Samoa Stories: The Centipede
It was Saturday night in Lion’s Park. There was a party going on, and all of the palagis were in attendance. There weren’t that many mainlanders on-island, so we all tended to stick together. That meant that my parents and my sister were at the party, as was one of my students. (I wanted to chew him out for drinking a Corona, but it was hard to do when I had a 40-ounce Vailima in my hand.)
There were about three dozen of us in a little one-bedroom house. It was loud and crowded and there was a line for the bathroom. After all the Vailima I had been drinking, I decided to walk outside and go behind the banana plantation. The grass was damp from the daily rainstorm, and my feet were sliding around in my shoes. I didn’t mind, though. I’d lived in Samoa long enough to be adept at the Samoan custom of walking in flip-flops in the rain.
I finished my business and walked back to the house. As I trudged through the wet grass, I felt a sudden pain on my right foot, a sharp and intense pain unlike anything I had ever felt before.
I looked down and saw something gliding through the grass. Though I didn’t get a good look at it, it must have been a foot long. I could tell by the way that it moved that it was a centipede.
The pain was intense, and it got worse as I limped back to the party. Back inside I found my dad and showed him my foot. There, just past my big toe, were two bleeding fang marks, at least an inch apart.
“That looks pretty painful,” he said.
“Did you want me to take you to the hospital?”
He looked a little taken aback. I don’t think he expected me to say “yes”. In any case, my dad grabbed his keys and I followed him to the car, staying on the gravel instead of cutting across the lawn. Two minutes later we were speeding through Nu’uuli. All the while my leg was throbbing. I could feel the venom climbing up my leg, the pain spreading with every heartbeat. This was by far the most painful thing I had ever experienced.
The emergency room was packed, but I didn’t have to wait long to see a doctor. I was glad, not just because my foot hurt so much, but also because it made me feel less wimpy. It would seem that a giant centipede bite was something to take seriously.
I lay on a table as the doctor looked at my foot. He prescribed a shot of lidocaine for the local pain, codeine/tylenol for the general pain, benadryl for the swelling and a dose of antibiotics to keep it from getting infected.
After a few more minutes of agony, I finally got the lidocaine. It was amazing. It felt cool and clean. I could feel it rushing through my bloodstream, taking away the pain as it moved along. I never knew a shot could feel so good. For three whole seconds, I was pain-free. Then the mental effects wore off and the pain returned, though it was a lot better than the moment before the shot.
I got my meds and my dad drove me home. It was eleven o’clock at night, but my mom made me a grilled cheese sandwich while I elevated my foot and waited for the drugs to kick in. Soon the drowsiness overcame the pain, and I fell into a heavy dreamless sleep.
When I woke up, the searing pain had given way to a dull but constant ache. Monday morning, it had morphed into the worst itch I had ever felt. The rest of the week, it was the world’s most obnoxious mosquito bite. I was amazed at how such an intense pain could fade so quickly. And while there were no lasting effects, I was in no hurry to repeat the experience.
A week later I was better, sitting at home catching up on emails to off-island friends. My sister was taking a shower, so my dad stepped outside to do his business. A moment later, I heard him scream “Fuck!”
I knew immediately what had happened. I could hear it in his voice. Sure enough, he stumbled back in with a bleeding foot.
“Another centipede?” said my mom. “Did you want me to get you an ice pack?”
“Ice isn’t going to cut it,” I said, grabbing my car keys. “Come on, Dad. Let’s go.”
We repeated the routine of the previous weekend, with me at the wheel and him writing in agony. The next day, at work, I told everyone that a centipede has stung my dad as well.
“Weird,” said my boss. “I’ve lived here for fifteen years, and I’ve never had any problem with them”.
After that I asked around. Nobody else I knew had been stung: not the locals who had lived there all their lives, nor the palagis staying for a two-year contract. Nobody. I never understood why my dad and I were singled out, but after we got all better, I felt pretty good about it. It was a trial by fire, an initiation into a club with very few members. I had gone through hell and lived to tell the tale, and that felt pretty damn good.