The sad reality is that Australia is home to some of the world’s most deadly snakes. In fact, of the top ten most venomous, three of them hail from our fair shores. The Eastern Tiger Snake comes in at number seven and can kill you in about fifteen minutes. The second most deadly snake is the coastal taipan, which can bite you several times before you’ve even noticed. And the world’s most deadly snake (drumroll, please) is the Inland Taipan. Thankfully, it lives in areas which are much less populated by humans, but it has a special enzyme which increases the speed with which the toxins move about your body.
To be honest and upfront, I have a severe phobia of snakes, so please excuse any and all irrational bursts of hatred towards these spawns of Satan in this article. My intention today is to help you know what to do if one of these purely evil creatures were to ever bite you. Hopefully, you will never use this information. But if you do, it could be lifesaving.
There are a few things that must (reluctantly) be acknowledged. Firstly, most snakes are actually very timid, and simply because one has been spotted in the vicinity, that does not necessarily mean you are in imminent danger. Be alert, not alarmed. Secondly, even if you are bitten by a snake, this does not necessarily mean your life is in danger. Of the 140 species of snakes in Australia, only twelve possess the venom to kill you. But given that none of us are snake experts, and they all look like demons to me, the general advice is that you should treat each wound as if it were life threatening. Oh, also, don’t try and suck the poison out, or cut away at the flesh. Here is what first aid would look like in the event of a snake bite.
Danger: Is the snake still in the vicinity? Rushing in to help without being aware of the snake’s whereabouts may sound valiant, but it might just double the work of the professionals.
Response: The victim might be able to provide some insight as to the whereabouts of the snake, and if they are talking, it is usually a good sign that things haven’t progressed yet. I myself would have fainted long ago. If the patient is unresponsive, you must carry on through the acronym.
Send: for help. The overwhelming majority of snakebites (even the really nasty ones) can be counteracted with antivenoms. Getting word to an ambulance early is crucial.
Airways: It is possible that the victim might have swallowed their tongue or there may be some vomit blocking their airways. If they can’t breathe, all the pressure implication bandages in the world won’t save them. If they are not moving, they are actually slowing down the venom from spreading.
Breathing: If their airways are clear, you must check whether they are breathing. As always, go with the look, listen and feel methods to figure this out. If they are breathing, we can begin treating the sight of the wound. If not, move ahead to…
Compression: Don’t waste time checking for a pulse. They can be so weak that you end up wasting valuable time looking, when you could actually be preserving their heartbeat. Worst case scenario, their heart was beating of its own volition. In this case, all you do by starting CPR is crack a few ribs and temporarily raise their blood pressure. These are all pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.
Defibrillation: A defib is your best chance to helping somebody regain consciousness if they are non responsive.
Let’s imagine two scenarios. Firstly, you’ve stopped fairly early on in DRSABCD because they are conscious, or you have defibrillated the patient and they have regained consciousness. Great news! But your job isn’t yet done. The likelihood of survival from a snake rests on the application of a pressure immobilisation bandage. You can pick these up from this online chemist, and though you might buy them and never use them, they are still one of the first things I like to pick up when making a first aid kit. Lots of other medicines from an online chemist will make you feel comfortable when sick. This will save your life. Here is how you apply one properly.
- Apply a pressure bandage over the actual site of the wound. It needs to be pretty tight. Not so much so that the limb starts turning a deep purple, but tight enough that you struggle to slide a finger underneath.
- Apply a roller bandage to immobilised the entire limb. Now, this next part is counterintuitive. You need to start at the extremities and work back up towards the torso.
- Splint the limb so it remains as rigid and immobile as possible. If you have a pen handy, mark the position of the wound so that the ambos know where they are looking when they arrive.
- Keep the person completely at rest. If they lie completely still, the poison barely moves. The snake relies on killing its prey by having them run around in a panic. The quicker you run, the quicker you fall. There are anecdotal stories of people being bitten by brown snakes and taipans, and being completely by themselves. Rather than stagger the 40 metres to their car, they lay still for days on end, and eventually the body dealt with the venom and they lived to tell the tale.
The last thing to remember is that some people will go into anaphylactic shock when bitten by a snake. This makes the arrival of an ambulance extra important, but in the meantime, if you can give them a jab with an Epipen, this should counteract some of the problems.
As I said, may you never need to use this information. I don’t want to sound irrational here, but may all snakes perish in a fire.
Deep breaths, Floyd, deep breaths…