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Long Read of the Day: Snakebit

Today’s top essay a chilling and yet very informative read called A Rattle with Death in Yosemite

The drt around me had long since soaked up the liquid that had been in my body. I was pale and sweating, moaning in pain. My blood, unable to clot, wept from the puncture wounds on my ankle, and bruising, a sign of internal hemorrhaging, had bloomed to above my knee.

Around the time Yardley and Garrett arrived, my mom noticed patches of blood in my bile but didn’t mention it. “Why scare anybody worse?” she said later…..


Still Hayes keeps a collection of snakebite kits in a display case outside his Loma Linda office. There are dozens. Some contain razors to cut the wound, to milk the venom out. Others have pumps to suck a bite dry, or sulfide to sterilize it. That day in Yosemite, we didn’t have one of these kits, which is probably just as well. None of them work. Nor do any of the folk treatments people still try today, which call for everything from freezing the wound to slathering it with motor oil, silver nitrate, or a poultice made from the snake’s crushed head. “Antivenom—that’s the only cure,” Hayes told me.

Today’s antivenom isn’t so different from the stuff developed in the 1890s by French scientist Albert Calmette. After a flood pushed water-averse cobras into the Vietnamese village where he was studying, 40 people were bitten, and four died. Calmette, who was a protégé of Louis Pasteur, applied the same techniques his mentor was using to produce vaccines for rabies and anthrax. He milked cobras and injected tiny amounts of venom into horses. After a few weeks, Calmette extracted the horse blood and spun out antibodies that targeted cobra venom.

RTWT AT A Rattle with Death in Yosemite

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Terry June 23, 2018, 12:32 PM

    I was born and raised in a small town just west and north of Yosemite. Rattlesnakes rule the entire Sierra Nevada excepting the higher elevations. Watch where you step, place your hands, sit and etc., and you will seldom see or hear a snake or be struck. Do not wear shorts in snake country. Many fools are seen wearing shorts while hiking the trails in Yosemite. Long pants offer a small but sometimes effective barrier to snake fangs. The snake will sometimes close it’s mouth on pant legs prior to the fangs contacting skin. Believe me, snake venom is serious shit. Permanent damage/amputation is not unusual from Rattlesnake bites. Keep your face away from snakes. Venom injected to the face is a serious deal . . .

  • Dan Patterson June 23, 2018, 12:51 PM

    Terry offers very sound advice. But like so much other the wise don’t need it and fools won’t hear it.

  • ghostsniper June 23, 2018, 2:11 PM

    If you take the first part of Terry’s advice the 2nd part don’t matter.
    I lived 40 years in intense snakebite country and roamed the badlands constantly and never once even came close to being snakebit though I seen hundreds, while wearing shorts and hiking boots. Rattlers, moccasins, corals. I don’t buy the idea that pants “might” offer a layer of protection and would never rely on it. Just pay attention and stay away from them.

    I’ll offer the same advice to american communists regarding the true patriots.

    More dangerous than snakes and gators in SW Fla are the imported monitor lizards. They have binocular vision, a calculating mind, no conscience of course, and are in predator mode as a default, and seem to lack fear. It will smell you before you see it and when you do see it it’s too late, you will have to defend yourself, unless it killed recently and is lazy. A thick bladed 18″ chetty and the ability to draw and flail it at lightspeed. While one attacks you from the front two more will come in from the rear. If you go down you’re done.

    I’ve seen 6 footers with 6 more feet of tail, at a distance. Yes, they will outrun you, so don’t even try, but they can’t climb trees, so there’s that. Something else is waiting for you up in the trees….

  • Larry Geiger June 25, 2018, 8:46 AM

    A stick. Mines about 6.5ft long. It always goes first. Tap logs and explore the opposite side before stepping over. Foresters wear snake boots or wire mesh snakeproof leggings.

    Nice: http://www.forestry-suppliers.com/product_pages/products.php?mi=27362
    Boots: CompleteCCompleteCompletehttp://www.forestry-suppliers.com/product_pages/products.php?mi=27362

  • ghostsniper June 25, 2018, 12:01 PM

    When I was about 10 I was walking in the woods behind our rural Pennsylvania house and a rainstorm popped up. I headed back to the house and stepped over an old deadfall tree. My left foot touched down on the other side onto a piece of slick bark covered in algae. I lost it and went down. I put my hands out to break the fall and a dead limb with a small 2″ stub of a broken off jagged branch went into the palm of my left hand and stuck out the backside, between the ring and middle fingers. I looked at it and couldn’t believe what I seen. Then the blood started. I tried to stand up but the limb was big and the branch was stuck firmly in my hand. I did stand up though, then put my foot on the branch and yanked up real hard and my hand came free. Then the real blood started. My dad made us boys always carry a handkerchief in our left rear pocket so I took mine out and tried to staunch the flow and it instantly turned red. Holding my hand with the other one I walked home, maybe another quarter mile, in the rain. My mom said I looked like I was laughing when I came in the house. I wasn’t. I never stepped over a dead tree again. I go around, cause everyone knows that’s where the snakes and pointy branches hang out.