Monday, July 01, 2013


My brother: "That's nature."
His seven-year-old daughter: "Getting bit by a snake is nature?!"

This was the most notable brief conversation conducted as my brother, his wife, two children, and me and my two kids hauled it about one mile down the Indian Fort Lookout trail at the Berea Forest yesterday, after my daughter got bitten by an Eastern Copperhead.

She's ok now, but it was like watching a train wreck happen. We had come to a bend in the trail and were nearing the lookout. At this bend, there's a small crevice that she and her brother had ventured into a month ago. I didn't want him to go down this time because it was pretty wet (and he's three), and as I watched her go down, I turned to my right and saw a snake. My brother saw it and immediately saw that it was a copperhead (about 18-24 inches). Carissa never saw it, but it was right at the edge of the crevice. She heard us say "snake!" and tried to come up. We tried to tell her to go down (away from snake), but she put her hand on the surface to pull herself out of the crevice, right onto the snake, knocking it behind her into the crevice as she came up. I hoped, of course, that it hadn't gotten her, but it did get her with one fang. (If only one of us had been a super-hero snake wrangler...) My brother carried her, and I carried my son, and his wife managed her kids, and we got to the local hospital in about 25 minutes. I imagine we looked wild coming out of the woods to the people getting out of their cars to go hiking. (My brother's shirt was around her arm for comfort, and by the time we were getting to the car, no one was talking. We probably should have said, "Hey folks, look out for snakes. We just met one." I e-mailed the Berea College Forester to report the incident later in the evening.)

The Berea hospital sent us via ambulance to the U of Kentucky Children's ER, and we sat in observation for about six hours. The bite was "mild":
For what it's worth, there are much worse things than a copperhead bite, especially a "mild" one. (Google "rattlesnake bite.") No antivenin was necessary, just some pain medication. Carissa screamed more at getting an IV than about the bite--tough kid--and she was playing again that evening. Not that we want any snake bites again soon. It may be awhile before we'll be able to get her back on the trails.

Is there a lesson? I'm not sure. The snakes really are out there. (Two weeks ago in Arkansas, my son and I came upon a black king snake sunning right in the middle of the trail; of course, that's a much less scary snake to encounter.) So you can't be mindful enough. We all must have walked right past it--that's kind of the idea of camouflage. Maybe I'll start wearing pants instead of shorts when I go hiking...

I did learn the following (about outmoded treatment/first response ideas), which might be good to know:

1. Don't ice a snake bite.
2. Don't try to suck out the venom. (And don't bother with snake bit kits--research indicates they only extract an insignificant amount of venom.) And don't try cutting on yourself. At best, you'll increase the chances of a secondary infection.
3. Don't elevate the bitten area.

As we've discussed here before, nature may be beautiful and inspiring and humbling, but it can be dangerous, too. Be careful out there. Hopefully, we've absorbed enough bad luck for the summer and things will be smooth sailing from now on.

Now, I have to go teach a summer class.


  1. I'm glad she's OK. I wouldn't have known that a copperhead bite was any better than a rattlesnake bite. Must have been terrifying.

  2. It all happened almost too fast to be terrified. "Surreal" is an overused word, but that's the one that comes to mind. Like watching a train wreck happen is also close (though I've never watched a train wreck, so...)

    I didn't know until later about the comparative severity, although it helped my nerves that she remained lucid and darn clam (all things considered), and that the swelling didn't progress that rapidly. (I might have had some kind of implicit belief that rattlesnake bites are worse; they are certainly bigger and scarier.)

  3. material for the legends about herself your daughter will be able to promulgate someday!