Den Mother: What Should I Do About a Snakebite?

Alone and snakebitten? There are better strategies than panic.

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Dear Den Mother,

What should you do if you are bitten by a venomous snake (let’s say a rattler) deep in the backcountry? Is this when you make your peace? –Nicholas Moenck, via email

➔Yes, make the peace—but not with your mortality. Not yet, anyway. You need to calm down, so pray to your maker if that’ll help chill you out. Running around like your hair’s on fire is only going to pump the venom through your system faster. Ditto, rage-killing the snake. But you should try to ID it so you can get the right antivenin.

This should help you relax: Fewer than five people in the U.S. die each year by snake envenomation. So, take a nice, big, deep breath. Now, check the wound. See two telltale holes on either side of the teethmarks? Those would be from the fangs. No holes, no venom. If you do have ’em, there’s no way to know how much venom you got, so may as well assume you got a little bite.

Now, wrap the wound tight —these wounds can be bleeders—but not so tight it cuts off your circulation, and remove constrictive items like jewelry or watches if you got bit on the hand, or unlace your boot (but leave it on) if you got it in the ankle.

Gather up your essential gear, food, and water, grab a walking stick, and get to moving—slow and steady. Keep your heart rate low, and stick to trails so searchers and other hikers can find you. Even minor envenomations are prone to infection, so you’ll want to get that looked at.

In the March issue, Den Mother said drinking pee in a survival situation is never smart. Life rafts have enema bags. Does that mean your colon can absorb the water from urine without the salt and minerals?
–Mark Commons via email

➔I like where your head’s at, but those enema bags are for people so stricken with seasickness that they can’t take liquid by mouth. You have to put fresh water up there. Flowing pee in your rear isn’t going to help with hydration. “This does not filter out impurities or toxins in the absorbed fluid,” says Henderson McGinnis, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest. Same goes for seawater. Thanks for the image, though.

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