The story of my wife Kathy and her bout with a dangerous Copperhead snake.
My wife and I had finally sold our home which we had lived in for fifteen years. Since we had never lived in the country, we set out to find a quiet little place of recluse, just to get away from the busy streets and traffic sounds. We were blessed to find a small apartment in a rural area about fifteen miles from our old home.
Located on a farm with hundreds of acres of property, there were ponds and a good supply of birds and critters to keep us excited about each new day. The new place was small and cozy, just enough to meet our needs. It had one bedroom, a kitchen, living room and deck. It was built upstairs from what we think was a horse stable at one time.
Kathy and I loved walking out into the country and never gave much thought to any danger. She would anxiously look for deer while I would take my camera and shoot photos of flowers, birds, and even weeds. We were like newlyweds. After moving in, we got settled down and were enjoying our little bungalow. Our lives began to take on the routine habits of chores, errands, a little entertaining of friends and so on. We could never have imagined, nor prepared for how our lives were going to be turned upside down for six weeks over an incident that happened in the blink of an eye.
It was a busy morning; we had just returned from my office and were preparing to jump into our Monday routine. The weather had been unseasonably hot that September of 2010. It was almost noontime when we arrived home. While I went upstairs to do my thing, Kathy went into the basement to retrieve some laundry she planned to take to the dry cleaners.
Kathy is one of those kinds of people that get very excited, so I never knew when I heard her scream if it was because her team scored a touchdown or she had seen a deer running through the yard. But there was something a little different about her scream that morning, something a little more terrifying.
I was walking towards the bedroom when I heard her, and the sound of her voice sent chills over my body. I dropped what I was doing and ran quickly to where she was. Charging down the steps, she screamed, “I’ve been bitten by a snake, I‘ve been bitten by a snake!”
Sure enough, I looked down at her heel and saw blood trickling, and then turned slightly to the right and saw the serpent, coiled and ready to strike again. I knew it was a Copperhead, for I had always held a fascination for snakes. He was beautiful and for a second I seemed paralyzed as I looked deep into his mouth, past his fangs…
Then I snapped out of my trance when she screamed again.
Instinctively I reached down and grabbed a piece of flat slate rock I had placed there for a step and slammed it on his head. I was aiming to cut his head off, so when I hit his body, I picked the rock up and hit him a second time. The second time, he stopped moving, so I turned my attention back to my wife. She was clutching her leg, crying, “I’m dying… I’m dying!” Quickly, I moved her to safety, set her down in a nearby chair and proceeded to call 911.
The rescue workers arrived in about five minutes. Wasting no time, they started their routine of questions and administering treatment as best they could. Then, while one man worked with Kathy, another of the crew took a shovel and cut the head off the still alive snake. It was decided that we should take it in for verification, so we placed him in a bag. As we suspected, it was later confirmed to be an adult Copperhead of about three feet in length.
Looking back, she explained how it all happened so fast that it seemed a blur. When the snake bit her, she recalled it felt like several bees stinging her all at once. But when she looked down she realized it wasn't bees at all but a snake which had bitten her. She had on sandals, so her foot was mostly exposed, thus the snake bit her just above the heel of her foot below the ankle.
After Kathy was placed on a gurney and hooked up to an IV, she began to slip into a state of shock. Her blood pressure was high and her skin felt clammy. The pain was terrible, as evidenced by her screaming as if someone was cutting her leg off.
I felt so bad for her, but could do nothing more than comfort her with the assurance that I would not leave her. As quick as possible, we all jumped into the Rescue vehicle and headed towards the Emergency Department of the Forsyth Hospital.
Copperhead snakes are very common in the state of North Carolina, especially in wooded areas, rocky places and on farmlands. They are frequently found in wood piles, flower gardens, rock walls or other natural areas. They live near water and come in a variety of colorful skins. The snake that bit Kathy was a diamond back. Copperheads feed off rodents, spiders and other insects. Their bites are very deadly and no one should underestimate the danger they pose to human or pets. It is my understanding that they usually do not charge humans and only strike out of fear or self preservation.
Obviously, when Kathy was walking towards the trunk of our car she must have stepped on the Copperhead snake, or at the least, startled it. We later learned that the poison causes the flesh of the snake's victim to liquefy in order for it to be digested. We also found out that death occurs in humans in about one out of every five-thousand bites and that a baby snake bite is far worse because they cannot control their venom as well as an adult can.
