The Snake Bite by Gary Benton
There are only a few things in the hills where I live that will get people to moving, and moving fast. Fires, something in the chicken coop at night, or a copperhead snake are all good examples. Of the big three the copperhead is the scariest and most dangerous. As far as I was concerned, as a child, it was the only one I worried about. The area I grew up in had plenty of snakes and you had to be very careful where you put your hands and feet. Feet were a real problem because we went barefoot most of the summer and we were constantly running through the woods, pastures and small creeks. However, while growing up, I only remember one person ever getting bitten by a poisonous snake and that was Bubba.
It was a hot, dark and overcast night because the clouds moved in front of the moon at times blocking out all light. It was a perfect night to play hide and seek. I was “it” and started my counting to one hundred as I leaned against the old cedar tree beside grandma’s house. An occasional glance around the tree gave me a good idea where most of the players were hiding. Only I really wanted to find Bubba because he was the best hider and was rarely found.
His brother P.K. could also hide well but he was not very much fun to look for. He would usually fall asleep and then we would all have to yell and scream to wake him up just to get him in the house for bed. I’m not sure why he even played; I know he didn’t find it exciting.
I finished my count and started “flushing quail” or finding the others. I had found three or four players and we all started up the hill toward grandpa’s pond. This pond wasn’t very large, about 100 feet across and maybe 6 feet deep. Mostly it was used to water critters and to do a little perch fishing on lazy Sunday afternoons after church. The hillside of this pond had a blackberry patch that covered the slope and the patch was quite dense. It was the perfect place for people and snakes to hide so I intended to check the patch for Bubba. I stood on the highest portion of the pond bank and scanned the patch below. There was nothing there that I could see but just as I turned to walk away I heard a loud noise and a horrendous scream come from the patch.
The patch was suddenly parted by a dark figure and the screaming continued. I ran down the trail to get as close to the patch as possible. When I got next to the patch I saw that the figure was Bubba and he was absolutely terrified and appeared to be in deep pain. I also noticed something dangling from his right thigh to about down to his ankle. Looking closely as the moon came out from behind a cloud I could see the dangling object was a snake, a copperhead. In my eyes Bubba was about to leave the farm one man short because I suspected he was soon to be a dead goose.
Growing up I had always figured from all of the stories I had heard that a copperhead was as deadly as a cobra, coral snake, or rattlesnake. Every adult I knew had also instructed me in the hills to never lose my cool when forced to react to a serious medical situation, like snakebite. Since we did most of our doctoring ourselves this made sense, it would keep most victims from going into shock and give the doc time to diagnose the injury.
Grandpa used to say “A feller doin’ the doctorin’ can’t think if-un everbodies a yellin’ and screamin’, so keep everything quiet and do some thinkin’ ’bout the hurt. Remember, ya can always panic later. Don’t do a body no good to lose yer cool.” Well, it was now time to try and “think.”
A couple of the bigger boys picked that fat boy up and packed him like a sack of oats down to the farm house where the adults were. I went along to learn what action you had to take when there was snakebite. What really scared me was if the bite didn’t kill him the hillbilly treatment most likely would. By this time the snake had been killed and was brought along as well, so the doc could determine what kind of snake bit Bubba. We all tried to enter the door at the same time, yelling, screaming and carrying on something terrible, so much for the keeping the victim out of shock.
Grandma cleared off the kitchen table and Bubba was not too gently placed on top, well, actually, he was thrown. His leg was swollen, he seemed to be in a lot of pain and he was breathing fast and sweating. If he had known what was coming he would have jumped off that table and ran into the night. As it was he just remained as still as he could and let doc grandpa go to work.
One thing about grandpa, he was not hurting for second or third opinions . . . every person in there had ideas about what should be done for that leg. I heard suggestions that included the magic healing salve, bleed the boy, and that the leg had to be removed to save Bubba’s life. That last suggestion got a real reaction out of Bubba and he started to get up, but grandma backhanded him and he flopped back down on the operating table.
