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Posted by W von Papineäu on March 06, 2003 at 07:22:40:
ST. JOSEPH NEWS PRESS (Montana) 02 March 03 Writer’s 1st Rattler Sighting Proves Dangerous One (Brandon Routh)
It took me almost 10 years of playing in Missouri’s outdoors to see my first timber rattler, but that first sighting is one I won’t soon forget. Sixteen years later I can still see the snake and the events that followed as if they were yesterday.
A friend and I were driving around out in the country one late August afternoon, when my life changed. I had just looked over at my friend to say something when he said, “Wow, look at that snake in the road!” Looking up I couldn’t believe it — a timber rattler was stretched out sunning himself on the gravel road.
Before I go on, I should tell you snakes have fascinated me since I was old enough to know what they were. I slammed on the brakes and out of the truck I jumped before my friend knew what I was doing. He was a beauty, almost four or five feet long and as thick as my forearm, brownish yellow with black markings, and rattles going, saying back off.
I was so excited to see this great snake I didn’t think. Instead of grabbing a stick to pin his head down so I could catch him and study this beauty a little, I did something stupid. I had heard how fast these creatures were, but I would soon find out just how fast.
I thought I could put one hand in front of the snake to distract him and grab behind his head with the other hand. Wrong! The timber rattler struck the hand I was using to distract him with lightning speed — so fast that I never really saw the strike. It looked more like he flinched than struck me.
The bite didn’t hurt at all. I didn’t even really feel it. It felt more like something had just bumped my finger. Within less then a second, though, my finger was swollen the size of a 50 cent piece and a purple black color.
I drove to some relatives that lived nearby and told them what had happened. They called 911 and officers were dispatched to meet us at the city limits and escort us to the local hospital.
I was never in real pain. It was more like being in a dream world. On the way to the hospital I held my wrist tightly to keep the venom from traveling too far. I kept going in and out of consciousness and I could feel my heart thumping deep in my chest.
At the hospital, the ER team went to work and saved my life. I spent five days in the hospital after the anti-venom treatment. My left arm and the left side of my body swelled up to almost twice its normal size and the venom killed most of the flesh around the upper half of the finger.
When all that happened I weighed around 160 pounds. Within a couple months my body weight had dropped to 125 pounds. I still have very limited use of my left index finger, even after three operations and months of physical rehabilitation.
I have been asked several times since if I hate snakes now. The answer is no. It was my fault — not the snake’s. For the first couple years after I was nervous about snakes, but even that passed with time.
I participated in a herpetological survey at Squaw Creek a couple of years ago. When we found a Massasauga rattlesnake, looking at it and watching it, I found myself as intrigued by the snake as ever before.
ST. JOSEPH NEWS PRESS (Montana) 02 March 03 Snakes strike fear unnecessarily (Brandon Routh)
If you were to say the word snake around most people in Missouri, you would get reactions ranging from fear and hatred to intrigue. The fear and hatred most often come from misunderstanding this creature.
Most folks grow up being taught either by movies or other people that snakes are bad or something to fear. In truth, snakes are as shy and gentle as creatures come. When faced with opposition snakes would rather go their own way.
Some people go their entire lives without ever seeing a snake and those who do only see the most common snakes such as the garter, black, and water snakes. Missouri’s snakes play an important role in the nature of Missouri. Most eat insects, mice and rats, helping to keep the numbers of these pests down.
Missouri is home to 52 species and subspecies of snakes. Out of these, only a few are dangerous, and these aren’t as dangerous as most people believe.
Snakebites are rare in Missouri and deaths from them rarer. No death from a snakebite has been recorded here in more than 25 years. A person has a greater chance of being killed by a dog — man’s best friend — than you do by a snake.
Regardless of what you may have heard, snakes do not attack people unprovoked. All snakebites can be attributed to one of two things. Most commonly, someone gets bitten when they are doing something they shouldn’t — playing with the snake to either look at it closely or kill it.
The second cause of snakebite is not paying attention. Whenever you are outdoors, look at the ground and listen to your surroundings. Never step over a log; step on top first and look on the other side. A lot of snakebites have occurred from someone stepping over a log and stepping on a snake.
Of the species and subspecies of snakes that call Missouri home, the pit vipers, sub-family Crotalinae, are the only poisonous snakes. This includes copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes, with the timber rattler, eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, and the western pygmy rattlesnake.
In Northwest Missouri, we do not have the western pygmy or the cottonmouth, so that just leaves three to watch for.
Killing rattlesnakes is against the law in Missouri, and some species, like the eastern Massasauga, are on the endangered species list.
If you get bit by one of these snakes, there are a few things you should know. First and foremost, keep calm. Getting excited or running to get to your car will only help the venom spread through your body. The faster the heart is pumping the faster the venom moves. If you are going to be more than a half-hour from medical help, carry a snakebite kit.
They are small, light, easy to carry and easy to use, but you do need to follow the directions exactly. In general, these kits need to be used in the first few minutes of the bite.
Identify the snake if at all possible. This helps the doctor know what kind of treatment to use. Venoms from different species create different problems.
Sue Lobel from the American Red Cross says a snakebite victim must stay calm and get medical treatment as soon as possible.
“The old myths can do more damage than good,” Lobel said. “Cutting and sucking the venom out has big disadvantages. If the person sucking the venom out has a sore in the mouth or a bad tooth, they’ve just injected themselves with venom.
“Do not us a restrictive band or tourniquet. This can cut off circulation and cause you to lose a limb.”
Some of the other things people have come up with over the years, like electrical shock to the bite area, are also bad. In fact, that purported remedy could stop the heart of the bite victim.
The best thing, according to Lobel, is to keep the bite area immobilized and below the heart. Wash the wound and get to the hospital as soon as possible.
For young or small-framed people, speed is even more important, since the venom has less distance to travel to do damage.
Finally, baby snakes are neither more nor less poisonous than adults. Babies are born with a full dose of toxin and it doesn’t get weaker as the snake grows older.
Snakes need not keep anyone from enjoying Missouri’s outdoors. As long as you use common sense and pay attention you have nothing to worry about. And don’t kill rattlesnakes just because they are there. It’s against the law, and they serve an important role in the ecosystem.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has free information available on snakes to help you to learn more about these fascinating creatures and dispel myths and fears.