“I am not sure we have an emergency, but I just got a snakebite”. These were the words I told my wife as I returned to the house, pulled up my shorts and pointed to two holes in my right leg just a few inches above my right knee.
Five minutes earlier, I had been drawing a set of plans for a bookshelf I was designing and going to build for my son and daughter-in-law. I wanted to take a picture of a rosette that was in the shop and email it to them to see if they wanted to use it as part of the decorative trim I was proposing for the shelves. It was my intent to go up to the shop, get the rosette, take a picture of it with my phone and email it along with a picture of the plans to them. It was a five minute job. I left the house and told my wife I would be back in a few minutes.
My woodworking shop is in a 24ft by 36ft building in our back yard. I walked to the shop, raised the garage door, walked to the light switch, and then across the shop to a lumber rack on the opposite wall. As I walked by the planer, I probably touched the bed of the planer with my waist as I passed by it. Shortly after that, I felt my right leg stinging above the knee. I looked down, pulled up my shorts leg and saw two holes in my right leg. I then looked down on the ground and saw a 25-inch long copperhead curled up on the floor right beside the base of the planer. I immediately found a shovel, killed the snake, left him on the floor and returned to the house.
Of course my wife thought we did have an emergency and said, “Get in the car!” I suggested we go get the snake and take it with us. I found a plastic jar in the shop and put the snake in it. My wife covered the top of the jar with aluminum foil and we headed to the new Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge Hospital in Irmo. We arrived at the Emergency Room around 9:00 PM and entered the emergency waiting area. There was only one other person beside the receptionist in the waiting area. I showed her the snake and told her I had been bitten. She took me to a room where I received immediate attention.
An experienced nurse was assigned to work with me. The doctor came in shortly after that and told me I would be there until at least 4:30 AM for them to evaluate the wound. The doctor said he wanted to see if the snake had put venom in me or if I had just received a “dry bite” with no venom. We asked why he did not just go ahead and give me an anti-venin. Two immediate reasons were reported. One the ant-venin costs $2,000 per vial and a typical first dose would be 6 vials. Secondly, the anti-venin can create a reaction so severe that if they gave me the anti-venin, I would have to be admitted to Intensive Care for close monitoring.
The nurse started marking on my leg where my leg was swollen and tender. The area started out being an oval shape about 1-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches. When asked, I described the pain level as one to two out on a ten point scale. I was asked if I felt nauseous. The answer was no, and thankfully, I never did get nauseous. A heart monitor was put on me and a blood sample taken. An hour later, the size of the red, puffy, and painful area had grown a ¼ to ½ inch in each direction and the pain level had increased to three to four. The doctor came in and said he was going to give me the anti-venin.
The nurse continued to mark the swelling and tenderness on my leg. At midnight the pain level had grown to a six out of ten, especially near the wound. At this point they gave me morphine for pain. At about 1:30 AM, an infusion of the 6 vials of anti-venin was slowly administered over the course of an hour. After I received the anti-venin, they started an IV of fluids that continued through my entire stay in the hospital. The swelling and tenderness continued to grow until it ultimately was about 6 inches wide and 12 inches long. The morphine given around midnight eased the pain and about 4:00 AM, I was transferred to Intensive Care for monitoring.
During the Emergency Room stay a number of nurses and staff came by to look at my snake. It seems that snake and my bite was the talk of the hospital. When we were told that I would be going to Intensive Care, we were also told the snake could not go with me. A male nurse walked with my wife to take him back to our car for the rest of the night.
When they rolled me into the Intensive Care wing, I was first impressed by the door to the room. It was a glass sliding door that had one half slid open and then the whole assembly was rotated about a pivot hinge to create an opening large enough for the bed to be rolled into the room. At that point, I was asked if I could get up and walk from the gurney to the bed in the room. I said I could. Putting pressure on my right leg was very painful, but I was able to walk.
As I got into the bed, I was greeted and treated by four or five nurses. I had put on one of the “awesome” hospital gowns in the emergency room. One nurse started removing the Emergency Room heart monitor and another began applying the Intensive Care heart monitor. I had an oxygen monitor put on my finger. An identification band was put on my left arm as well as an armband stating that I was a “fall risk.” I was told not to get out of the bed without assistance.
Another nurse was asking me questions about my medical history as well as talking with the ER nurse about how they had treated me up to that point. They looked at and felt my leg and its swelling and tenderness. I have never had so many women look at and feel my leg. A wrap was put on my other leg and a pump applied to it. This device would repeatedly compress and relax on my “good” leg to help circulation and prevent blood clots from forming. A blood sample was taken at 4:00 AM and then every 6 hours after that to monitor the effects, if any, of the anti-venin. I also received another dose of morphine around 5:00 AM, again to help relieve the pain.
I was allowed to eat regular meals and was very impressed with the many selections the hospital kitchen had to offer. Customer care was over the top in my opinion. A patient advocate came by and told me if I needed anything to let her know. A chaplain came by and told me she was there if I needed her. Of course I said I could always use her prayers. I was really impressed that the ER nurse that treated me Wednesday night came up to check on me Thursday night before she went to work. She was truly concerned about me. Every nurse and nurse tech that took care of me during my entire stay was very kind, considerate and competent. My Intensive Care doctor reported that they had been in contact with the SC Poison Control Center about my bite and how I was responding to the anti-venin. Additionally, they called and talked to my family physician.
I was released from the hospital on Friday morning at 9:00 AM after spending the past 29 hours in Intensive Care. The doctor told me to watch for fevers, chills or a rash for the next 72 hours and if I ran a fever over 101 degrees, I needed to come back to the hospital. I was told I could cut the grass if I felt like it. I just should not do heavy leg exercises for at least a week. They also told me to go see my family doctor some time during the upcoming week.
I had no side effects at all over the next 72 hours. My leg turned yellow, black, and blue, and was sore for about a week. Most remarkable to me was I received a call from one of the Intensive Care nurses on Tuesday, just to check on me. I have never heard of this happening to anyone I know of that has been in any other hospital. My stay at Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge was a pleasant, first-class experience.
Check out Jeff’s interview, Hospital or hotel? New hospitals take cues from hospitality industry, in The Post and Courier, [Charleston, SC], Sunday, July 27, 2014.
In Part 2 of Snakes in the Suburbs, Jeff shares the lessons learned from this experience.