Victim grateful for dose of antivenom 8/8/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2014

Victim grateful for dose of antivenom

By John Howell

Denise Benson credits fast treatment for minimizing the venom impact from a Copperhead bite late Monday.

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“It was just before dark, probably too late for me to be walking,” Benson said Thursday, recovering at her home.

She was walking her chihuahua on its leash. 

“It felt like a knife went into my foot,” she said. She looked back and immediately recognized that it was a Copperhead.

“When I saw him he wasn’t coiled, he was stretched out,” Denise said, displaying the pit viper’s characteristic markings. “When I turned around and looked at it, I knew I was in trouble.”

She later told her husband, Billy Benson, that the snake was probably 32 to 34 inches long, typical length for a Copperhead.

“I jerked my dog’s leash because I didn’t want him to get bit,” she said, recalling her immediate reaction.

She walked back toward the house, yelling to alert Billy. The walk became increasingly difficult as the pain shot up her leg.

Billy’s quick examination found the mark from only one fang, she said. He later speculated that the snake may have left the cover of nearby woods to soak in the residual heat from the paved driveway.

The Bensons’ first stop en route for treatment was at the nearby home of their nephew, Newt Benson, who is an EMT. Newt knew that Tri-Lakes Medical Center had a dose of Copperhead antivenom on hand, she said. He phoned ahead and told them what to expect.

Copperhead antivenom is expensive and carries a limited shelf life, according to internet sources. Consequently it is seldom stocked in most hospitals’ emergency rooms.

“They took me right back,” Denise said, when she arrived at the emergency room. Tri-Lakes Emergency Room physician Dr. David Berry immediately administered the antivenom.

“I was very grateful that they had a dose,” she said.

Then it really got scary.

Dr. Berry told her, “You need to go to a hospital that has a toxicologist.”

The Med in Memphis did not have one. The University of Mississippi Medical Center did. To get there she would need to be transported by helicopter.

“I don’t like to fly and I’m claustrophobic,” she said. “The thought of getting in that helicopter …,” she added, her thought trailing off. “I was one scared woman.”

In addition to having a toxicologist available, there would also be more antivenom for the Copperhead poison if needed, the ER doctor told Denise.

Fifty-five minutes later she was at the University of Mississippi Medical Center under observation. Fortunately, no further antivenom was needed.

Denise and Billy drove back home at mid-morning Tuesday, her leg swollen and foot beyond definition as a foot.

Since then, she learned more than she wanted to know about snakebites from reading on the internet. She has also read encouraging messages from her many Facebook friends who have avidly followed her postings.

By mid-day Wednesday, the swelling was going down she said. She was scheduled for a follow-up visit with her regular doctor on Thursday.

“That’s two things that were not on my bucket list,” she said. “Flying in a helicopter and getting bit by a snake.”