Regarding snakebite

Here is the title of your most recent column: “Is setting yourself on fire a good way to treat snakebite?” December 16, 2011.

Undoubtedly, Cecil is correct in describing the mucho macho response to snakebite that is our cultural heritage.

However, there still leaves some question in my (little) mind.

The ‘modern’ recommendation is to get someone to a hospital, or trained medical person, as soon as possible.

But, what if this is simply out of the question (due to remoteness, et cetera)?

Is the recommendation, then, to “do nothing” (instead of the “suction method”)?

Link to column.

I’ve always found vomiting is a good way to get that nasty venom out. But I’ve never been bitten by an actual snake.

This is the first I’ve heard of cauterizing a snakebite in an effort to destroy the venom.

I am familiar with the idea of cauterizing wounds, especially from the cowboy days as Cecil mentions, but that is an effort to kill any infections present. Cauterization would apply to any wounds, such as gunshots.

Also, while if I am in an urban/suburban setting, or even a rural community, then simply having the person relax and getting to a hospital quickly makes sense. What if we’re on, say, a hiking trip in the woods, where we’ve hiked an hour off the path? Now the person has to traverse/exert energy to get to help, and have some time delay before reaching medical attention. I would think reducing the amount of venom by 50% would be a benefit.

Cecil also says

Well, yeah, because that’s when sulfa drugs and antibiotics became available. You know, methods of treating the infection rather than just burn it out or cut it off.

In helping Cecil look up alternative remedies through history for snakebite, I came across one interesting one, which didn’t make it into the column: plantain. Apparently, the efficacy of plantain was proven by a long-winded story involving a Virginia slave watching a lengthy mortal combat between a toad and a spider.

(I guess that before television was invented, that was considered to be quality entertainment.)

The most creative one of all involved using either a chicken or a toad, freshly killed and cut lengthwise, slapped onto the wound like a grisly Band-Aid straight out of an Hieronymus Bosch painting.

I learn a lot, lending a hand to the big guy.

I’m reminded of the young woman who was told that gelatin would help her grow strong fingernails. After a month she was apparently seeing no benefit and asked how long she was supposed to soak her fingers in the goop before it would have an impact.

Of course, she was supposed to EAT it and not soak in it.

So, my question is… how does one USE the plantain? (My first thought was that one could use it to club the little beast that bit ya.)

According to the reference I have, you were supposed to use the juice of the leaves (the toad nibbled the leaf every time it was bitten by the spider). The reference further claims that if you cover a rattlesnake with plantain leaves it will die, and that binding plantain leaves around your ankles will scare off rattlesnakes.

Allen, John W. Legends and Lore of Southern Illinois Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

Well, to some degree, setting one’s self on fire will decrease the likelihood you will die from the snakebite.

Dangit! I love plantains and I was hoping I was building an immunity to [del]Iocaine Powder[/del] snake bite.

Not to mention that while I can get plantains, the leaves are decidedly unavailable.

I was always taught that tourniquets were bad, but that a pressure bandage wrapped around the limb above the bite was very helpful.

The theory is that a lot of poison transport is via the lymph system so compression will slow lymph flow, but not blood flow.

The tourniquet disadvantage is that when it’s released there is a sudden flow of highly envenomed blood.

Seeing as I was in a couple of very high risk groups for snake bites (military and orienteering) and I did actually get into physical contact with snakes on occasions, I was very attentive to first-aid training.

Unless you’ve eaten the poor snake, how’s vomiting going to help?

It was a joke ;).

Yes, to several hundred degrees, I would think.