Snakebites: what not to do
By EVE BYRON - Independent Record - 07/24/08
After 23 years as an emergency room physician, Dr. Mark Rabold still takes his business seriously but can’t help but wonder in amusement about some of the situations he’s encountered involving rattlesnake bites.
One of his favorite stories involves an anesthesiologist who had just recently moved to Montana. The guy ran over a rattler with his dirt bike, but the tire spun up the snake, which hit the biker in the stomach and bit him.
Then there’s the one — Rabold’s had so many patients he can’t remember if he treated this guy or just read about it —where a man was struck by a rattlesnake, and the guy’s buddy tried a home remedy to treat the wound.
“His buddy got the jumper cables and hooked him up to a giant battery for his semi, then fired up the engine. He probably had to put down his beer first to put the clamps on each side of the snake bite,” Rabold said, laughing. “The guy is screaming, yelling and seizing from this treatment; they thought it would somehow break the venom down.
“Someone actually did a study, and found that electric therapy doesn’t work. It’s just an interesting layman’s myth. This guy ended up with third-degree electrical burns.”
The reality of rattlesnakes is that they do cause a painful bite and their venom can kill a person, although that’s rare. But for every true aspect of rattlers, there are also plenty of tall tales.
Medical experts say there’s no need to kill a snake to prove what administered the bite.
“If you say a snake bit you, I’ll believe you,” Rabold said.
He has a long list of other things people shouldn’t do —using a tourniquet after being struck; cutting the wound and trying to suck out the venom; or washing the bite with soap, water or whiskey.
And especially, not electric shock therapy.
“The only treatment by a layman is a construction band, lightly placed above the bite — like a rubber band loose enough that you can put your finger through it,” Rabold said. “And only do that if you’re out in the boonies and can’t get to a hospital for a while. And you don’t need to fly 80 miles an hour to the emergency room. Relax, don’t panic, because people generally do well.
“Far more people die from bee stings, or from hitting a deer on the highway.”