Archive for Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rural resident still recovering from snake bite

July 27, 2005

A rural Tonganoxie woman last week had a crash course in snakebites.

And it's a lesson from which she still is recovering.

Late last Tuesday afternoon as Sharon Hughes weeded her flower bed at her home two miles north of Tonganoxie, a copperhead snake bit her on the hand.

Because Hughes, who said she's always been "deathly afraid of snakes," knew snakes had been seen in the area where she was trimming, she had decided to use long-handled garden shears.

"I was clipping those weeds," Hughes said. "I had looked, there was nothing on the ground there, so I started clipping. All of a sudden I saw something strike my hand -- and there was instant pain."

Tips from herpetologist John Simmons:

¢ During warm months when snakes are not hibernating, they are more active at night. If you go out at night, take a flashlight to help you spot snakes. Venomous snakes have a heat-sensing pit on the front of their face to target prey. "A blindfolded copperhead or rattlesnake can strike at a mouse and hit it," Simmons said.

¢ Keep grass short to reduce cover for rodents and insects that attract snakes.

¢ Keep the yard clean, remove flat pieces of metal or wood lying around, and move wood piles to the edge of the property.

¢ If an outdoor bird feeding area attracts mice, clean it up.

¢ Instruct children not to touch snakes.

She dropped her clippers and saw the snake curled up on the ground.

"I went running to tell my husband," Hughes said. "I was 98 percent sure it was a copperhead."

The snake had bit her on her right hand, between her index finger and thumb.

The couple, who had been baby-sitting their grandchildren, Colten Weaver, 8, and Micaela Weaver, 6, put the children in the car, and Sharon's husband, Richard, drove them to Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

"Every minute the hand started swelling bigger and bigger and was hurting worse," said the 54-year-old Hughes. "And I started feeling nauseous."

They pulled in front of the emergency room.

"I kind of went stumbling in there," Hughes said. "I fell on my knees. They got me a bucket, I started throwing up."

All the while, her hand and arm continued to swell.

"It went all the way up to my armpit," Hughes said. "They knew they had to get me the anti-venom."

Hughes said anti-venom was brought over from Kansas University Hospital, in Kansas City, Kan.

Late that night, while in the intensive care unit, she was given four vials of the anti-venom.

She stabilized -- for a while.

"Then on Thursday my hand started swelling bigger," Hughes said. "It started going up my arm again. They talked to the poison center and had to follow with two more vials of anti-venom."

The treatment helped, and the next day, when Hughes came home from the hospital, her swelling had decreased.

"My hand was no longer black," Hughes said Monday. "It was dark reddish-brown."

Hughes said her doctor told her she would probably regain full use of her hand, though Monday she still was having difficulty moving her thumb and index finger.

"They don't think I need plastic surgery," she said. "They said I might need therapy on my hand."

Hughes said she was told it's rare for a copperhead bite to be fatal to a human.

"But they said if I had not gotten the anti-venom, I probably would have lost my hand."

And as for the snake, it's not going to bite anybody else.

"The next day while I was in the hospital, my husband said, 'I'm going to go home and kill that snake,' and he did," Hughes said, explaining he shot the snake with bird shot.

And after a friend told Richard that copperheads live in pairs, Richard found another snake in the same location and shot it, as well, Hughes said.

Though she's lived at the Tonganoxie home for 18 years and always gardened, Hughes said she doesn't want to garden again.

"My husband has lived up there for 30 years. You think an area is safe, but you don't know from year to year."

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