A woman asked a vet to perform a Christmas miracle for her dying snake, the only memory her little girl had of her father. Dr. Mader decided to give the snake a fighting chance.
One Christmas Eve morning, renowned herpetologist Dr. Doug Mader received a phone call from Texas at his practice, then in southern California. Dr. Mader’s expertise extends from reptiles to exotics, including birds, rodents, rabbits, big cats, and primates, as well as common companion animals.
Frantic on the other end of the line, the woman went into detail of her ailing snake, describing him as unable to crawl for the past month. Dr. Mader realized he could do little but offer his advice over the phone.
“Please,” the woman begged. “All my daughter wants for Christmas is for her snake to live.”
The woman felt she was at a loss. Two visits to other veterinarians had resulted in rounds of antibiotics but no improvement. In addition to restricted slithery movements, the snake would flip onto its back and hang its head loosely on either side, concerning behaviors for reptiles that are normally so precise and coordinated in their movements.
Additionally, the owner mentioned the snake had not eaten in three months. However, Dr. Mader did not see inappetence as hugely concerning, considering the lengths of time reptiles tend to go without consuming a meal.
Dr. Mader apologized but said he couldn’t do much without examining the snake himself. Then the Texan woman surprised him.
“What if I could get the snake to you?” she said.
While taken aback by the woman’s suggestion, Dr. Mader reminded the owner that from what he was hearing, the snake had a poor prognosis.
Wanting to help the animal and this family, Dr. Mader pondered the woman’s plea. Before hanging up the phone, the woman surprised Dr. Mader yet again.
She explained that the snake had been her husband’s. A truck driver who frequently made trips across the country, this snake was his companion during long days at the wheel. Christmas Eve the year prior, her husband had fallen asleep while on the way home to be with his family. His truck veered off the road and the crash was fatal.
Highway patrol found the snake in the cab, alive and well. They returned the animal to the woman and her daughter.
Dr. Mader apologized profusely for the woman’s loss and the predicted fate of the snake. He wished her well, and the two hung up.
Christmas morning, Dr. Mader was at home when he received a phone call from the on-call hospital attendant at his California clinic. When he got to the office, he saw the woman, her daughter, and the snake sitting tired and disheveled in the hospital waiting room, the young girl dozing off on the seats. Under her head was a burlap sack, and inside was the last link to her father.
Mother and daughter had driven through the night with the 18-foot reticulated python–cold, coiled, and taunting death inside the bag.
Dr. Mader immediately set to performing diagnostics, running blood samples and taking x-rays. Somberly, he returned to the waiting room to give his diagnosis to the mother.
“Viral encephalitis,” he said. “An infection in the brain.”
The woman begged Dr. Mader to do something, anything.
“I drove all the way from Texas. This is my Christmas present for my daughter. It is the only memory of her father.”
The majority of viral encephalitis cases end in humane euthanasia. But Dr. Mader listened to the woman’s pleas, and inserted an IV catheter into the snake’s neck. Through the IV line, medicine, warm fluids, and nutrients were administered. The python was placed in an incubator. The only thing left to do was wait.
Dr. Mader returned to the reception area to find mother and daughter snoozing on the couch. He awoke them, gave them an update, and they went out for a Christmas meal. Soon after, the small family left their snake in Dr. Mader’s care and made the drive home to Texas.
63 days later, they made the drive back. The snake had been thriving on its own for two weeks. If the snake continued improving, years of companionship could be ahead. The lifespan of a snake can be upwards of 25-30 years.
Dr. Mader now resides in the Florida Keys where he and his wife own Marathon Veterinary Hospital, an accredited practice for animals of all shapes, sizes, and species. For more than a decade now, Dr. Mader receives an annual Christmas card from the mother, daughter, and their healthy snake.
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