24. Copperhead Bites Hurt

Before anything, I need to share these two pictures with you. This used to be the peaceful, serene view from my home:

Now my view looks like this:


It is so large and obnoxious that one of my neighbors actually called to ask if they were building a Wal-Mart in the field next to me. This is important so we will come back to it.

I had a few friends and my husband say that I should write a blog about my copperhead bite. At first, I protested because honestly, I see no humor in the incident at all. However, after reconsideration I decided that my insight might prove valuable to someone else. After my encounter I tried to fill my head with information on bites, recovery times, and other people’s experiences. I soon realized with only 8,000 reported venomous snake bites a year in the US, that individual stories are not plentiful and even if they were each bite and process is different. After all, the amount of venom released differs and the toxin can be injected in muscles, tendons, nerves, etc, which makes each bite unique. With that said, I found the most reassurance and information reading about various copperhead experiences here. Plus, with less than 3,000 copperhead bites a year, that site helps you feel like a rock star.

In general I am not afraid of snakes. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that long ago that a snake brazenly slithered right in front of me and into the lilies along my sidewalk. With only 20 minutes before I had to leave and get the children from school I refused to allow such an impudent creature to escape. I hunted it down just in time to see it creep behind the cement steps that led to my porch. Profanity flowed from my mouth like a river and angry adrenaline kicked in while righteous indignation took over towards a snake that had the audacity to not hide in the middle of the day. I pulled the heavy steps away and leaped onto the porch to get a better view. Underneath the hollow stairs were 2 heads staring straight up at me. I assessed the situation quickly. Clearly, 20 minutes should be plenty of time to grab a couple of snakes. I could drop them off on the way to get the children. I stuck a stick in the cavity and 4 more snakes lunged forward sending me flying backwards a few feet. I am not one to be deterred and as two of the snakes took off from their hiding spot, like an Olympian I managed to hurdle a 4 foot tall planter, dive in to the lilies and wrangle one of the snakes. I held it up, the snake was nearly as long as my 5 foot 7 inches. With that, I ran into the house to grab a garbage bag and without a single thought stopped before I reached the front door, dropped the snake in the bag, and started to twist the bag closed. Of course, immediately, the snake shot out of the bag and landed on my living room floor then started to make way towards my couch. Even nonvenomous snakes can bite so I have a safe amount of fear and respect of this fact. However, there just isn’t  proper safety protocol that can be followed when a snake is trying to set itself up to be a permanent house guest and I could already hear the screams of my teenage daughter once she learned there was a snake loose somewhere in the house. So I stepped on the snake, grabbed it, threw it in the bag and went to retrieve whatever other snakes were stupid enough to still be under those steps. One extremely angry snake finally put itself in a position for me to pin its head and grab it. I threw it in a bag… while outside… with 4 minutes to spare. (It should be stated here that I have since learned that garbage bags are not the best choice for transporting snakes. I learned this lesson last month as I tossed one in the passenger seat of my car to relocate it. Right before I pulled on the road, I looked down to see a hole in the corner of an empty sack and a snake tail going over the back seats. Consider that my PSA if you consider moving snakes to a different location.)

When you move to the country you are well advised to educate yourself on the venomous snakes in your area and how to best avoid them. In my opinion, I was always careful. When I lifted objects I lifted limiting my exposure to whatever may be lurking underneath, I never walked through tall grass, I watched low hanging tree branches and I never went out at dark without a flashlight to illuminate my path. However, on September 8th, 2017 I made a mistake.

Which brings me back to those two pictures, I admit that I feel too strong of a sense of ownership to the view than I have a right to. We bought our property, in part, because of the extreme privacy we had on our five minuscule acres. I could see no neighbors and no neighbors could see me. I could hear no neighbors and never worried that neighbors could hear me. The tree line of the adjacent property served to mark the passing seasons for me and in my eight years here, I never missed watching intently as the trees went from barren to lush in the course of a spring week. Their bright green foliage brought joy to me as I witnessed the demarcation of winter’s end. I reveled in the process of the planting of that huge field and watched corn, soy beans, and hay grow during the summer… all from my trivial five acres. My neighbor’s property didn’t belong to me, obviously, but my eyes owned the view, or so I felt. So when I watched them stake out a rectangle next to my fence-line I was crushed. They own at least 50 acres. The driveway to their trailer home is on the other side of the field. It made absolutely no sense, in my mind, to build anything next to me. My privacy, my solitude, would be hugely interrupted. Panicked and crazed I handled the situation myself by… sending my husband over to see what they were doing.

