Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Snakebite

Many of the experiences of my life have been just a few moments long, and as such are difficult to put into writing.  And just as many are of moderately short duration, and are very memorable, but still are difficult to put into writing.  The problem I have in writing this one is that it was of short duration; however, it has had a lifelong effect upon me.  Looking back at it is no more fun today than it was when it occurred over fifty years ago, although I do need to face my demons and come to terms with the fact that I was bitten by a snake.

I was fourteen years old and working for a summer camp west of Fort Worth.  The weeks were filled with boys learning camping and outdoor skills that only a few would ever pursue as an adult, but that most would find useful from time to time throughout their lives.  My job was to teach the proper use of axes and knives—something I had used all my short life growing up on a farm.  Just like on the farm each work day at the camp started at 4am and ended about 10pm, so I was glad when the weekends arrived and I could have fun for a couple of days (a luxury we didn’t have on the farm).

A few weekends into this, several of the staff members decided to take a day hike to a lake a few miles away, and I joined them.  We were traveling single file down a trail when the guy behind me shouted, “David, Look Out!  That snake is about to bite you!”

I seem to recall jumping straight up, turning around with a summersault twist and landing about fifteen feet away. 

“I’m sorry, David.  I meant to say ‘That snake just bit you’.”

The snake, a copperhead, was way out of place in this part of Texas.  Much too far west of where its territory was believed to be, but there it was.  One of the guys used a long stick and tossed it over the edge of a ravine nearby while the others looked after me.

Out came the snakebite kits and rusty pocketknives.  Basically they tied a couple of strings around my leg as tourniquets, cut a hole in the calf of my right leg, applied the suction cups from the kits, and tried to carry me back to camp about eight miles away.  After falling off the stretcher made out of several shirts and some tree branches a couple of times, I decided I’d rather walk.

The closest main highway was about five miles away, so I started walking to it instead of the camp.  My leg was in pain.  It wasn’t the bite that hurt, it was the tourniquets and knife cuts that was causing the discomfort.  I fashioned a crutch from a tree branch and kept walking until we reached the highway.  There one of the guys flagged down a passing pickup truck.  When we explained to the driver the situation, he drove us to the emergency room at the small hospital in the town of Mineral Wells just a few miles away.

The doctor immediately came over to examine me.  He removed the tourniquets, and the sudden rush of blood through the leg was excruciating.  I thought I was going to die right there.  I was already getting sick from the poison in my system, but this felt like a good reason to say goodbye to the world.  He cleaned out the hole in my leg and applied some kind of goop to it.  He placed a clean bandage over it and left the room while saying he needed to check something.  The doctor returned after a few minutes and let me know there was nothing more he could do for me.

Just a few minutes ago I had wanted to die, but now I had changed my mind completely on the subject.  I stared at the doctor with eyes as big as baseballs, and my mouth open wide enough for a bird to nest in.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to scare you.  I just meant that you’ll be fine.  The poison will make you very sick for a few days, and it will have an effect on you for a few months, but you will live.  Just change the bandage every few hours and put this ointment on the wound until it closes up in a few weeks.”

Over time the leg healed, the dizzy feelings from the poison diminished, and I resumed my normal life.  Fifty-plus years later the scar on the leg is a bit difficult to find, and I haven’t had a dizzy spell in several years, but the fear of snakes remains.  To this day I find I cannot even visit enclosed exhibits of snakes.  Lizards also worry me some.  But I still remember how to jump straight up while turning around with a summersault twist while landing about fifteen feet away.  I’ve put that move to good use on more than one occasion.