This was not the first time grandpa had seen a snakebite victim and he knew what to do. I have to admit, whether the old mans treatment was correct or not, he was definitely the man in control. The doc tried to send everyone except for his assistants, which I was lucky enough to be one, out of the room and told them to start praying and not to stop until he told them too. Like most people they were curious and didn’t want to leave the room. Nevertheless, when P.K. threw that dead snake down on the kitchen floor, everyone left the room somewhat in a hurry and at the same time. As grandpa returned to the table I could hear the praying going on in the living room.
He took one look at the dead snake and said “Coppa’head, so have to fix this here boy up and fast.”
Next, he went to his bedroom and returned with a small lard can filled with various first aid items. Surgery was about to be done and I was so excited. Grandpa gave Bubba a good talking to and told him to be tough and brave. Bubba, while scared, had enough sense to realize the old man was about to save his life and kept quiet, which is a very rare thing for that jasper.
With my heart pounding in my chest I watched the doc shave the area of the bite, clean it with rubbing alcohol, and the suddenly he grabbed the leg tightly in his right hand. He instructed his assistants to hold Bubba down, so Uncle Clyde climbed up onto the patient’s chest. I didn’t figure Bubba was going anywhere because Clyde weighed about 350 pounds.
Next grandpa took his straight razor and quickly made an X over each fang mark on the leg and I noticed the cut was about 1/4 of an inch deep and about 1/2 an inch long. Bubba lost his mind at this point and started squealing like a stuck sow at a butchering. In the mean time grandpa massaged the leg to work some of the venom out and had one of the boys with good teeth suck on Bubba’s injury, then spit the poison out into a spittoon. I was absolutely amazed! Not so much from the treatment, but that someone would suck on Bubba’s leg. I’d rather suck on a bore hogs hind legs than Bubba’s, because I know it would be cleaner.
It was then I heard my grandpa say as he met all of our eyes one at a time, “Can’t do that suckin’ if-un ya got bad teeth or else you’ll get sick from the poison too. So always use some young feller with good choppers.”
After massaging Bubba’s leg and sucking on it for about 15 minutes, the doc applied a good coating of magic salve and wrapped his leg up in an old but clean piece of cotton cloth.
“Now only time and the good lord will tell if-un Bubba’s a-gonna make it.” grandpa stated as he turned around and left the room.
After three days the swelling and pain in Bubba’s leg went down and he was able to hobble around in the barnyard. While he had a touch of fever immediately following treatment, his injury was kept clean and he was pampered over by the adults like a pregnant heifer. Of course, Bubba played his injury to the hilt, per usual.
In a week he was back to normal, well, about as normal as Bubba ever got and we decided to pick a few blackberries for grandma so she could fix us one of her fantastic cobblers. Most of the kids would have done almost anything for a dish of warm, moist, blackberry cobbler, with fresh vanilla cream on top. And, ole Bubba decided he wanted to go along with us.
Before anyone entered a blackberry patch the first thing we’d do was to throw a few rocks into the center and sides of the patch, to scare off the snakes. We threw our rocks, waited a few minutes, and started picking berries with the sweet thoughts of a soon to come blackberry cobbler.
It was only after a few minutes of picking when I heard someone yell, “Snake!” I always hated it when someone would yell snake and then not tell you where the thing was. It tends to get you very concerned as to were it might be in relationship to where you are. Ya know, it is usually very difficult for most people to move very quickly in a thick and thorny patch of blackberry bushes, but not Bubba that day.
With absolutely no concern for the scratches and scrapes he would receive, Bubba was through the patch and snorting as he ran, no flew, down the cow path toward home. But when you’re up to your neck in blackberry briars and have a snake in there with you, you don’t watch other folks for long, so I quickly forgot about Bubba and worried about Gary. I had just started to move toward the pasture from the bushes when I heard a laugh and turned around.
Bobby Dale was standing there with a big grin on his face and holding a small switch in his right hand. “Ole Bubba’s still a little gun shy ’bout them there snakes, ain’t he? He’d been a botherin’ me all mornin’ so I took this stick and tickled his leg jest a little and then yelled snake. For a big feller he shore can move can’t he?” Rodney said with a shy grin on his ugly face.
From that day forward, all it took to ever get Bubba to leave you alone was to yell snake. I can tell you from experience it even works at drive?in movies, malls, stores, or my favorite, while hiking.