Snake Bite! – What happens, when it really happens Pt.1


It’s a nice summer’s day, you are walking into the crag, having a good time and chatting with your friends when BAM! You look down and you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as a scaley tail disapears into the underbrush. Did that really just happen? Heck, you probably didn’t even get a good look at it.

If this happened in your backyard, you would sit tight, call an ambulance or get someone to drive you to the emergency room, no problem. But what do you do if you are an hour’s walkout, uphill of the crag you are at? What if you are a day out, with no phone reception? Worse still, what if you fall into one of the above scenarios and you are on holidays in foreign country and you don’t really speak the language?

Enter worse case scenario ….

Approximately 9pm, on a climbing holiday in 2008, on Tonsai Beach, Thailand. After a good, sweaty days climbing and a blisteringly hot thai curry, we we were relaxing out on the bamboo platforms on the beach, drinking Thai beer and cocktails made with questionable spirits. Two members of the group decided to call it a night and walk back up to our bungalow accommodation through the jungle path.

The following is a recollection of events from a couple of points of view.

1. Kate – Snake bite victim

Walking back to our bungalows with Peta…. “Peta! I think I’ve just been bitten by a snake!” (Nervous laughter from us both). We head up to the end of the path where there is a bench to sit down. Peta rushes off leaving me with a few of the locals. I’ve done first aid training… what do I do? I’m in shock and my mind is blank. A local starts to put a tourniquet around my leg. This isn’t right, I think. Another offers to prepare a herbal remedy. Peta rushes back and proceeds to tightly wrap the bite on my ankle and up my leg.
By the time Tom and the others found us (a local had gone to get them), the shock had worn off and I was feeling fine. I was thinking of going to bed as I wasn’t in any pain and felt good. Steve, one of our travel buddies, convinced Tom to take me to the hospital (which I’m glad he did!).
We were staying at Tonsai which is a peninsular with no road access. It was around 9pm and the chief boatman was woken up and swam out to his long tail boat to take us to the mainland. A local propped me on his moped and drove me down to the waiting boat. An ambulance was waiting for us when we arrived at the mainland as one of the locals had organised it through his mother who was a nurse at the hospital.
A bumpy 30 minute ride later (with the siren intermittently blaring!!) we arrived at the local hospital. By now I was experiencing a moderate amount of pain. I didn’t have to wait long to be seen by a doctor. He was quite apologetic and said that he would organise to have me transferred to a private hospital in Phuket which was two hours away. By this time the pain had increased and I didn’t really want to travel in that much pain so opted to stay in a public ward.
Over the next few hours the pain kept increasing and I could feel the venom slowly rising through my body, up my leg, my torso and eventually to my chest. It was rather distressing. I have had many broken bones, stitches, even a snapped tendon but nothing compares to the pain I experienced that day. Paracetamol and observation was about as good as it got. Eventually the pain began to subside and I was out after 24 hours.
What I remember most about the experience (other than the pain) was the care and generosity of the Thai people we encountered. The hospital was very different from the experiences I have previously had. Families looked after the sick, feeding and washing them, taking turns to get rest by sleeping underneath the patient’s beds. There were some very ill patients and I’m sure a few didn’t make it.
When I was feeling better, soup was provided as a daily meal but no bowls were on offer. A young Thai man, looking after his wife, kindly offered me his bowl, insisting that I ate before he did. In my experience I have always found Thai people to be very caring, honourable and giving. This experience has cemented my feelings. They genuinely care and were prepared to help out a stranger for no gain other than to help out (the boatman refused to take payment until we absolutely insisted). I was fortunate to have had that unfortunate experience in a country surrounded by such lovely people.
PS. I was most likely bitten by a Russell’s or Chain Viper. Poisonous – yes. Deadly – potentially. I must have been injected with a minor amount of venom as I was back deep water soloing 48 hours later!

kate_atkinsKate is an Aussie traveller from Brisbane, who is an avid climber, trekker and mountain biker rider. Always getting out and about, Kate has been known to have had the odd incident or two in her time on the planet :).



2. Peta – First on the scene, First aid

We were walking up the track in the dark, wearing flip flops having a conversation about snakes when a couple of girls walked toward us and we had to side step onto the grass to let them pass. As we did this, Kate stumbled and I shrieked as we had just been talking about snakes which does tend to make me a bit jumpy. I laughed to cover my embarrassment and the girls laughed at me and kept walking and then Kate says ‘Pete… I think I’ve been bitten by a snake!’
My immediate reaction is nononono no! No way. You can’t just talk about something and then it happens. I see a branch sticking out and I hoped that she had just cut herself on the sharp edge… but no, we see the twin tracks of blood streaming out of the inside of her ankle.
Having done numerous first aid courses I know we have to bandage her up and make sure she doesn’t move but we are still in the dark on a track with a rampant snake on the loose. I can’t carry her and we are a fair distance from our group so we have to walk up the hill a bit more. I think it was only about 20m.  A short way up the track we hit the road and a shop with somewhere for her to sit down while I run off to get the snake bandage. I’m gone for only a couple of minutes but by the time I get back the locals are all gathered around wiping down the snake bite with lemon juice and have already tied a tourniquet above her calf. 
I apply the pressure bandages and then slowly release the tourniquet hoping that as it’s only been a short time, it hasn’t done any damage. I then have to leave her alone with the locals and run back down the dark snake infested path in my flip flops to tell her partner.  Having done multiple first aid courses is good but it doesn’t quite prepare you for the panic you feel when you first encounter a possible life threatening scenario.  Apart from applying Band-Aids, I had never actually needed to use all this first aid knowledge.  I knew what I had to do but at the same time I didn’t want to leave her alone on the path and I didn’t want to endanger her by moving her. But not knowing where the snake was, we opted for immediate safety. 
 I also didn’t know how many bandages it would take to cover her leg. In the first aid courses, the practice bandages seem to wrap the entire limb, yet the ones that you buy at the chemist that I always kept in my pack were obviously nowhere near as long.  The lesson I took from this experience was, take a shit load more bandages, and don’t walk around in flip flops at night, in Thailand near a jungle…
peta_barrettPeta is a fellow traveling climber and also a lead climbing guide. With qualifications and experience in wilderness first aid, she is a handy person to have next to you when you step on a snake :)

 In part 2 of this post we will look at what you can and should do if this happens to you …


scott_hailstoneBlog Post Author

Scott has been a traveling climber for the past three years. He has had his fair share of snakey encounters, though thankfully none of the bitey variety.