Snake Doctor Category


A king’s crown is what I called the Capitol Dome of Georgia. From a window in a tall building I had a bird’s eye view of construction cranes as they moved like medieval knights jousting in full armor. From sun up to sun down the crown slowly came to life, made with gold from the North Georgia Mountains, a place called, Dahlonega.

As a child I had acute rheumatic fever. Acute meant my brain was affected by an autoimmune disease. Motor skill problems. Many days spent in that tall building with long corridors. The only resident in a four-bed room magnified emptiness. But I was not lonely because I had the knights of Atlanta doing battle with cranes to set the gold in place.

Then Alice came. I called her Alice because she looked like Disney’s Alice in Wonderland with her long blonde hair and blue gowns. I introduced her to the knights and their quest of making a crown worthy of kingship. Her leg hurt and needed encouragement to focus on the window. The window activity helped take our mind off pain. Every few days I received an injection of penicillin – each the average life-time amount – resulting in temporary paralysis.

We were about the same age, nine or so. We shared everything. A flower for Alice was a flower for me. Story time for me was story time for her. Alice didn’t seem very sick, but as the days passed, her ailment became more apparent.

“Daddy saw a snake doctor that morning,” Alice said.

“A snake doctor? Why?”

“I went with Mama and Daddy to the garden . . .”

“At your house?”

“Yes. We live on a farm. Actually, it’s a big field.”

“Why was a snake doctor there?”

“Diane, a snake doctor is a flying insect that warns folks that there’s a snake nearby.”

“Are you kiddin’ me? We don’t have anything like that in Tucker.”

“Yes you do. You just don’t know it because you aren’t farmers.”

“We have a garden in our backyard . . .”

“Daddy saw it and warned Mama and me to look out for a snake. We saw it too. It followed us. Daddy says the good Lord sends snake doctors to warn us. That’s why Mama’s so upset when she’s here. ‘Cause she didn’t heed the warning and I got bit by a copperhead!”

“It hurts doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it does and it’s getting worse. See how swollen my leg is?” Alice pulled back the covers. I sat straight up to look across the way. I couldn’t see it very well, but I could not leave my bed. My leg hurt. Might not be able to get back in by myself. And Mama might walk in any moment. I changed the subject.

“What does a snake doctor look like?”

“Well, it’s long and skinny and has wide wings. Mama says it’s really a dragonfly, but different. It’s bigger with black and white stripes. Not green like most. You heed the sign of the snake doctor or you’ll be looking for a human snake doctor. And that’s what happened to me. I’ll never ignore a snake doctor again. And I will look out for them for the rest of my life,” she cried.

“Did it hurt terribly – when the snake bit you?”

“Gosh yes. It really did!”

“What were you doing in the garden? Pulling weeds?”

“No, Mama was picking okra. She wears socks on her hands ‘cause the okra bushes are itchy and prickly. I hold the bucket for her.”

“Where was your father?”

“Pulling corn – down several rows from us.”

“Alice, I’m sorry about your leg. My leg hurts when they give me that shot. The pain goes away eventually, but sore all the time. But not like you Alice! I’m so sorry.”

Then one morning Alice was gone. Empty room again. The nurses said treatment intensified and they had to move her. Every so often, I heard echoes of Alice crying, and worse. The screams reminded me of the burn victim I roomed with when I was seven. She was younger. Never knew her name.

Night was skin graft time. She yelled no when they came for her. Shadows on the wall outlined her struggle. I covered my head with pillows to drown out the sounds. They brought her back just before day break. She was reduced to quiet sobs all day. Never slept.

It was awful. And now Alice suffered so. I wanted to see Alice, but not permitted. When Mama was there, she read stories about King Arthur. She read louder to drown out Alice’s anguish.

Late into the night I heard Alice. Long deep moans. Thought I heard my name. I slipped out of my room and limped down and across the hall. I peeped through a window where the curtain didn’t come completely together. I could see Alice. She was strapped down to a weird looking mattress. Her leg was black and swollen huge.

But before I could open her door, I heard squeaky shoes coming down the corridor. Hurried to the nearest open door. Found myself in a room full of aluminum baby beds. I walked over to see one of the babies. He was beautiful and perfectly normal, except his head. He looked old enough to walk, but his head anchored him down. As I walked from one bed to the next, I realized each baby had giant heads. I stood in the middle of the room – my mind spinning.

My nurse, Miss Lavenia Lavianna, took me by the hand and led me out. Bent down to talk to me, asking me if I was okay. I nodded my head yes, couldn’t find my voice. I felt confused to the point of dizziness.

“Diane, you know to press the button if you need something. You are on strict bed-rest. What would your doctor say? Your parents? Don’t you want to get well?”

The only thing I could say: “What‘s wrong with those babies?”

She held me close. I really think she didn’t want me to see her tears.

“Will they get well?”

She did not answer.

Never go home?”

“I don’t know. Research will find a way; they must. We don’t have all the answers. But for now young lady, its back to bed with you.”

I did not budge, but pulled back, “Alice is tied up! Why?”

“Well, I see you have been making the rounds tonight.”

“I saw Alice! In that room!” I said pointing.

“Listen to me. Alice was bitten by a poisonous snake. We’re doing all we can with meds. But the fact is – she lives far away and was out in the field when she got bit. Her mother and father took turns running her to the house. They got her here as soon as they could. We have her on an ice mattress, and . . .” she hesitated. “We’re fighting to save her leg. Alice will get well and go home.”

She carried me back to my room. She adjusted my bed in sitting position and rolled me over facing the big window. Pulled the drapery cord presenting the sparkling view of the city. Almost sunrise, could still see the stars.

“If you’re up at this hour – this is what you should be looking at. The skyline of Atlanta. Glorious! And look, the capitol. See the dome? That’s real gold. Georgia volunteers up in Dahlonega, panned gold and loaded it on old wagons pulled by teams of horses. From Dahlonega to Atlanta, a gift presented to the governor. And now they’re encasing the dome of the capitol with gold, something for all Georgians to be proud of!”

“Like a king’s crown?”

“Well yes, it does look like a king’s crown.”

“Exactly what do they do there – in the capitol, Miss Lavinia?”

“That’s where important men and women make laws and budgets. That’s where money comes from – for hospitals, research . . .”

“For those babies?”

“Yes,” she said gently, “for those babies.”

“Could they buy a helicopter to bring hurt children to the hospital – faster? Children who live far away on farms?”

“Yes, they can,” she said kindly, then suddenly stern. “Young lady, let me take care of the children on this hall. Now as you can see, this bed has wheels! I can roll you out to the nurses’ station and keep an eye on you there. Or you can stay here and keep your eyes on the capitol. What say you?”

“I’ll stay here and keep my eyes on the capitol, and the gold – from Dahlonega.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

I never saw Alice again. Often wonder, what happened to Alice in Wonderland, the girl on the look-out for snake doctors?