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Initial Visit?

Friday, December 23

On Account of All the Rattlesnakes

I return the page. It’s the ICU telling me that a snakebite patient is stable enough to transfer to my service. I leave the lounge and press the call button for the elevator.

There are two types of snakebites: Those to the foot and those to the hand. The treatment is identical for both, but the sympathy level is different. A bite to the foot is unlucky. A bite to the hand is someone who was fucking with a snake.

Snakes do not like to be fucked with.

The risk factors for a snakebite to the hand are easily remembered as the five T’s. In order of predictive value they are: Testosterone, Tattoos, Toothlessness, Toxins, and Trailer. The patients are almost uniformly male, and not just male but stupidly so. They typically have tattoos and poor dental hygiene. They are usually drunk or high. And they typically live in trailers near a gulch or junkyard.

Often the patients will bring the dead snake with them. A fun trick to show people is to cut the head off the snake, and, while wearing gloves, hold the—headless—snake by the tail and drop your hand down quickly. A snake’s strike instinct is, literally, ingrained in muscle memory. The snake will twist around as it falls and the headless stump will strike your glove.

These are two of the many useless things I can tell you about snakes and the people they bite.

My best snakebite story is about two good ol’boys who’d caught themselves a rattler and were playing catch with it. They’d hold it by the tail and toss it to each other.

You know how all games of catch end.

You move farther apart. You try fancy catches. You try a behind-the-back toss.

In normal catch—with a ball and not a snake—the game ends when you finally drop the ball. In snake-catch, the game ends when the snake hits you in the chest and bites your hand as you fumble for it and you—in your anger—throw the snake back at your friend and it bites him in the hand, too.

Still, I bet snake-catch feels pretty amazing and superhuman while you’re doing it.

I’m thinking about the way people tempt fate—and the high you feel when you do so—when the doors to the elevator open and I look out into the bustling ICU.


Blogger St Yves writes:

Great post! I have seen the auto-strike thing first hand with a Copperhead my neighbor killed- truly amazing. I would suggest there is a third type of victim- the religious fanatic who "takes up snakes." There is usually one story a year in Alabama or Tennessee where someone gets bitten on the face while showing a congregation that he is without sin.


Blogger Erik writes:

I would argue serpent-handlers are a subtype of the ‘fucks with snakes’ category, as are people who keep rattlers for pets.


Blogger jamesdamian writes:

Where's my gun?


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