently thanked the universe that I had been the target, not them.

Next item to check — the laptop. My link to the outside world and holder of all my precious written and photographic memories of the last few years. Not backed up, of course.

It was fine. Unnaturally glamorous CSI types were still doing their worthy work, involving much background music and long looks.

So what the fuck had bit me? My arm was throbbing, with a spike of pain right at the underside of where my biceps should bulge athletically.

Gingerly I picked up the laptop and put it on the bedside table.

Nothing.

Then I carefully lifted the pillow.

A streak of black nastiness shot out from under the pillow and disappeared between the sheets. Part of my brain wondered if this was the reason top sheets are impossible to find in Vietnam. Another part of my brain registered the rolling movement of many many small legs.

A centipede.

I was starting to feel sweaty and my heart was racing. I didn’t know whether this was just fear or a reaction to the bite. I am allergic to bee and wasp stings. Am I allergic to centipede stings? Are centipedes poisonous in Asia? I’m from Australia where everything is deadly. Was I doomed or not?

I did something I never do. I called Darling Man while he was out on tour. He ummed and ahhed and told me to put salt on the site of the bite. Then he told me to consult Google.

I did.

Only to find that Wiki thinks a centipede bite is no big deal. But this guy in China found it a very big deal. And he didn’t even mention allergies. When I got to the bit about the top of his foot turning black for a week, I made a snap decision. I was going to see a doctor. My arm is a lot closer to my heart than that guy’s foot was to his. And I have two little kids I want to see grow up.

Waves of cold goosebumps kept traveling up and down my arms and back as I prepared to transport two sleeping children to the pricey expat medical centre.

I decided I would go to Family Medical Practice, probably the most expensive choice late on a Saturday night. But I’d been given very bad advice – “you should have an abortion because your baby will have chromosome problems because you had an x-ray” – at one English-speaking clinic. Another English-speaking medical facility charges like a steroid-abusing Grid Iron player, according to anecdotal reports.

I called the clinic to ask them what I should do. I know they have an ambulance should the situation be judged very dire. The Filipino nurse I spoke to didn’t seem to think it was emergency but urged me to visit the clinic anyway.

After catching the centipede for identification purposes, I decided I didn’t want it in the taxi with the kids, in case it escaped. I left it on the bedside table.

centipede

I strapped the baby into his carrier and cajoled Miss M into walking downstairs to wait on the couch for the taxi. Carrying two sleeping kids down a steep black marble staircase in the dark is a recipe for disaster, so luckily for me, Miss M (for once in her life) complied.

As the taxi bumbled its way towards downtown Saigon, I tried to work out whether I was having trouble breathing because of the bite or because I had a very heavy 10-week-old baby lying on my chest.

I concentrated on breathing, holding a bottle of cold water on the painful bite site and distracting Miss M from the fact that we were going to the doctor in the middle of the night. I texted Darling Man to meet me at the clinic. I remembered that I’d forgotten to renew our travel insurance.

When we finally reached the clinic, none of the staff seemed particularly concerned by my condition. A nurse took my blood pressure and temperature and a doctor spoke to me about my allergies. He calmly prescribed antihistamines and steroids and then wandered off. A few moments later, the nurse returned with the medicine and I toddled off to reception to pay the bill, my heart still racing and my skin still crawling.

I took the antihistamine and settled in to wait for Darling Man to finish his tour. I was also waiting for my symptoms to clear. The nurse had told me I needed to take the steroids on a full stomach so I was also anticipating a late-night street food snack on the way home.

Darling Man finally arrived, tired and frazzled and slightly pissed off that I was wasting his hard-earned cash on a super-expensive Western doctor for what he considered a trifling complaint. He took the now-awake baby off my chest to give him a cuddle.

It was while Darling Man was chatting about that night’s tour that I noticed I was clearing my throat every 20 seconds. Once I realised that, my heart started racing even faster. Were my airways closing?

I lurched back around the corner to try to find the nurse. When I opened my mouth to ask him if I should be worried, only a very hoarse creak came out. I was really worried by this stage, even though I was only a few metres away from the clinic’s defibrillator and neatly-labeled drawer of adult and children’s throat tubes.

The nurse ushered me into the doctors office. I croakily told him that I was having just a little bit of trouble breathing. He looked slightly concerned. Then he asked me if I usually had a rash on my chest. I looked down and squeaked in alarm. My chest was bright pink.

The doctor told me maybe I should take the steroid on an empty stomach.

I did.

Then I sat and watched the minute hand on the clock in the waiting room edge past 11 and make its way towards 12. As the minute hand moved I concentrated on breathing and how happy I was to be so close to a doctor.

Miss M alternated between watching Tom and Jerry on the TV in the corner and the death throes of a parrot fish in the fish tank in the middle of the waiting area. Darling Man held the baby and periodically asked when we could go home.

Finally, at about 12.15am, I felt like breathing was getting easier, not more difficult. I was in the clear. We called a taxi.

Twenty minutes later we were all in bed. I was sore and exhausted … but still breathing. I could not, however, fall asleep. I had a bad case of the yips and kept feeling phantom creepy crawlies all over my body.

I was also wondering how bad things would have gotten if I hadn’t gone to the clinic for antihistamines and steroids.

And ever since then (after renewing our insurance), putting my two beautiful children to bed at night doesn’t seem like such a chore. Life is beautiful and I am very lucky. And I am definitely seeking medical help next time I’m bitten or stung by something.

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6 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

5 Comments

  1. Ohhhh, wow. Glad it all worked out well and glad you took the steroid. I’ve never been bitten or stung by anything more than a mosquito and have no idea if I’m allergic to anything like that. Would definitely do what you did though and get it sorted if anything like that did happen.
    Julia
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..East Turkey Road Trip Part 5 – Ani; You’re Special!

  2. Holly says:

    Wow, that’s scary. Very lucky you went to the doc. Centrepedes are scary. Had one climb my curtain after heavy rains once in the middle of the night. Thought it was something out of an alien movie :-/ not to mention I think there was a facebook article from somewhere in Australia of a dead snake that dies from a centipede trying to dig its way out after being eaten. Feel better

  3. Lyra says:

    So glad you’re okay and that you trusted your instincts to go to the doc!
    Lyra recently posted..Ho Tram BBQ Restaurant

  4. I’m always of the go to the doctor school, just in case. i am SO GLAD YOU went. oh my gosh.
    Jessie Voigts recently posted..Travel Writers’ Guide: 110 Street Markets Around the World

  5. budget jan says:

    Good on you for going to the Doctor. It wouldn’t have been easy with the two kids, but paid off big time when you had trouble breathing. If you had been at home then, it would have been too scary. It is good when we get a wake up call and realize how lucky we are. I think I need one right now (not a centipede bite though). Maybe I will just use your experience to make me realize how easy I have it, lol.
    budget jan recently posted..Tortum to Dogubayazit in Eastern Turkey

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