This is the actual fellow!
That very instant, and it was an event lasting only a fraction of a second, I knew exactly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what had just occurred! I couldn’t be positive that it was a rattler but a snake had just sunk its fangs into my sandaled foot for sure! Oh dear! The exact vocabulary used for this occasion was actually rather ruder but quite appropriate.
I carefully retraced my last step and peered under the big rock. There was the culprit: a fine specimen: a 4 foot Grand Canyon pink rattler with a perturbed expression on his little face. He was literally freaked out and didn’t dare move a muscle. I could see the remorse and fear on him. Poor fella. Well, I’d better tend to myself at this point.
Incredibly my instincts kicked in and advised me to remain calm which I managed to pull off like this was routine. I sat by the Colorado river and immersed the offended foot in the chilly water. Perhaps the cold would slow the dispersion of the venom…I did encourage my companion to burn the site with a hot lighter (some misguided first aid information I’d somehow picked up along the way). This resulted only in a wee blister next to the 3 fang wounds, which were trickling the tiniest amount of blood. We decided quickly not to pursue that particular avenue of medical procedure!
Those razor sharp fangs had penetrated the top middle of the right side of my right beChacoed foot whilst it was in mid air, mid stride. Perhaps the offending foot had just released an instant of pressure directly upon the poor reptile. Perhaps it merely invaded the little pink fella’s intimate space. We will never know. Perhaps he’d issued the due warning with a rattle and I didn’t hear it for the rushing of the water in the river only yards away. Perhaps he didn’t have a chance to rattle before I was upon him. This too we’ll never know. I bet you’d like to know what it felt like! Well, there was but a very slight sensation of clamping on. Immediately then came the sting of being hit by a high velocity baseball. It really was most rapid. Done in an instant. All that venom injected in a fraction of a second! Wild nature in action.
The next course of action was to start giving direction to my terrified hiking companion. “Get out my first aid kit and hand me a couple Benadryl and one of those powerful anti-inflammatories I keep for my bad knee please.” These I downed with a whole liter of water which, in the long run, wasn’t such a great idea. I’ll never know if the pills helped at all but the water later came up adding to my increasing unease. There didn’t seem to be anything he could do for me right then so I asked him to backtrack along the river to intercept a small group of hikers we had passed not long before. So off he went.
Weston and I had started our hike at Monument Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The first day we descended several thousand feet from the rim to Tapeats Creek, where it flows into the Colorado River. We’d had a delightful lunch stop at Thunder River where a great gush of water shoots out of a several hundred foot wall in the Redwall Layer. Some geology…The way I remember the geological layers of the Grand Canyon, from top to bottom, is by this ….taught me be a wonderful dory boatwoman: kissing (kaibab) takes (toroweap) concentration (coconino) however (hermit shale) sex (supai) requires (redwall) more (mauve) breath and (bright angel) tongue (tapeats). Thunder River; a veritable oasis with hanging gardens and water cress, trees, SHADE! Our legs were like jelly when we arrived at the river and we had a wee tot of rum, some dinner and set up a lovely little bed in the sand near the cliffs. I’m always a tad apprehensive of sleeping on the ground with the scorpions. In retrospect a scorpion sting instead of a snake bite would have been quite welcome!
The next day, May 24, 2004, we splashed around in the river and goofed off all morning. We had planned to hitch a ride with a group of boaters from Tapeats Creek several miles downstream to Deer Creek. It was all pre-arranged…It would have been the perfect plan if only we had been there on the correct day!!! This was later a matter of some irony and not just a little mockery. Oh well, oh well. By 2 pm I called we make a move and start hiking along the river towards Deer Creek so as to not wind up stumbling around by starlight. Off we went, camp on back, hopping from boulder to boulder and thoroughly enjoying the magnificent surroundings. But then all of a sudden: cachha.
So there I was, shivering in the chilly river and awaiting whatever. The bite site was now a distinct swollen square. Nothing to do except wait…Not half an hour later Weston was back with 3 of the fellows in tow. One of them was a wilderness first responder!! His theory was compress the site to help localize the venom. I already knew from my first responder course to never tourniquet unless you wish to spare the limb. Ummm, nope I think I’d rather keep that foot thank you very much. So a girl among them helped me out of the river and kept some pressure on the foot while the group split up and began making way; three of them downstream towards Deer Creek and three upstream back to Tapeats. At one of those canyons a boat trip with a satellite phone could possibly be pulling in to make camp. Indeed, I still do not know which group managed to place the call but several hours later, when the swelling had reached just below my knee, the helicopter arrived with the EMTs on board. That morphine injection was welcome! I had started the vomiting and so they gave me some other junk also. Then the big fellow made a sling and lugged me on his back to the chopper, landed a hundred yards or so away. All the while the crew were joking about beer drinking and partying; familiar banter which calmed me immensely. One of the crew got several good pictures of the pink snake who was still sitting, petrified, under his rock. I wasn’t afraid any more but I was extremely disappointed when they strapped me in and wouldn’t let me look out as we rose above Owl Eyes and over the rim.
The rest is a bit of a blur. Changed helicopters at the South Rim and whisked away to Flagstaff Medical Centre where I was administered 3 doses of anti venom and spent 3 days in intensive care with IV’s everywhere and in a complete fog. The swelling continued up to my right armpit before it quit growing and the blood started pooling. The pressure, when measured, was only just shy of the limit at which medical science says a fasciotomy is recommended. Phew! I wouldn’t have cared for that either!
During those three days, it seemed that every doctor and nurse came in to peruse the effects of envenomation and every one of them deemed it necessary to squeeze my big toe, a squeeze which inflicted a tremendous amount of pain to the poor bemorphined victim. I am still uncertain what valuable information they were able to draw from this act. That is one of the few unpleasantnesses I am able to recall. The other is the continuous attempts to draw blood for testing from my hardened and collapsed veins. This I dreaded. Poke poke poke and poke again. Yuch.
Three days in intensive care, three doses of anti-venom. Two nights and days in a regular room shared with elderly ladies freshly relieved of their gall bladders. The first lady slept a lot. The second lady moaned and groaned constantly and her husband, who spent quite a while there, had a nervous high pitched whistle which seriously grated on my frazzled nerves. He whistled away, no tune, no melody, just an ongoing zzzzz sort of whistle. I had a variety of nurses and came to realize just how important the attitude of that person really is. The pleasant ones make you feel better merely by being pleasantly there. The not so pleasant ones make your aches and pains twingle. I had to get out of there! The doc said no way. I said there’s no way I’m staying. He said if you can walk to the bathroom you can go. I did it. It was horribly painful as a sensation of the whole leg filling with burning fluid is what I experienced whenever the leg wasn’t elevated. But I damn well did it because only over my dead body was I staying one more night thank you very much.
My mum and sis had been around there for a couple of days, bringing me edible things (which they do not serve in the hospital) and plying me with moral support. My friend Charlie drove down to pick us up and deliver us on home where I spent a few weeks recovering with leg up. Driving my truck was interesting. Of course I couldn’t do it right away but within 10 days or so I perfected the art of using cruise control with my right leg up on my dashboard. Around that era I also began receiving the bills…That’s another story!