I ran across a few packaged syringes while cleaning the other day. At first I was puzzled as to why syringes would be lurking on my closet shelf. Then, a small twinge of pain went through my heart as it dawned on me who they were for. They had been for Misty. I suddenly missed her and wondered where she was and if she was finally well. She had possessed a sweetness and meekness about her that I had grown to love as I helped nurse her through her many bouts of illness. I guess it is true that you come to love those whom you serve. My son Jerry had loved Misty the minute he set eyes on her, whereas I was at first very repulsed by her. In fact I probably would still find her presence distasteful had she not become ill and had Jerry not needed my help in caring for her.
As thirteen-year-old Jerry walked home from Haggard Middle School, he would usually stop in at a pet store that happened to be along the way. That is where he met and fell in love with Misty. I should explain that Misty (if she is still alive) is a five-and-a-half foot long Ball Python.
Jerry had already acquired two small Kenyan Sand Boas in order to earn his Reptile Merit Badge for scouting. They were tiny snakes and only came up out of the sand to eat, drink or if retrieved by Jerry when he fancied visiting with them. I had opposed getting them. I hated all reptiles and was convinced they would make us ill. Besides, there are so many other merit badges to choose from. After much begging and pleading on the part of Jerry and my husband, I finally acquiesced and before I knew it a small aquarium filled with sand, housed two small snakes in one of our upstairs bedrooms. Although I was uncomfortable with this, I tolerated it (mostly because they were so invisible).
"So Jerry," I asked my son one day, “what do you want for Christmas?" It was getting late in the year and Jerry was one of the children who had yet to write his official letter to Santa Clause.
"Misty," was his answer (he had already named the object of his affection).
"No Jerry." I continued to press, "What is something ELSE you would like?"
"I guess if I can't have Misty, he replied rather dejectedly, “I don't want anything,"
We had several more conversations like this with me suggesting items that would entice any other young teenage boy. I just could not understand how a son of mine could love something that was cold blooded. I could understand loving a dog or a cat. In fact, we already had a cat named Oreo, (which Jerry hated). Needless to say, just before Thanksgiving, I found myself in the pet store purchasing a large snake, an enormous aquarium, and all the paraphernalia that goes with owning a reptile.
I explained to the shop owner that the snake was a Christmas gift but that it had to be that particular snake so I needed to purchase her to make sure no one else did. The owner agreed to house her for a month and just charge us for the food. I remember leaving the store that day, receipt in hand, wondering “Is this really my life? Did I just purchase a snake?” The things a mother who loves a son will do even when her son is in love with a cold-blooded reptile.
The arrangement with the pet store seemed to be working out great. The only problem for me was that I found myself dreading Christmas for the first time in my life. When my husband returned from the store where he had gone to pick up the aquarium and bring it home to hide in our bedroom closet, I became very nauseated. I nearly had to leave my post in front of the door I was guarding to make sure none of the children (especially Jerry) would see the aquarium and other supplies. I was filled with dread for the day when the aquarium’s intended occupant would arrive, and that day was getting closer and closer.
Then, one afternoon when Jerry stopped in at the pet store to check on her, Misty had gone missing. She was often brought out of her cage and displayed on a hanging decorative branch near the cash register in the store. Whoever closed the shop one night, forgot to return Misty to her cage. The next morning they discovered her gone. When Jerry and his friend Parker arrived that afternoon, they began frantically searching the store. “You won’t find her,” the owner assured them. “Some little old lady bringing her poodle in for grooming will be the one to discover her and she will not be happy about that. She will probably have a heart attack over it and sue the store!”
Day after day, Jerry would stop in at the store and look for his missing pet. Then about the time school was to let out for the holiday, Jerry and Parker determined they would find Misty if they had to tear the entire store apart. They prayed before beginning the search and sure enough, their faith was rewarded. On Christmas Eve, my husband picked up Misty and she was there to greet one very happy young teenage boy the next morning.