Begrudgingly, he walked across our property and jumped the fence, like the Bumbus hounds from A Christmas Story, their 20 dogs greeted him as he learned they were building a workshop for all of “their toys”. I think, had it been me that went over there, I would have discussed the lunacy of building anything so close to a neighbor’s property. I may have pointed out how I am constantly outside… watching, listening, being as nosy as Gladys Kravitz… in a futile attempt of projection. After all, certainly, they wouldn’t want us in their business anymore than I wanted them in ours. Instead, Nick took the opportunity to tell them that the bombs they set off every week were frightening our animals and rattling the windows in our 100 year-old house. He didn’t take the opportunity to inform them the tannerite explosions made one of our dogs run away.  He didn’t tell them that their constant mowing of the front of our property destroyed the bushes we planted. He didn’t speak to them about their incessant need to spray MY fence with pesticide, subsequently killing the ivy and saplings that I tried to grow there. He didn’t even yell at them for flying drones over our house.

As I have mentioned many times, gossip in small towns doesn’t die, it is only replaced with newer, fresher gossip. I should feel proud that the gossip that I keep having rehashed about me is 7 years-old. So, when it traveled down through the gossip chain that our neighbors were calling us dog thieves, I wasn’t surprised. (You can read about that story here.) I did feel a smidgen guilty when I heard that they were ridiculing my poor husband for coming over to speak to them and a little bemused when they said he was complaining about fireworks on the 4th of July. HOWEVER, when the gossip started to spread through the high school and made my daughter cry, as any mother can relate, I was outraged.

All of this just to explain to you how much I hate my neighbors. How much I loathed seeing them every day for months, out gazing at the spot they plotted, mowing the patch weekly, visiting it constantly on bike, 4 wheeler, and truck, while waiting for their bank loan to finalize. How indignant I felt and how stubbornly I refused to let their monstrosity impact my life. So much so that on September 8th, 2017, after I went out to check on something, I conducted my usual silent, passive aggressive, protest by not going back inside just because they were standing, again, admiring their dumb quadrilateral. I stomped resentfully around my yard; it was only 7pm, but I should have known better. As I walked onto the path near my garden I felt something snap my right inside ankle. I turned to double check and saw a small copperhead lying there.

In my memory it was like looking through a pin hole. I see the outer circumference in darkness and a hazy center image. I see the pattern and little more. I probably stared at it for several seconds trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really a snake. Afterwards, I remained collected. I did not remain calm. I ran upstairs to change clothes. I did this because that seemed rational. (I was wearing shorts and no undies and heaven forbid that nurses were going to be down at my feet asking me to lift my leg!) I also grabbed an ice pack from the freezer. Out here there is a choice of two hospitals. The rural one is 10 minutes away. The other one, in a larger town, is 40 minutes away. Logically, to me, the rural hospital, out where the snakes are, would have anti-venom so we chose to go to that one. I would later learn that my running upstairs increased blood flow and the movement of the venom, ice packs are bad, and anti-venom is too expensive to be kept at a rural hospital.

Copperhead bites hurt. Half way to the hospital the pain started to set in. I knew to try and be calm but I was terrified. A copperhead bit me. I had never thought to research what to do or death rates for a copperhead bite. What lay in front of me was unknown and I am a planner. I asked the first nurse, in between screams of “It’s a 10! The pain is a 10!” and bits of profanity, “Will I die from this?” She replied thoughtfully with, “Umm, probably not.” When I was later transferred to the other hospital, I asked the ambulance paramedic if I would die from this to which he responded, “Umm, I think the fact that you got here so quickly is a good sign”. To the nurse at the second hospital I asked if I would die and she reassured me with, “Umm, we are going to do everything we can.” Do you see the pattern of vagueness? The correct answer, after plenty of research is, no, copperhead bites are rarely fatal (as in almost never). However, by the time I had questioned the second nurse about my impending demise I had already worked out in my head that amputating my foot at the ankle was okay, I probably didn’t want to lose the entire leg and death was not really optimal at this time. I had also gone through a checklist in my head of all of my reasons to live and all the embarrassing things I may have left lying around if I died. Rather than reassure me, the nurses seemed more interested in viewing the snake bite, hearing how it happened, and finding out if I killed the snake. As if somehow taking time to kill the snake took precedence over becoming hysterical and getting to the hospital. Truth be told, snake bites are an anomaly and I am sure the medical staff was not hugely well-versed on them. This was evident later as the attending doctor floundered for answers when I asked about future bites and allergic reactions to further treatments of anti-venom. In his defense, I later learned he is a plastic surgeon.

