Surviving a Snake Bite: First Hand Experience

Survival: Part 1

It was late August, the Idaho Archery season had opened the previous day, and I was standing in a burning hot warehouse in Southern Utah working – rather than hunting the high elevation basins I had scouted all summer.  Two months prior I had accepted a new position working for a company that manufactures snorkeling and sport diving equipment based in St. George, Utah.  My first task was to relocate our headquarters closer to where I live in Southern Idaho, and this just happened to coincide with the opening of the Idaho archery season.  This particular Friday I was working alone after hours collapsing excess shipping boxes in our warehouse.  I picked up a large box to break it down, when I heard my speaker system short out and power off unexpectedly.  I glanced over to the corner where it sat on the shipping counter, when in my peripheral vision I saw a flash of tan with black stripes.  An intense stabbing sensation in my right forearm made me yell out in pain and jerk my arms back.  I blinked in disbelief as I saw two small, red beads of blood rise from my forearm.Two and a half hours later I was sitting on a hospital bed with an IV just starting to pump life saving anti-venom into my blood.  After a frantic search, I had been unable to locate the snake that had bit me – which precipitated a much bigger problem upon arrival at the ER.  The box I was handling had been imported from Thailand, and the ER only had rattlesnake anti-venom.  The ensuing confusion and  time consuming attempts to ID the snake delayed my treatment until it became critical.  For two and a half hours my body wrenched in agony as I felt the venom creeping up my arm towards my chest – two and a half hours without pain killers.  The surface of my skin felt as though I had thrust my entire arm directly into a fire, while the inside of my arm felt a bone crushing, twisting pain that tricked my mind into believing my arm was actually rotating and breaking.My wife sat beside with a concerned look on her face as I tried to joke my way through the ordeal through clenched teeth.  About 2 minutes after the anti venom entered my system, I felt a rush of nausea hit me like a freight train.  Almost instantly, I felt the blood leave my face and my muscle control faded quickly.  I began telling my wife to call a nurse, but I never finished my sentence.  My system rejected the anti-venom and Anaphylactic Shock set in without mercy.  My vision turned an olive shade of green, and just before it went to black I saw the image of nurses and doctors running towards me.  I blinked intensely, aware that my eyes were still open although I was unable to see.  The alarms sounding from the vital sign monitor connected to me were swallowed up by the deafening ringing in my ears.  I felt my head slump to the side, and I was unable to move it back.  The nurses quickly dropped my bed to the flat position as they slapped my cheeks, trying to get me to come to.  For a moment I had a narrow window of eye sight, and what I saw frightened me.  Several doctors and nurses worked frantically shouting my vital signs to one another and instructions as they injected me with adrenaline.  Between the doctors I was briefly able to see the terrified look on my wife’s face as she sat crying with her hand covering her mouth.  That is a look I will never forget.For a few brief moments, everything went dark.  The pandemonium of the room faded, and there was nothing but silence.  I felt no urge to breathe, no physical urge to force myself back into consciousness.  In those moments, I thought to myself “this is how I die.”  My wife crying beside me, the beautiful faces of my children, their soft voices – all of it ran through my mind as I tried to understand that these could be my last moments.

After what seemed an eternity, the madness slowly returned to my senses as small areas in my vision came back.  Even though my eyes had been open throughout the ordeal, I felt as though I had just opened them for the first time.  A rush of blood to my head brought me back to full consciousness almost as abruptly as it had been taken from me.  A doctor standing over me sternly admonished me to breathe, which took great effort to do.  After a deep gasp of air, a wave of relief washed over me and the pain surged back into my arm.  Although the pain was intense, it meant I was no longer in the dark. It wasn’t until much later that I learned what had caused my blackout and how truly close to death I had been.  The rapidly progressing systemic shutdowns were signs of early stage cardiac arrest.


The pen markings on my right hand traced the concern areas for Necrosis.  This picture was taken the day before I was released, but the swelling was still visible


The rest of the night was spent recovering in the ICU, accompanied by an astounding 10 vials of anti venom.  That first night was completely sleepless, as the threat of Necrosis was constant.  Throughout that entire night I thought about how my life would change if I lost my arm.  The medical professionals that treated me tried to prepare me for anything, including an amputation.  The damage the venom inflicted over the two and a half hours without treatment was substantial, and I was very aware of the battle I still had to fight.  Had the anti venom been administered within the first hour of my admittance to the hospital, I would have required only 1 – 2 vials and my recovery would be more sure.  I silently resolved that night to not allow any lasting disfigurement or even an amputation change who I was or what I loved to do.  In total, I ended up spending 3 days in the Intensive Care Unit on the mend – but my recovery was nothing short of miraculous.  Family and friends alike prayed for me, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it made all the difference.  The morning of the fourth day in the ICU I was released and given a clean bill of health.  Walking out of that hospital, I felt like the most fortunate man alive.


We found the snake a week later, still stuck to the box.  It was a juvenile Great Basin Rattlesnake that had become entangled on the packaging tape left exposed on the side of the box.


My return home was very welcoming – my parents and extended family all gathered to help support me through my ordeal and they were there when I finally came home.  Sitting in my living room, I looked at all those around me in a different way.  Two days later, my arm was out of a sling.  Seven days after I was bitten I drew my bow back for the first time.  Holding at full draw, I laughed aloud in elation.  It required far more effort than normal to focus on the shot and my form, but the moment my first arrow left the string and struck the target downrange, I couldn’t help but tear up.  I looked down at the release in my hand that just days ago had been swollen to the point of being unusable; all of my life I had taken such simple things for granted.

One week later and 600 miles away, I stood atop a timbered ridge listening to the cool September breeze whispering through the pines.  The peace that surrounded me was golden.  The evening air was interrupted by the challenge of a bull elk below us in a dense stand of pines.  A smile swept across my face as I turned to look at my father standing beside me.  That sound embodies the very spirit of the wild that defines so much of who I am.  With a nod, I slung my bow over my shoulder and turned towards the dark timber – my feet were light and my hopes high…

Stay tune for Part II!
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About the Author

I am the proud father of three fun loving kids and the husband to a beautiful wife.  I was born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho and currently reside in Pocatello, Idaho.  Throughout the year I can be found chasing mule deer and elk with a bow in the Idaho backcountry, steelhead in the mighty Salmon River, carp with a flyrod in desolate mud flats, or trout in one of the many blue ribbon fisheries surrounding my home.  For me – the term “off season” is only for those that need another hobby.      - Jared Grover
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