Getting bitten by Lenny was really undramatic. He was so approachable when I first met him, gently breathing into my face and exchanging smells, that I was misled into thinking all would go smoothly. As we moved down the hillside towards the horse-box, he seemed moderately cooperative and a little bouncing around caused me no concern.
When he reached round my leg, I thought he had nibbled at my jeans. I glanced down, and was surprised to see that the denim was torn. “Damn!” I thought, “those were decent jeans.” Dominique, the Belgian caretaker who had been looking after Lenny for his English owners, asked me if there was any blood. “I don’t think so,” I said, but I touched the area with my fingers anyway. And they came away dripping red. Time to look more carefully!
It would be an understatement to say I was surprised to find a gaping hole in my leg through which I could see the white strings of tendons behind the knee. Mark, the English owner, arrived at this point. As I shook hands, I explained that there was a bit of a problem – in short, I needed a doctor, quickly.
Of course, we were in the depths of rural France. No doctor in the village itself. Dominique suggested that he should accompany me to the nearest small town, where we could see a doctor or the pompiers (in France the Fire Service provides the emergency medical/ambulance service).
It seemed sensible to finish loading Lenny in the horsebox. After all, I should be able to get some medical attention without great delay, and then I could be off on my way home. I guess this was the second mistake of the day.
I parked the landrover and horsebox at the edge of town, and we set off to get closer to the centre in Dominique’s pickup. The first doctor was closed on Tuesdays. The second, a few hundred metres’ limp away, was out of the office on an emergency. The pompiers were locked up, obviously a service only summoned to respond to emergency phone calls.
I stood, jeans leg getting wetter and redder, on the pavement, while Dominique sought information from his girlfriend on the phone, and from a local hairdresser and sundry passers-by. It seemed we would have to go to the next town – only five minutes drive he assured me. He phoned the doctor there, and was told we should come along, but that there was a queue.
While we sat in the doctor’s waiting room, the doctor popped out between patients and sent Dominique to the chemists to get me a tetanus shot. Eventually, after I’d run out of small talk about injuries and accidents with the diminishing queue, the doctor could see me. And could soon tell me that all he could do was administer the tetanus vaccine. I needed to go to hospital, because I would have to be sewn up in a way that he was not equipped to do.
This was a dilemma! We were twenty odd steep and winding kilometres away from Lenny’s home, and going back there would impose a long delay in getting treatment. On the other hand the nearest hospital in the direction of my home was about eighty kilometres. But it was, at least in the right direction. Dominique, bless him, said he would be happy to accompany me to the hospital, in case it was not possible to park the landrover and horsebox nearby.
Eighty kilometres over an Alpine pass, towing a loaded horsebox, with a hole in the back of your leg seeping blood onto a borrowed towel. Not ideal, but we got there, and the sat nav guided me straight to the hospital car park. With Dominique’s help, I was able to separate the horsebox and park the landrover alongside it. Then he gave me a lift the 200 metres to the Urgences entry.
It’s interesting to see how people react when you announce that you have been bitten . . . . . by a llama. My experience is that their interest level increases significantly, and this reaction is often accompanied by surprise and amusement. By now, I was getting used to this, and had a ‘script’ ready: It was a lone male, and yes, he is now in the horsebox which I have parked . . .; No it’s not common; Yes llamas do spit, but they don’t usually bite people; Yes, my tetanus vaccinations are up to date, but I don’t know what other infections might arise from a llama bite.
The script was needed each time a new professional was introduced, so at Dignes les Bains hospital this meant five times in the next hour. They were calm, thorough, and very reassuring. Until it got to the point where they said “This needs to be checked out by a surgeon in the operating theatre. Tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? And what would happen tonight? “You can spend the night on a ward”. And the llama? “Ahhh, the llama?” Cue repeat of the part of script which explains that the llama is sitting in the hospital car park.
In the end, after much debate and many Gallic shrugs, it is agreed that I could be stitched up temporarily now, travel back to the Allier, and go to see a surgeon in the morning at a local hospital. An x-ray is needed first, apparently to check if I have any air in the circulation surrounding the wound.
Dosed up with antibiotics and pain killers, firmly held together by twelve stitches, clutching my x-rays and a letter to the surgeon at the next hospital, I eventually limped out to find the patient Dominique still waiting. He hitched up the trailer for me, and I was soon on my way.
The eight hour drive home went remarkably smoothly. Lenny kept his head down and remained quiet in the horse-box. I didn’t seem to attract too much attention at service stations, hobbling around in torn and bloody jeans. Val’s copious food and drink supplies kept me going through the long dark hours, and I eventually pulled in to our yard before one o’clock in the morning.
Lenny can stay the night in the horse-box, and meet his new companions in the morning. I’m certainly not up for unloading him now . . . . .