Thursday, March 22, 2012

on being bit by a snake

The reason I've been AWOL this week is that Monday evening I got nailed by a copperhead out in the yard. Here's the rather long story.

A few days ago,  I was browsing someone's blog and saw pictures of amaryllis in bloom and remembered that mine had not, so far, bloomed.  I had delayed getting them in the ground last year after I dug them up from the city house last spring and what with the drought and all I wondered if they would bloom so I went out into the yard to check on them.  I had planted them in several locations to see where they might do best.

After checking on the ones I had planted near the new shop, which to my delight had bloom stalks just beginning to emerge, I walked to the back edge of the property where it adjoins the 13 Acre Field to admire the poppies and then over to the bed I put in of rocket larkspur around the peach tree that has reverted to its wild cousin root stock that grows next to the old shed at the back corner where the Wild Space begins, the 30' foot wide or so area of trash trees, underbrush, honeysuckle, trumpet flower and wild grape vines, and poison ivy that separates my neighbor's property from the field.

I was barefoot as is my wont and totally unconcerned as I walk around there quite often and Marc had just mowed the previous day, not that the growth had been high as it was mostly dead thatch back there.  I stepped about a foot away from the edge of the bed, my eye on the amaryllis there at the base of the peach tree when I felt this sudden intense burning stab of pain on my right foot.  

I think I shouted something like, 'Ow!  What the fuck was that!', thinking I must have brushed up against a nettle or something.  Or something.  Why I thought of nettle first thing is beyond me because I know there is none growing there, but that's what first popped into my head.

I had stepped back when I felt the pain and looked down and saw the snake coiled up in a series of compact S's making about a 6" diameter circle before my mind really processed what I was seeing.  I bent over and picked up a stick and poked the brown and tan bundle and it wasn't until then that my brain yelled 'snake!'.  And then, 'copperhead'.  At that point fear and panic took over and with my foot on fire I ran/limped back to the house and as soon as I hit the garage door I started yelling for Marc, 'I've been bit by a copperhead!'

I was hyperventilating by then but Marc got me to calm down somewhat.  My foot still looked unmarked and I could not even see any puncture marks but within a couple of minutes a lump about the size of a half dollar raised up and two little droplets of blood oozed out. 

So being a pair of modern living folks, the first thing we did was google copperheads to see what should be done. It was good news and bad news.  The good news was that copperhead bites are rarely fatal and then only in the very young and the very old or if there is a serious allergic reaction to the venom.  The bad news was that all the sites said it would take about 10 days to recover and to seek medical attention anyway.

Since I wasn't absolutely certain that it was a copperhead, as the common rat snake in these parts look just like a copperhead, and I hadn't had the presence of mind to look at its pupil whereby I could have definitely identified it and I didn't want to go to the emergency room if I didn't have to being uninsured as we are and the Internet said that snakes usually stay within 20 ' of where the bite takes place, I got it in my head that we should go back out there and try and find it.

So, armed with a one gallon bucket (me) and the heavy rake (Marc) don't ask, I have no idea what we thought we were going to do with a bucket and a heavy rake we headed back out into the yard.  My foot was still on fire and the pain was spreading and getting more intense but I could still walk though I was limping heavily.

Of course, there was no sign of the snake by the time we got out there and we really didn't feel like poking around in the nearby concealing underbrush so we gave it up and headed back to the house.  Only by now the pain was so bad I couldn't walk on that foot at all and Marc had to carry me piggy back to the house which was a hilarious sight all in its own as I was barely hanging on by the time we got there.

I was still dithering about going to the hospital even though my foot was becoming swollen and discolored.  Marc helped me into the bathroom so I could wash off the wound and put antibiotic ointment on it and then he made the decision so while he was getting keys and stuff, I crawled to the garage door and then hopped on one foot to the truck after making my two word post on FB.

