Sunday, May 23, 2010

Just calmly go to the doctor

Since I've started hiking again I've only seen one small water snake. But recognizing that the places I go are prime locations for snakes - if I was a snake I'd like these places - was enough to prompt me to google up the latest information on what to do if you get snakebit while you're out hiking.

According to Google, there are only two snakes in East Tennesse that are venomous: the 'copperheaded rattle-mocassin' (left) and the 'timber-rattling death-mangler' (below). While it's true that all snakes can make you hurt yourself by causing you to jump, squeal and throw stuff, only these two snakes can actually hurt you with their bite. It should go without saying but the best option is to avoid being bitten in the first place so; wear boots, always have a hiking pole with you, and pay attention to where your feet and hands are going.

Many moons ago I earned a boy scout badge in first-aid which taught me, among other things, how to treat snake bites while out in the woods. Apparently everything they taught me was wrong, leaving me to wonder if there are any boy scouts who survived a snake bite.

The first thing to do is remain calm. You have been bitten by a snake and there is nothing you can do to reverse it. Throwing up your hands, stomping around and squealing like a little girl won't help. Neither will throwing all your gear at the snake. Your most severe problem is not the chance of death, but tissue damage to the bite area. If you are hiking alone, you are going to have to get yourself to the doctor. Stated in simple terms: "Just calmly go to the doctor." Most of the time antivenom will not be administered. They will more than likely just monitor your blood pressure and the swelling, and then send you home in the morning.

To that end, the following suggestions will help you get control of the situation:

•If you have a cell phone (and reception) call and have someone meet you as soon as possible.

•Remove all jewelry around or above the bite area as most likely the worst problem from the bite will be swelling.

•Keep the bite area below the heart.

•Do not apply a tourniquet; restricting the venom to a small area increases the potential of tissue damage to the bite area.

•Do not take an aspirin; it will thin the blood, and cause the venom to spread more than it normally would. The same applies for drinking alcohol; you can use that to entice someone to come and help you.

•Do not try to capture the snake. Antivenom is the same for all Tennessee snakes; so capturing the snake for identification is not helpful, and only heightens the chances of a second snakebite. In Tennessee it is illegal to harm, kill, remove from the wild, or possess native snakes taken from the wild without the proper permits.

•The telltale signs of a venomous snakebites are swelling, discoloration and an intense burning sensation of the bite area.

•Do not try to suck out the venom. By cutting the bite area, you suffer a greater chance of dying from blood poisoning than from the bite itself. Use the suction device from the snakebite kit - you did bring a snakebite kit, right?

•Do not apply ice to the bite area as this causes the venom to pool in the bite area, potentially causing greater tissue damage.

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