Headless Snake Bite
A Cherokee legend tells of a young boy who was sent from his home village in search of a vision upon which to base his life. The boy started climbing to the top of the mountain, because surely he could see his future revealed from that great height. As he scaled the great mountain the air became first cooler, then cold. After making a turn on the mountain path, he discovered a snake shivering by the side of the trail. The snake said to the boy, “Please help me! I can’t move because I am so cold and I must return to the bottom of the mountain.” The boy considered this request, but advised the snake that he would not help because to carry a snake would mean that he could be bitten and die. The snake replied, “No, I promise I won’t bite you if you’ll only pick me up and help me get down the mountain.”
The young boy measured these words, and decided to trust the snake. He picked the cold reptile up gently and placed him inside his shirt where the snake would be warm. Then, the young boy continued climbing the mountain to complete his quest. When he reached the mountain top, the sun was setting and the young boy believed he had accomplished his mission; he would return with a vision of his future place in the tribe. The snake lay sleeping in his shirt as the boy traveled back down the mountain path. When he arrived at the bottom where the weather was warm, he reached into his shirt and removed the snake, who promptly bit him. As the boy lay dying from the venom in the snakebite, he reminded the snake that he had fulfilled his commitment, while the snake had broken his promise. As he slithered away the snake simply replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up!”
A man in Corpus Christi was clearing brush from his yard over the 2018 Memorial Day weekend, when he was surprised by the appearance of a 4-foot rattlesnake. Thinking quickly, this son of Texas decapitated the snake with his shovel. But when he picked up the snake to get rid of it, the severed head retaliated for the violent assault, bit him and released a nearly fatal amount of venom.
His wife called 911 and started driving him to the hospital, but he started having seizures, vision loss and internal bleeding. Fearing that she could not get to the hospital quickly enough, an air-ambulance met the couple and flew him the rest of the way to the emergency department. Normally, a rattlesnake bite requires 2 to 4 doses of antivenin, but this gentleman required 26 doses of the serum used to counteract the effects of a rattlesnake bite. Without the body for muscle control, the snake’s head released all the venom at one time, a life-threatening situation. Although his life hand in the balance for the first 24 hours, the brave snake wrangler stabilized during the week following treatment. His only aftereffect appears to be weakened kidney function.
According to the Parks & Wildlife Department, it is rare to die from snakebite in Texas; only one or two people die from this type of reptile encounter each year. It turns out that snakes can still attack up to an hour after they have been beheaded. Because their metabolisms are much slower than that of a human, their internal organs can stay alive for longer. And of course, a decapitated snake in the throes of death can become aggressive, discharging venom in a last-ditch effort to survive.
The dangers from a snakebite run the full spectrum from localized swelling to death. Factors affecting the severity include the type of snake, the number of strikes or bites and how deeply the fangs penetrate. Addition risks include the anatomic site of the bite (for example, in a vein or a muscle) and how long it takes to begin treatment. If venomous snakes are encountered, experts recommend retreating indoors and calling more experienced handlers from animal control, the local police or fire department to safely remove the snake.
There are several stages of care for this intrepid individual, and potential ICD-10-CM codes include:
T63.011A: Toxic effect of rattlesnake venom, accidental, initial encounter
Y92.017: Yard of single-family house as the place of occurrence of the external cause
R56.9: Unspecified convulsions
R58: Hemorrhage, not elsewhere classified
H53.133: Sudden visual loss, bilateral
N28.9: Disorder of kidney and ureter, unspecified
Although this close encounter with a headless rattlesnake ended well, bear in mind the words of actor Nicholas Cage, “Every great story seems to begin with a snake.”