I also want to take advantage of the bump in traffic to bring further attention to the travesty that is 22 Veteran suicides a day. Please get involved.
As a backcountry fishing guide, medical emergencies are a constant source of worry for me. I actually know a fly-shop owner who no longer runs guides out of his shop because he could never relax until everyone was accounted for safely at the end of the day. There is no cell service in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You are on your own until you can make contact with a Ranger, something that may be miles away.
Falls are my number one worry, followed by a heart emergency. Coming in a not so distant third though are a copperhead or rattlesnake bite. It could easily be several hours before a stricken individual could cross the threshold of a medical facility. When I was an EMT we referred to the “golden hour” as critical to survival in a medical emergency. In a backcountry situation you are already starting behind the 8-ball.
This infographic from Sniff Outdoors for North America is well researched, using sources such as the Mayo Clinic webpage for guidance.
According to the Mayo Clinic:
If you are bitten by a venomous snake, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately, especially if the area changes color, begins to swell or is painful. Many hospitals stock antivenom drugs, which may help you.If possible, take these steps while waiting for medical help:
- Remain calm and move beyond the snake’s striking distance.
- Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell.
- Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
- Clean the wound, but don’t flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
- Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.
- Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol, which could speed the rate at which your body absorbs venom.
- Don’t try to capture the snake. Try to remember its color and shape so that you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.
This isn’t an idle concern on my part. My 5 year old son actually spotted a copperhead this past weekend, not 20 feet away from where we were playing in the river. I have had one swim by me when I have been waist-deep while fishing (that one really freaked me out). I come across timber rattlers in the Elkmont area of the Park frequently.
Depending how far I am from help, if I have a client get bit, or a non-back injury fall, I might not have the luxury of time to reach assistance who would then need to go back up the mountain to reach the victim. Ideally, I have a second client to send ahead as a runner to initiate rescue, though this is not always the case. If it is a leg injury or a snakebite, I want to try to move the client closer to rescue/medics. That is why I carry a plethora of paracord with me and a knife capable of taking down a few saplings to fashion a travois (and splinting material if it is a limb injury).
Using this setup a single person can move an incapacitated one over uneven terrain. I will go into greater detail in a future Survival Saturday post, but the advantage of using a travois in a snakebite emergency is that you can avoid elevating a victim’s heart rate from exertion anymore than it will already be from stress. If anything, moving closer to help is likely to put the victim at greater ease as something positive is being accomplished.
My plan works for the snakes and the settings I most frequently encounter. Coral snakes in the American southwest are a different story as their venom is a neurotoxin (they are a relative of the cobra) rather than the hemotoxic venom of Tennessee’s rattlers and copperheads. Hemotoxic venoms are slower acting and are more likely to cause extensive tissue damage.
Outside of North America the snakes are different and this advice may not be applicable. If you are in Australia, you are pretty well and truly screwed if what I have read is any indication. Between the spiders and snakes, I would be a basket case if I lived down under.
I will leave you with this final cautionary video. I don’t recognize the snake as something poisonous, but still -Don’t be this idiot woman. I admit I have moved a rattlesnake off of a trail with a very long stick on two occasions (the photo above was one of them), but that is because I knew that there was a family with small kids hiking behind us. I would never attempt to actually touch pretty much anything other than a black rat, corn, or garter snake.