Misty, who had been born in the wild and captured somewhere in Africa, had developed a taste for gerbil. As the store owners explained, she would eat nothing else. This was a big problem because shortly before she joined our family, our last pet gerbil "Smoky" had expired. We had held a proper funeral for her and buried her near her sister “Ashes” (who had ironically died of smoke inhalation in a house fire a few years earlier). The Kenyan Sand Boas ate tiny, newborn mice called “pinkies.” Since they had no fur, they did not really resemble mice the sisters came to accept their diet quickly. Misty’s choice of food was another matter entirely.
“MURDERER,” yelled our daughter Kindra at her brother when she found out what Jerry would be feeding his new pet. This conversation had come up as the family was motoring to “Six Flags over Texas,” a theme park in our area. Kindra (who, incidentally, had not been the owner of our pair of gerbil pets), was inconsolable. All her sisters began to follow her lead. Heart wrenching sobs were coming from the interior of our van. It appeared for a few chaotic minutes that our outing may need to be aborted. To calm the hysteria, my husband began to remind the girls about the “food chain.” Gerbils, which reproduce quickly and abundantly, were intended to be low on the food chain. God made them to be food for other animals. I don’t think Jerry’s sisters ever liked it, and I don’t know if any of the four of them ever witnessed the feeding process, but the girls did come to accept Misty despite her singular appetite.
Misty’s long adventure outside her cage in the pet store had taken its toll on her health. Snakes are supposed to be kept in a cage heated to about 85 degrees. Misty had been loose for weeks inside a store that was heated to around 72 degrees during the daytime and probably went down into the 60s at night. We brought her home thinking that the de-lousing she had had to undergo after she was found was the extent of the damage control that needed to be done after her unfortunate escape. After a few weeks in our home, however, Misty suddenly began to refuse her food. When this happened I had to return her rejects to the pet store. We could not leave the gerbil in the cage until Misty regained her appetite. The “food” would start gnawing on her, sometimes even drawing blood.
One morning before he left for school Jerry informed me that Misty had kept him awake much of the night because she was making a funny noise. I came up to listen (even though I rarely encountered the snake). It was indeed a strange noise. It was somewhere between a “hiss” and a “wheeze.” She also had a pink underbelly and had gone through a difficult shed. Snakes periodically loose the outer layer of their skin, for those not aware of this process. If they do not shed all of their skin, they have to be soaked to loosen the skin and then gently rubbed to remove the remainder, repeating the process if necessary. Misty was clearly not well. I made an appointment with our veterinarian and we took Misty in to see him after Jerry got out of school.
“Looks like Misty has pneumonia,” diagnosed Dr. Blonien as he pulled out a vial of medicine and a syringe. He explained that the snake would need daily injections of antibiotic, and that Jerry needed to learn how to give those to his pet. He instructed Jerry on how to fill the syringe, how to avoid the spinal column, and how to insert the needle in the tiny area between scales.
Jerry was unable to inject Misty without help. Up to this point I had never touched Misty (or any other snake for that matter). Misty quickly got wise as to what was about to happen to her and she would tense up her muscle making it impossible to get the tiny needle to pierce the skin. I had to assist Jerry. One of us would pretend to be getting one spot ready for an injection, while the other would zero in on a different area and quickly insert the needle and push the plunger down. We did this daily for 10 days each time Misty became ill.
We were hopeful that each bout of pneumonia would be Misty’s last. She would do well for a while and then inevitably she would start rejecting food and we would go through the process of having to inject her with antibiotics all over again. I cannot remember how many years we did this, but we eventually reached a point at which we decided Misty needed to go a home where she could get full time care. Jerry was getting busy with basketball practices daily, not to mention summer camping and other activities. With heavy hearts, we returned Misty to the pet store where we had purchased her.
Misty was instrumental in helping me overcome a big fear and aversion in my life. I will not claim that I am totally comfortable with snakes or reptiles, but because of her, I now have a deeper appreciation of one more type of God's creations. I was surprised to realize that cold blooded creatures do have personalities. I got to know the personalities of all of the snakes that eventually made their home with us. Misty was meek, mild and sweet.
I believe I missed Misty as much as Jerry. I often think of her and wonder how she is doing. So to whoever owns her now, I hope you will have been able to nurse her back to health. I hope you love her as much as we did. I hope you will play with Misty for me.