Snakebit

Not  figuratively.  Literally.  

There I  was tromping around Sunday afternoon in my flip flops and shorts through the ivy,  spraying  Roundup on my prolific backyard weed population.  Step… step…. Step… squirt squirt… squirt…, then bang!  A sharp pain, like somebody had plunged a knife  in my ankle.

I dropped to my knees and there two feet away staring at me was a large tan snake, in no hurry to slither away after having cleanly struck my bare flesh.  I never saw it coming. I must have stepped right next to him.  Within moments the pain was intense, like a bee sting times ten.  There were two tiny puncture wounds in my ankle and drops of blood were oozing out.  

“Oh, @#$%#@#, Ive been bitten by a venomous snake”  — what to do, what to do?

I knew I needed to get to the hospital quickly, but didn’t know whether I would go into shock, or cardiac arrest, or faint, or what. I limped inside and did have the presence of mind to turn on my laptop and search copperheads on Google Images just to make sure the tan colored snake with hourglass patterns in my backyard was truly a copperhead.  It was. I called Poison Control and they calmly told me that “nobody has ever died from a copperhead bite.”  I wasn’t so sure this was true,  but it reassured me slightly on the excruciatingly long ride ( how many red lights in a row do we have to go through!!) to the emergency room. I could barely walk by this point and for the first time in my life I sat into a wheelchair. I didn’t know it at the time, but wouldn’t be able to take another step without pain for about three weeks.  

snakebite

I spent the next  two and a half days in the hospital, received lots of painkillers and several doses of antivenin to counteract the poison that was causing my  leg to swell up to twice its size.  For some reason, I became a hospital “celebrity” as poisonous snakebite victims are rare.  Doctors, nurses, and  other admin staff wanted to see the fang prints.  They measured the distance between the puncture wounds to determine the size of the snake’s head and its estimated length. ( 1-1/2 centimeters meaning it was a big one.) They wanted to examine my ankle close up and touch it.  A chaplain came in to my room.  Did he know something I didn’t?  Was I getting last rites?  No, he just curious to see my snakebite and to tell me what happened when his dog was similarly bitten. 

All in all, the hospital care was truly great and I felt surrounded by competent healthcare pros 24/7.  Now, one month later, keeping my foot elevated as much as possible, I am virtually pain free with just a bit of stiffness in my foot and some faded wounds.

I try to always learn from fateful experiences. Did I learn anything other than the obvious? Be careful where you walk, carry a big stick ( my son’s lacrosse D-pole works great for this),  wear heavy boots and make lots of noise.  Yes.  I learned how many people are truly afraid of snakes (roughly 99%) and how many people in Atlanta have English ivy somewhere on their property ( 99%); and how many people have known somebody personally who has been bitten by a snake ( 1%).  I learned that you can survive a poisonous snakebite without dying or losing a limb. 

My misfortune caused others to admit their darkest fears and change their behavior. The most frequent question I got was “Did you kill it, is it gone?”  My answer is no, I was just trying to get out of there.  The look on their faces when I say that is usually one of mild revulsion.  My next door neighbor ( with a back yard similar to mine) purchased some leather snake proof chaps to protect him when he was out in the yard. “$130 online but worth it” he said.  Others keep reminding me how careful they are now with their dogs and their children.

Can this happen to me again?  Not likely. According to http://thelongestlistofthelongeststuffatthelongestdomainnameatlonglast.com/ The chances are 0.0000028%. This website says: “Many people, especially those that spend a great deal of time hiking and fishing in wooden areas, are especially scared of being bitten by a poisonous snake. But what are the actual odds of this happening? The chances of being bit by a poisonous snake are not as great as people tend to think. This is largely because in the United States, there are 115 species of different snakes and of these, only 20 are actually poisonous.

copperhead

The actual probability of being bit by a poisonous snake is 1 in 36 million. And that’s only if you give the snake reason to bite you. Snakes don’t generally chase people, just for a chance to inject venom into their body. The majority of people who have been bitten by snakes are those that have tried to pick up the snake, or kill it. If snakes are simply left alone, they are most likely to continue with their own business, rather than concerning themselves with yours.”

 So I guess, I should feel special.  Kind of like winning the lottery.  Except in reverse.

P.S.

Here’s a link to a 1:24 video that CNN did about snakebites, where I was interviewed about my experience.  http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/health/2012/08/23/hm-snake-bites.cnn

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