Being bit by a copperhead feels like being hit with a baseball bat by a MLB player. If you would have told me that the snake shattered every bone in my ankle and foot I would have believed you. I received 3 different types of intravenous pain medications and nothing helped. Only after anti-venom and Morphine could I relax.

I was swollen to my hip; it was impossible to move my toes or rotate my ankle. I screamed when any pressure was applied to the leg, it felt like it would burst. The pain was manageable with the foot elevated. It was practically unbearable if I tried to lower it. I was told that my recovery time could be anywhere from three weeks to three months. What I chose to hear was- “Because you are so awesome you will be back to normal in two weeks.” I abhor being sick and a stupid snake would not keep me down. Thus, I begged the doctor to leave the ICU/hospital that morning. I knew it was probably the wrong thing to do as my leg could bear no weight at all, my ankle had swollen into a contorted position and I was exhausted from the smallest movements. However, I wanted to go home to my kids, my husband, my pets, and my own bed (in no specific order).

The car drive was excruciating. To get into the house my husband literally threw me over his shoulders like a backpack and carried me, to which halfway through, I had the audacity to ask for a break so that I could rest and catch my breath. Getting up the stairs to bed required me to sit on my bottom and hoist myself up each step tirelessly. Nick propped my leg like a treasure on a pillow and lifted it as I elevated myself. This was miserable, but my bed felt delicious (if there was an order bed may have ranked first).

For six days straight I lay in bed except for bathroom breaks. After much thought, and a trip on his back to the bathroom, I remembered a wheeled table that he could use to transport me. He kindly indulged me when I asked that he do sound effects as he pushed me to the bathroom. Train sounds turned to plane sounds turned to car sounds that eventually turned to puttering and sputtering and creaking sounds. On the seventh day the pain to the leg, when standing, succumbed enough that I could tolerate short distances on crutches. I cried that night, when, with a lot of assistance, I was able to lower myself into a bath. Getting out of the bath probably took twice as long as the bath itself.

Each day the swelling improved and after twelve days I was able to limp slowly, without crutches. My husband felt that I if I could just swing my arms correctly that my hobble would look more like a strut. It did not. I was still exhausted at the smallest efforts and read that venom destroys red blood cells so I increased my iron and felt better.

I saw snakes everywhere. They were the cat’s tail slipping under a chair, the scarf the girl on TV was wearing, a belt on the floor, a dog’s toy, and everything in my peripheral. On the morning of my 16th day of recovery I decided to finally go into the yard. I missed the outdoors and wanted to help feed the goats and chickens. My youngest child was wonderful to help and be my support. When he guided me over to the spot where I was bit I was filled with trepidation. I couldn’t move and stared at the spot, afraid. As I stood there, I noticed a slight movement. The snake was so well camouflaged with the leaves, that I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise. I would like to say that I was brave during this encounter, but as my son ran to get his father, I started to hyperventilate. The nurses would be happy to know… we killed the snake. I do not know if I condone killing copperheads, I only know at that moment it felt semi-justified and I was filled with hope that it would relieve me of my prison of paranoia. That was not the case though and I didn’t feel safe until I got my snake-proof boots. Now I courageously stagger around my yard like a drunkard looking to start a fight.

I am now in week three and the improvements have slowed down. I can walk up the stairs, but walking down is tenuous. I tend to walk on the side of my foot because straightening my ankle is painful. I have to consciously force myself to walk heel to toe because I would rather not flex the ankle at all. Also, more than 10 minutes standing or sitting and my foot begins to swell and turn bright red. I think I was a little too optimistic about my recovery time. Even so, things like this can change a person. I have learned to be more grateful. If my recovery stops here I am grateful that I have made it this far. I am grateful for a person in my life to take care of me and employment that made it possible to take the time off to do so. I am thankful for my friends who supported me, checked on me, and/or donated money towards my doctor’s bills. I am also more appreciative of the struggles of others. I feel even more compassion toward the elderly, that walk so slowly or the ill that struggle to walk at all. I have even really tried to come to terms with the eyesore of a building next to me. After all, at least it isn’t an actual Wal-Mart. It wasn’t lost on me that my pettiness was the real cause of my injury. I have to admit though, yesterday when I saw him attempting to install gutters on his vastly too tall building, I laughed hysterically as he fell off the ladder and the ladder fell on him. If he hadn’t built it so close to us I would never have witnessed that… but I digress.