Since there was nowhere to park at the emergency room door, Marc dropped me off so he could park.  As I was hopping to the entrance, someone inside saw me and rushed out and helped me inside.  No sooner had I sat down in the small waiting area than they had a wheelchair and were wheeling me back to a room where they examined me, drew blood, gave me an IV and started a fluid drip.  About that time I started having shivering episodes and my whole body was tensed.

By now the fiery pain was no longer centered on the bite and was being replaced by a deep throbbing with the burning moving with the swelling and my whole foot was hot to the touch.  The swelling had not even taking over my whole foot yet as my inside ankle was still clearly defined.  The doctor drew the outlines of of the swelling on my foot and ankle to help monitor it's progression, sort of like pushing a stick in the riverbank to see if the water was rising and how fast.

Then there was nothing to do but wait.  For 6 hours.  Flat on my back.  They'd come in and take my vitals now and then but mostly we passed the time with our books which Marc had gone back to fetch.  After an hour or so I asked for some pain medication which didn't do a damn thing for the pain in my foot but did allow me to relax and it stopped the shivering.

About 4 hours after the first blood draw, they came in to do another.  By that time the swelling had traveled about half way up my calf.  The doctor came in and checked my progress and told me that depending on the results of this second blood test one of three things would happen.  They would send me home or they would administer anti-venom and put me in intensive care or they would send me immediately to a bigger and better facility.

As it happened, my blood test showed no damage so they sent me home.  The swelling would continue to increase, he said, and I should be on the lookout for loss of circulation to my foot if the swelling got too bad but that everything looked good, I was to continue to stay flat on my back for a few days and it would take about two weeks to completely heal.

So here I am, camped out on the couch.  By Tuesday morning the swelling had advanced to just below my knee and by Tuesday night it had reached all the way up my leg to my crotch.  Yesterday (that would be Tuesday) I pretty much stayed doped up on pain pills and dozed off and on throughout the day.  Today (Wednesday) I'm feeling better.  The swelling had maxed out and this morning it had started to diminish.  I still can't walk but I can at least get to the bathroom by myself now by scooting along on the floor.

It is still painful, a deep throbbing ache, especially if I try to lower my leg like I might try to stand up and my skin is extremely sensitive to touch so I'm still taking the pain pills but I hope that will be better by tomorrow as the swelling continues to decrease.

Marc has been wonderful, attending to my needs, bringing me food and drinks, fetching me what ever I ask for, getting me to the bathroom and back on the rolling office chair.

Emma, the cat, has also been very attentive, camped out in the rolling chair beside me since I got home Monday night, not leaving my side except to eat and go out briefly to take care of her business and then returning immediately.  She's even climbed up in my lap a few times.  Very unusual behavior for a cat who's idea of affection is sitting in the same room as you.

next:  what I learned about copperheads


  1. Are you sure those two legs belong to the same person?

    Oh dear Ellen that does look terrible - sending you speddy recovery thoughts etc.

    Look forward to reading what you learned about cooperheads (apart from avoid contact)

  2. Holy mackerel! We have copperheads aplenty around here, but I don't know anybody who got as sick as you have. You must grow them extra-fierce in Texas.

    I'm glad to hear you're on the mend, and I too am looking forward to hearing what else you've learned about copperheads.

  3. Good lord, what a story! It's mythic, I tell you.

    Thank you for taking the time to share all the details. And the pictures are very cool for an anatomy geek such as myself.

    Swelling is the body's way of stablizing itself while repairs are made. It is also the body's way of making clear its displeasure at what has happened.

    I'm always telling you to lie on the couch and put your feet up, but I never hoped it would happen this way.

    Once you're back on your feet, if you want, I'll tell you what this would mean if you were a shaman.

    If. You ARE a shaman, I mean if you were an official shaman.

    Are you doing any visualizations? Pain pills can be inspiring sometimes. Visualize yourself in a perfectly clear, shallow, fast moving stream that washes, cleanses, rinses away the venom, leaving behind all the snake powers you've been given.

    OK I'll shut up now.

