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Snake Emergency Snakebite

09.17.2003 - "Hello, 911?  I've just been bitten by a venomous snake".  That's a call I hope I never have to make, and to be honest, I don't believe I ever will, because I'm armed with the most effective snake protection available - knowledge.  While that may sound hokey, it's of course completely true.  Since snakes don't ever attack unprovoked, and since almost all cases of snakebite occur when an ignorant and inexperienced person attempts to handle a dangerous snake, I don't expect to ever have a problem.  However, I will offer advice to anyone who does receive a snakebite.  I skip reprimanding you for attempting to catch or a kill the snake, which is invariably what got you bitten in the first place.

Okay, first off, there's a very strong likelihood that the snake was not venomous.  The vast majority of "emergency snakebite" calls are from harmless snakes.  I've received many calls myself from people who have just been bitten by a snake and are panicking.  My first question is, "Are you in unbelievable, searing pain right now?  You don't sound like you are".  The person will always say no, and I ask if the snake was a red, black, and yellow Coral Snake, and when they say no (that snake is very rare and hardly ever bites), I tell them not to worry, because if any of the venomous snakes in Central Florida aside from the Coral Snake bites and envenomates, you'll be in the worst pain of your life.  That's because the venomous snakes are all pit vipers - the Cottonmouth, the Pygmy Rattler, and the Eastern Diamondback, and they inject cytotoxic venom via hollow fangs, and that venom burns away at your flesh.  It's basically like 10,000 bee stings at once, and the pain is apparently excruciating.  I once talked to a redneck who tried to catch a Pygmy Rattler, and got bitten in the finger.  When I asked how he responded, he said, "I went home and got drunk... and two hours later I was in the hospital, bawling like a baby".  He lost his finger, which basically dissolved.  So if your flesh isn't dissolving, it wasn't a venomous bite.

Okay then, what if it is?  Well, you're surely not on this website reading my drawn-out explanation.  But for reference, do what I'm doing above.  Call 911.  Oh, but don't hold the snake.  But do describe what it looked like, so that the hospital will know if they have the proper antivenin.  Get an ambulance or have someone else drive you to a hospital.  Don't drive yourself if you can help it, especially if it's a serious bite which may cause you to faint.  That's about it.  There's no need to cut open the bite and suck out the poison, to apply a tourniquet, to ice it or elevate it or any of the other old wive's advice.  The old cut-and-suck won't work and will just give you more injury, and the other tactics are attempts to stave off systemic venom spread in the case of a very high venom volume, and won't work either.  Okay, thus endeth the lesson.

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