Durban - A Nongoma toddler has died and his cousin is in a stable condition after they were apparently bitten by a cobra while sleeping.
The distraught family of Tusani Nyandeni, 2, said on Monday the little boy could possibly have been saved had he and his cousin been attended by medical staff in time.
Not only had the ambulance they called arrived late, but it also had no first aid kit, they claimed. And hospital staff had allegedly only seen the two victims several hours after they were brought in – because they were forced to join a long queue.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health said on Monday it could not confirm the cause of death until the post-mortem was completed.
It said it was investigating the family’s claims, although it was unlikely that an ambulance would be dispatched without a first aid kit.
“It sounds very bizarre,” said spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi.
Tusani had been sleeping next to his mother, Thandekile Nyandeni, 30, at their home in Ngolotshe Reserve last Tuesday when he sprang out of the bed shrieking.
“At that time he shouted at the top of his lungs while pointing towards the bed,” the boy’s aunt, Sebenzile Nyandeni, 32, said on Monday.
“We were all on our toes, looking for this nunu (insect) and we could not find it.”
Nyandeni said the boy’s mother – her sister – carefully inspected his stomach. “She pointed out two wounds which looked tiny. We both thought it was scorpion bites.”
Believing the bites were not serious, the women took Tusani and moved from the bedroom, leaving behind four sleeping children, and went to sleep on a couch in the dining room.
About two hours later there was another terrifying scream – this time from Sebenzile’s daughter, Nhlalenhle, 8, who had been left in the room.
“She cried out loud, ‘I have been bitten’ pointing to her swelling left wrist. I could see blood from her tiny wounds,” Sebenzile said. “Her skin around the wound became pale. We ushered all the children outside the house, before thoroughly investigating every corner in the house.”
To their horror, Sebenzile claimed they saw a cobra “as big as my arm, gliding slowly underneath the bed”.
She said she shouted, “inyoka (snake)” and her three brothers, who were sleeping in an adjoining house, woke up and killed the snake.
Sebenzile said they called an ambulance at 3am. It arrived only at 5am – but without a first aid kit to help stabilise both children. The children were taken to Benedictine District Hospital in Nongoma, which she said was about 90 minutes away.
“I am very upset with the hospital for its delay in sending the ambulance.
“My sister, who accompanied them to hospital, told me they were only attended to at about 10am after having joined the long queue despite their serious condition,” she said.
“Tusani eventually succumbed in the ward. I blame the hospital for his death. His life could have been saved.”
Nhlalenhle, a Grade 1 pupil at Ngolotshe Combined School, was transferred to Ngwelezane Hospital in Empangeni where she is said to be recovering.
“I always call the hospital. They told me she was getting better,” said Sebenzile, a mother of four.
She said the family was waiting for the post-mortem results, but expected to bury Tusani on Thursday.
“My sister is traumatised, she cannot eat. It is difficult, none of us work in this household and we no longer have parents,” she said.
Mkhwanazi said the health department would investigate the complaints.
“We just need to establish at what time an emergency call was made. These calls are recorded. Once we have those records, then we will be in a position to answer those questions,” he said.
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said an inquest docket had been opened at Nongoma SAPS.