A Coolidge man remained hospitalized Friday after surviving a rattlesnake bite to the face while trying to show off to friends at a party by attempting to cook the reptile on the barbecue.
Victor Pratt 48, has been at Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix since Sept. 7.
While celebrating his child’s birthday with friends, Pratt said he decided to show them how to catch and cook a rattlesnake after one of the reptiles showed up in his yard during the party.
Pratt, who spoke to The Arizona Republic on Friday, grabbed the venomous snake and was showing it off to friends and family, posing for several photos. But he lost his grip on the snake’s head, and it attacked him.
After being bit twice, once on the chest and once on the face, Pratt said he knew immediately that something was wrong, having been bitten once before when he was 19.
“I said, ‘We gotta go now,’ because I knew what was going to happen,” Pratt said.
He was taken immediately to a local hospital, which doctors said saved his life.
“If an airway is not established in the first few minutes, in our experience less than 15 to 30 minutes, then those patients really don’t have a chance to survive,” said Dr. Steven Curry, Banner hospital’s toxicology director.
Curry said getting a tube inserted into the patient’s airway is vital, especially in face bites.
“If they can get their airway established, they’re very lucky,” Curry said. “That is, you’re lucky to have been bitten and been able to make it to the hospital in just a few minutes in order to have those emergency procedures done that are needed to save your life.”
Pratt was sedated as the procedure was being done, and remained that way for five days, including when he was transferred to the Phoenix hospital.
“I lost five days of memory,” Pratt said. “I didn’t know where I was for five days.”
This kind of memory loss is common, Curry said, because the drugs needed to keep a patient under prevent memories from forming. For their own safety, patients with face bites are kept heavily sedated, and have their hands wrapped in large, bulky bandages to prevent them from pulling out the endotracheal tube.
“(If) that endotracheal tube would come out, because of severe neck swelling, it would be difficult or impossible to immediately put it back in or immediately perform … an emergency tracheotomy,” Curry said. “Because if that tube were to come out, then we would expect that they would be in very big trouble immediately, and perhaps might even die in four to five minutes.”
Curry said rattlesnake bites are divided into two categories: bites where the victim didn’t know there was a snake or tried to get away, or those where the person recognized there was a snake present but did not immediately try to get away.
Most bites, he said, are the latter kind.
Rattlesnake venom is toxic and can cause swelling, paralysis and numbness at the site of the bite, damaging the tissue. It can cause a person’s airwaves to swell to the point of blocking air, and cause internal bleeding.
Curry said seeking medical care quickly is critical, noting that home treatments are a mistake.
“First-aid measures such as tourniquets, ice, incisions or taking the time to apply suctions … are dangerous and harmful,” he said. “Or completely ineffective, as in the case of suction.”
The common denominator across all snake-bite deaths in Arizona, he said, was the victim not receiving medical attention immediately.
Often, this is because the victim is out hiking, or in an area far from civilization, Curry said. But in other cases, it’s because they thought they could treat themselves.
Banner Hospital treats, on average, 70 snake-bite victims a year, Curry said. While face bites such as Pratt’s make up less than 1 percent of them, they are often the most serious.
Pratt, however, said he was done dealing with the venomous reptiles.
“Ain’t gonna play with snakes no more,” he said.
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