Snake Bite First Aid from an Outdoor Educator

Snake Bite first aid

I’m a professional Outdoor Educator and have been since 1989. I’ve never seen a lot of snakes in my line of work but my friends say that’s because I’m too busy being bitten by them rather than seeing them. So here is the story of how I’ve come to be bitten twice and what I call an ‘occupational hazard’ in our industry.

The first one was in my backyard in 1991 in that well forested and bushy suburb of Ashwood (not!). The juvenile brown snake bit my hand while I was fishing under the shed for star pickets. It was clear that it hadn’t envenomed but still a trip to ED was required. Tick – home within an hour.

Eastern Brown Snake

The second was when I ran my own outdoor business, Serendipity Outdoors. We were at Lake Eppalock on a five-day bushwalking program for Year 8’s in November 1994. I’d run this program several times before so knew the outline and activities well. It was the last day of the trip and all three groups met at a central location for lunch. I took off my walking boots and gaiters, put on my tevas (the precursor to chacos) and rested up as the program had finished – well almost. The only activity left was to send the students on a navigation exercise from our lunch location to a known catchment point along a circular road. I took my students 200m along a track to a start point and sent them off in small groups on a bearing where we would pick them up in an hour. As the last students departed, I headed back to the lunch location and BOOM! – stepped on a snake. It bit me on the upper right calf and I squealed because it friggin hurt. It slithered away.

I sat down and radioed my colleagues nearby who arrived in the Troopie with all the first aid goodies that come when both staff are Ski Patrollers and like their toys. As my colleagues argued over who got to put the air splint on, my first symptom was a smacking headache. Then the shakes which was probably adrenaline more than anything. The staff put a swab on the wound, bandaged the leg, put on the air splint and  carried me into the back of the Troopie to lay ungraciously on top of packs and food tubs. We rendezvous with an ambulance who took me to Bendigo Hospital ED.

I was the centre of attention – first snake bite for the season so all the new residents came to check me out. A nurse inserted a cannula in the back of my hand, I was wired up to monitor my vitals, they extracted blood, took a urine sample and carefully removed the swab from under the air-splint that was still on my leg. Then…….I waited. And waited…… And waited…. After three hours the doctor came back to say that the urine and blood was negative but the swab site was positive. ‘What sort of snake was it’, the doctor asked. ‘A brown snake’ I answered. ‘How do you know it was a brown snake?’ he quizzed me. ‘Because it was brown! I didn’t have time check it’s scale patterns to make a positive i.d.’ My sarcasm wasn’t appreciated. ‘Well we won’t give you antivenin because we can’t be certain what sort of snake it was. You just lie there and relax for a while honey.’ And that point I wanted to smack him.  Then…..I waited. And waited…..And waited…..

Worthwhile taking photos to see the progression over swelling and reaction over time.

Six hours after the bite the doctor returned and said it appears I’m fine so they’ll take off the air-splint. That’s where the fun began. Within 30 seconds of the splint being removed, my pulse went from 54 to 98, my breathing became laboured and I started to feel nauseous. At five minutes I was sweating profusely. I started to slur my words and felt light headed. All hands on deck and treatment began.  I stayed overnight and was fine the next day.

The learning from the story is that the pressure immobilisation treatment is key to aiding a snake bite victim. It was just over six hours since I’d been bitten and there were no real obvious symptoms until the air-splint was removed. Interestingly enough, when I put my gaiters on the next week, the bite was 3cms above the top of the gaiters so they wouldn’t have protected me anyway. From then on my nickname was ‘snake magnet’ to my staff. My only regret – wish I’d picked the scab from the bite marks so it left a scar I could tell my children and grandchildren.

Treatment:

Apply firm bandage to bite site

For all snake bites, provide emergency care including (CPR) if needed. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Apply a swab to the site and then a pressure immobilisation bandage. Keep the person calm and as still as possible until medical help arrives. Avoid washing the bite area because any venom left on the skin can help identify the snake. DO NOT apply a tourniquet, cut the wound or attempt to suck the venom out. Treatment information was found here.

Dry bites:

A dry bite is when the snake strikes but no venom is released. Dry bites will be painful and may cause swelling and redness around the area of the snake bite. Because you can’t tell if a snake’s bite is a dry bite always assume that the patient has been injected with venom and manage the bite as a medical emergency. Once medically assessed, there is usually no need for further treatment, such as with antivenom. Many snake bites in Australia do not result in envenomation, and so they can be managed without antivenom.

Venomous bites (signs and symptoms)

Snake bite puncture wound may look like this

Or a wound can look like this

Venomous bites are when the snake bites and releases venom (poison) into a wound. Snake venom contains poisons which are designed to stun, numb, or kill other animals. Symptoms of a venomous bite include:

  • severe pain around the bite
  • tingling, stinging, burning or abnormal feelings of the skin
  • feeling anxious
  • nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick)
  • dizziness
  • breathing difficulties
  • problems swallowing
  • stomach pain
  • irregular heartbeat
  • muscle weakness
  • confusion
  • paralysis, coma or death (in the most severe cases)

For information on snake bite facts and figures click here.

Distal bites are more common

Now it’s your turn. What are your experiences with snakes. Leave a comment below.

4 Comments

  1. Jasper on September 17, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Nailed it.

    • deborah on September 18, 2018 at 11:33 am

      Thank you Jasper.

  2. Wendy on October 31, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    Really! Bitten twice by snakes! No wonder they called you snake magnet.

    • deborah on November 1, 2018 at 9:42 am

      As I always used to say, it was something of an occupational hazard.

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