Once we arrived at the ER, Kathy was quickly taken into a room and there the good doctors and nurses took over. In short order, she was given anti-venom, antibiotics and much pain medication. In the ER, she passed out and had to be revived through smelling salts. It was important that she stay coherent in order to describe her pain levels and answer a barrage of questions. On a side note, while they continued to treat Kathy, it seemed that everyone in the ER had to get a look at the snake.
Kathy's foot, leg and face all showed signs of swelling. Her heel began to turn red and developed a bruised look on her ankle as streaks also began to run up her leg. The medical staff measured the degree of swelling about every twenty minutes or so. Her foot, leg and abdomen revealed extreme pain at the slightest touch. She became nauseated and began running a high temperature as well.
At the place where the snake's fangs went in there were two small puncture wounds and some trickling dried blood could be seen. In this same place, there developed a pocket of blood, venom and fluid about the size of a silver dollar.
From the ER, she was taken to the ICU and carefully watched from Monday through Tuesday until she was out of danger. Her ankle and leg continued to swell and the place around the bite continued to enlarge to about the size of a golf ball, turning to a blood red as bruising became more apparent.
Thankfully, in time, she started to improve, so on Wednesday she was moved to a regular room. The following day it was decided that she could be discharged, but would need constant supervision and to faithfully take the medications prescribed.
The next problem: how would I get her upstairs into our second floor apartment? I had hurt my back two days before and was in no shape to get her up the stairs. We ruled out her staying anywhere else other than home. Then the thought came to me to contact the Fire Department to ask for help. I did, and they graciously agreed to meet us at home. When we arrived home, we had five strong and healthy men and a chair lift waiting for us. Kathy was successfully carried into our living room to an awaiting recliner.
Thankfully, she is now home and is somewhat relieved to be out of the hospital. She cannot put any weight on the foot at all. When she tries to lower it, she immediately senses a great deal of pain, so it must be kept elevated at all times. The doctor said it would take about two weeks before she would be able to put slight pressure on her foot. The bubble of blood and venom did grow larger and the pain was constant for about two full weeks. Kathy returned to her doctor for a follow up and he casually released her—to our shock—indicating that everything would be fine and it would take care of itself.
To our great disappointment, he was so very wrong.
She continued to hurt and her leg continued to swell. Then on the following Saturday morning, the giant blister popped and with it came more pain and discomfort. I found a walk-in clinic and Kathy was treated by yet another doctor. He did a culture, cleaned her wound and prescribed more medications. He also seemed amazed at her snake bite, as had all the others who had treated her.
I set up an appointment with our dermatologist that Monday morning. When she saw Kathy’s foot, she was shocked. To our disappointment, as well as this dermatologist’s, there was very little information on how to do follow-up treatment for a snake bite. She asked permission to take pictures and to document the process for an article she hoped to later publish. Immediately, she began to treat Kathy for skin problems, prescribed more antibiotics and pain medications. We saw her routinely for the next three weeks. It was fives to the day that we had our last visit with the dermatologist and she finally released her; even then, with strong instructions Kathy would need to follow.
We have a lot to be thankful for and know that this could have been much worse, so we thank God for His watchful care over us. Both Kathy and I are happy she has come home.
She continues to improve daily and is finally able to rest comfortably.
I am sure that along with the physical healing, Kathy will face some emotional and psychological challenges in the future. This was one of the most painful and horrifying experiences she has ever faced and sadly, she will be scarred in more than one way. Being bitten by a snake was the one thing she had feared most in living in our new place.
Now, as we leave the house, I have to help her inspect the ground for any sign of another snake. We had to rework the steps and walkway to make her feel more comfortable.
Just the other day, as we were driving along and talking, Kathy said, “Honey, I’m so glad that this happened to me rather than you or one of our grandkids or Missy.”
Missy is our Golden Retriever. I had to admire her sweet, loving compassion, even with all she had gone through.
She continued, “I wonder what God was wanting me, or us, to learn from this experience? I know He had something good in mind.” I had to shake my head as if to acknowledge, as we both knew and believed, that nothing happens by accident.
It may seem strange to some people, but her statement was so spiritual and profound. God does have a purpose for everything that happens. Some things that happen to us are more painful than others, but there is always something we can learn. She stated that she has learned to value her life, family, health, friends, and the professionals who helped her through her ordeal. We both have grown in our appreciation for the common graces of life we all tend to at times take for granted.
Kathy wants to thank everyone for their prayers, support and encouragement.