An Interesting Two Days

There are things in life that you hope you never have to experience. This past Sunday, one of those experiences happened.

With the recent rainy season we are having, the weeds in our yard seem to grow several inches every day, and pop-up everywhere. We’ve been trying to keep up with weeding with varying degrees of success. This past weekend, we were getting pretty caught up in the front yard and had moved to the back.

While pulling the weeds in the backyard, my son James was bitten by a rattlesnake. It didn’t even have time to warn him as he surprised it causing it to strike quickly and immediately.

He ran into the house screaming he’d been bitten by a rattlesnake. We were in that moment of shock before taking action. Richard starting running water over it while I called 911. In the moment of the call, it felt like they were asking a lot of questions that should pop up on a screen somehow. One of the first things they said was to run water over it, keep the bitten area below the heart line, and to absolutely not put ice on it or tourniquet on his arm. This was so important the dispatch said he was going to repeat it again, and did. I relayed this to Richard as he was still running water over the area.

Dispatch said paramedics were on the way and let me go. While waiting, I went out to try and find the snake to make sure to identify it truly as a rattlesnake. I will readily admit animals that are deadly are a little frightening. After grabbing a rake, I went to push at weeds and objects to see if I could find it being quite careful while doing so. We live next to an arroyo, and have had rattlesnakes in the past, which helped me remain calm knowing their sound and how they coil.

The paramedics arrived fairly quickly. They took his vitals, asked questions about what had happened, and let us know that he should be taken to the emergency room at UNM (they are the only hospital in the city to carry anti-venom). What was interesting is they seemed in no hurry as they asked the questions. The emergency personnel also debated a little about whether to apply ice or not. The fire department paramedic finally “won” out about no ice. I let them know that is what dispatch had said too.

We loaded James up into the emergency squad. Of course, he was more than a little excited about taking this ride. Throughout, James had been very calm. This may have been because all of the adults were remaining calm, or just his fairly calm nature.

After the emergency squad left, I went back out to look for the snake. I finally found it hiding, coiled up, behind my raised gardens. It wasn’t very happy about being found. Richard came out, he hadn’t wanted to leave while I was looking for the snake. We did have to end up destroying the snake to make a positive identification. I did feel sorry for the snake, mainly because it had done what snakes do when startled, but we also did what was necessary.

Richard took a picture of the snake to show the doctors at the hospital. The emergency room, after seeing the picture and identifying it as a diamondback rattlesnake, began treatment. They also admitted James into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for observation during treatment and administration of the anti-venom. James needed to have a total of four doses of the anti-venom. The treatment had an immediate effect as the swelling in James’ hand began to diminish, along with the pain. I relieved Richard at the hospital and spent the night with James in PICU. They have a bed in every room for a family member to be able to stay overnight in a somewhat comfortable way.

James was released from the hospital on Monday. He must still undergo a follow-up appointment with the doctor and additional blood work. If that all comes out okay, we are pretty much in the clear. If not, there will be additional treatment. Please send good thoughts our way for a good result.

After all this, I now know more about snake bites than I ever thought I would need (as an aside, there are three rattlers to worry about: diamondback, pygmy and prairie). Hopefully you will never need to following advice. If bitten:

  • immediately flush the bite with water
  • wash with soap
  • keep the bite below the heart line,
  • do NOT apply a tourniquet.
  • And, of course, call 9-1-1 while all parties remaining as calm as possible.

Be safe!

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