  4. Jenny got bit by a timber rattlesnake last summer (apparently the only timber rattler in the entire state of New Hampshire). Her leg swelled up like a balloon and turned blue all the way up. She couldn't walk on it for about a week, and it was a good 3 weeks until the swelling was gone. No permanent damage, though.

    Hope yours heals quickly.

  5. YIKES!!!! That looks so painful! I am glad its on the way to going away, but geesh. I would like to know I could walk around my backyard barefoot if I wanted to!

  6. Just the thought of a snake bite drives me nuts.
    Bless you for seeming so partient.
    You take care of you this week.
    Sending you hugs and imaginary gifts and chocolate!!!

  7. My gosh Ellen! How scary. But you don't sound like you were scared at all. I've always heard Copperheads can kill you, especially if you're older.

    Your foot looks so sad, but it sounds like you're certainly doing all you can. Resting and keeping it elevated. I admire your courage. I would have been calling an ambulance immediately I'm such a sissy.

    Take care and feel better. I can't wait to see your next post.

  8. oh, ellen! i am SO glad you went in for medical attention! if it was this bad, knowing you were going to be okay, i couldn't imagine how much worse the anxiety and pain would have been with the unknown... LORD!

  9. Dear God in Heaven.

    We have snakes in our yard. We've had 3 on our patio over the last 7 years.
    One cotton mouth.
    One timber rattler.
    One copperhead.

    I hope you get ALL better, very, very soon.

  10. Is it gruesome to say that I've been waiting impatiently for the pictures? It is, isn't it? I can only be flippant because I'm pretty sure you're going to be ok.

    Good for Marc - sometimes it's kind of nice having that other being around isn't it? :)

  11. Oh, Ellen, you poor, poor thing!!

    Note to self: Pearl, stay in Minnesota...

    Speeding recovery to you!


  12. Oh Ellen, ouch! That looks so painful, I'd have been so afraid. I'm glad your prognosis is good and that kitty is tending to you while you're recuperating.

    Get well soon :)

  13. IIIY iiiyiiieee!
    Damn that looks painful! I am so sorry-I always wear boots in rattlesnake territory, and heavy denim. Probably impractical in your neck of the woods where the temp is warm. Hope you are having good dreams anyway.

  14. We go and leave you alone for one minute and jeesh....look what happens! :wink:

    This is darn scary Ellen and I am beyond happy that you are on the mend. I am glad that you went to the hospital [as I was reading the post and it looked as tho' you might not go I was talking to my computer saying "She better get in the car in the next paragraph, she had just better get!" heehee

    Good that they could make you as comfortable as possible and assure you that you will be fine. Sending good thoughts your way my friend that you are up and at 'em sooner than later.

    [And isn't your husband great? Glad you have him there. And kitty too. :)]

    Get well soon!

  15. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

    I believe in live and let live, but I think in this case I'd put a contract out on the snake.

    I'm sorry for your pain. But in no time at all (or maybe in 10 days) you'll be up and gardening again. In hip boots. do know that there are very few snakes in glassland, right? And at least 1 or 2 hundred of us would be very, very glad to welcome you here.

  16. Jesus, girl! Damn snakes! I live in fear one will get my grandson. You're making me aware I need to be more wary.
    But I'm so glad you could come home and spend your flat-out time where you're comfortable and that it wasn't a ICU situation.
    Bless your heart!
    Get better soon.

  17. Oh Ellen. I am so sorry that you have had to experience this but....yada, yada all things happen for a reason...I can't imagine what you are to learn from this but I know you are wise enough to find that out. Move it through you and don't let it dwell with in you.
    I got bit by a rattler one time and it was p-a-i-n-f-u-l, but a copperhead win. Oma Linda

  18. I am sorry to hear about this. I have had a few close calls.

  19. I'm so sorry. You certainly were nailed. Looks like he would have got you right through a shoe, so never mind telling you to wear shoes. On the bright side, you saved a shoe!

