If you are ever foolish enough to click on one of those “Reasons why you should never visit Australia” videos on YouTube, you’ll come across a lot of truly comical reasons from people who have probably neer been here. Honestly, I watched one once (yes, I go to them a bear to honey) that warned against travelling here because of ants! Another one was very concerned about the possibility of being gutted by a cassowary. While we all know countless friends and family who have succumbed to such a death, it all just feels comical. Then they move to sharks, and that makes a bit more sense (even though only three people lost their lives this way in 2021 - you’d be better warned to avoid vending machines which killed 13 people in that same period).
But where they win me over is when they start discussing snakes.
Snakes, quite frankly, can get in the bin. I hate the way they move, I hate the way they feel, I hate the way you need to make a hissing noise to even pronounce their name. When I was a young boy, my father was fascinated with them, and after copping a few bites when “Alice” was “feeling playful”, I developed a full on phobia. That is why I am now well versed in what to do if you or someone nearby is bitten by one of these fiery hell-serpents. Come with me as I take you down a journey that could save your life one day…
Call an Ambulance.
Everyone is a snake expert, aren’t they? Don’t worry mate, they’ll assure you. That was just a diamond python, you’ll be fine. Don’t listen to them. They might have misidentified the snake, or perhaps your unique composition means that even a ‘harmless snake’ (there’s an oxymoron for you) could be quite harmful to you. If you wait and see, it could be too late.
Stay exactly where you are
Contrary to common wisdom, the venom does not enter your blood stream. It actually travels through your lymph system, which only moves around your body (to those vital organs we love so much) when we move our limbs. There are instances of people who have walked less than 100m to their car and gone into cardiac arrest. Similarly, even those who have been bitten by some of the more venomous snakes in Australia have survived by lying completely still for days as the body processes the toxins. It wouldn’t be a fun three days, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The best case scenario? Lie completely still while an ambulance comes to deliver antivenom into your system.
Don’t touch the snake
I can’t believe I need to say this… but you are only putting yourself at greater risk if you go looking to pick up the snake again. Some people like to think that if you catch the snake, you are doing the hospital a favour because they can identify it more easily. Thankfully, modern medicine has a number of tests that can quickly work out what treatment you need. The overwhelming majority of snakes won’t attack unprovoked, so if you lie completely still, you are at a very low risk of sustaining a second bite, even if the snake is still in the vicinity. People, I cannot stress this enough: don’t go looking for a snake.
Begin first aid
I always make sure I am carrying a pressure immobilisation bandage. You can pick this up at a
pharmacy, and it could save your life. By immobilising the limb, the venom is unable to spread through the lymphatic system, and your chances of survival skyrocket. Here is how it goes:
- Get a pressure bandage and roll it over the site of the wound (the overwhelming majority of snake bites happen on the extremities).
- Remove all jewellery from the affected limb. It complicates things later.
- Apply a second pressure bandage, starting from the fingers of the toes. You should firmly bind the affected limb all the way up to the torso and back down. Best practice is to not bind the fingers or toes. Why? We want to monitor them for colour. You want to wrap tightly enough to constrict the lymph system, but not so tightly that you constrict blood flow. If you haven’t picked up the appropriate bandage from a pharmacy, anything tight will do. T-shirts, rags… Use your imagination. Me, personally, I’ll take the pharmacy option every day of the week!
- Mark the site of the wound so that medical professionals know where to look. This could be a pen, some mud… virtually anything. Giving as much info to the paramedics helps cut down unnecessary time wastage.
- Splint the limb. Anything straight will do the trick here. Find a long stick, piece of wood or crutch. This prevents the limb from any further movement, and the toxins are not able to spread to your vital organs.
Don’t try anything clever.
The old wives tale of ‘sucking out the poison’ has survived into the present day, mainly through comedy I suspect. It doesn’t actually work. At best, all you do is add foreign bodies into the wound site which might confuse later treatments. At worst, there have been cases of people who have inadvertently ingested toxins orally and died. If you stop and think about it, it seems foolish. Removing toxins from someone else by getting it in your mouth? Not for me, thanks.
The same goes for cutting the wound area, or creating a tourniquet. You (probably) aren’t a doctor, and you should leave that work for the trained professionals.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, your chances of survival are actually very good from the majority of snakes. And for those few truly evil types (browns, taipans, etc), you are still likely to survive if you follow these instructions. Now, as for those lethal cassowaries…
All the best,