  20. Oh crap, that looks nasty, Ellen. I'm so sorry you have to go through this. But what a dedicated blogger you are to share as you have. I wish you quick(er) healing and no residual effects. You're one tough woman.

  21. God's teeth that is an amazing and brave story ellen!!! will it make its way to glass?! steven

  22. Holy shit, Ellen. Jeeeeezus. SO sorry this happened to you. But you documented it with your camera, and it's really interesting. Wow. You have nice legs, but the one on the right is messed up! I hope it's better now. 10 days?

    At least the amaryllis is blooming.

  23. Oh my goodness. I'm with all the other shocked people here. You sound so cool in the face of snake bite. If it were me I'd have called the ambulance straightaway.

    I'm glad to hear you're recovering but what a terrible thing to happen, and what a fascinating post to read, despite the obvious suffering you've been through. I'm sorry for that. Would it have made any difference had you got help sooner? I wonder.

  24. I am glad you went to the ER. I mean the best part of it is...pain pills!!! Ha!
    So sorry you received this nasty bite. We have rattle snakes here and we have to always wear boots out on the property. Not to mention the myriad of gopher holes and cactus! Ouch!!
    Be good to yourself now. Rest!!

  25. Ellen, I'm so happy to know you are feeling better. Good on the story-telling, quite succinct.

    Please, please, please continue to rest & follow instructions. Don't do anything to bring on a relapse. I just don't trust those darn snakebites to ease away.

    Last year we had 2 people die from rattlesnake bites here in Bastrop even though they got to the hospital. Those venomous dudes are plenty scary!

    Take care & good on Marc for the TLC he's providing.

  26. I am so glad you are fine. very touching honesty, I had to stop and say...congrats on your blog :).
    P>S. You have lovely legs :).

  27. Bless your Heart! I am so terrified of Copperheads and Rattle snakes, but have no problem with the rest (I even had a Boa, named Kashmir, I kept for a friend one year). Anyway, when I was about 15 yrs old a damn copperhead that had been hanging around my grandparents land, bite Martha, (Grandparents cat) in the neck, killing her. IT was so upsetting to me & really made me so scared of those nasty cat killers!
    Rest up, and feel better soon!

  28. I'm so glad you weren't severely allergic but that's still a crappy way to spend a week.

    That's not a good sign, too early for snake bites. We may have a helluva summer ahead.

    Heal quickly.

    I know copperheads make wonderful hat bands...the tanned skin of one anyway, not the snake.

  29. Gosh, this is stuff straight out of a horror movie, you poor thing, Ellen, it looks SOOOO painful. I don't think we have poisonous anything over here, so the thought of this is all completely alien to me. Thank goodness you were not home alone when it happenned. Rest, rest, rest - I sure hope it eases soon, hon. (x)

  30. Holy crap! SO MUCH SWELLING!!! A few months ago I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds in our small yard and realized that the "dead pine limb" in the pine straw a couple of feet away was a LARGE copperhead, coiled and sunning himself. I jumped up and ran. My husband tried to find it, but it had disappeared. The weeds can have that spot; I'm never touching it again. (That makes no sense, I know... like I don't realize that the darned thing can MOVE?!)

    Your experience sounds horrific. Oh my gosh...! I can't imagine that you even CONSIDERED not seeking medical attention.

    I appreciate all the information you provided. Take care!!!

  31. Wow. That'll teach me to miss a post huh? At least you've got a man and a cat to look after you :)

  32. So, it takes a SNAKE BITE does it before you're willing to "show a little leg" on your blog. Now what, are your more lecherous readers forced to hope that you get bitten more often and in more places?

    Oh, my dear, I am very, very sorry, and this might not be the best time to bring it up, but I miss copperheads because they are surely among the most beautiful of snakes, and they're not, as you learned, deadly poison.

    Peggy, a nurse, had a patient in Mississippi who was carrying a laundry basket when a snake bit her. She dropped the basket on top of the snake, so it bit her again. The snake was a rattler, although I don't know what kind.


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