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ON Press: 'I just got bit by a snake'

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Fri Jul 15 09:23:08 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

WHIG-STANDARD (Kingston, Ontario) 12 July 11 'I just got bit by a snake' (Samantha Butler)
Brent O'Hara and Colin Dawdy were planning on exploring the Amazon rainforest this summer.
O'Hara's run-in with a venomous viper on their first day hiking, however, meant they saw more of an intensive care ward at Paramaribo, Suriname, than anything else.
The two young Kingston men are safely home after three weeks waiting in a South American hospital.
"It was pretty awful," said 21- year-old Dawdy.
O'Hara, 24, and Dawdy, were wading near a waterfall in the remote, heavily jungled Brownsberg Nature Park on June 15, when O'Hara encountered a sleeping bushmaster viper.
"There was a stone ledge, and there were plants growing in an arc across it, and the snake was underneath, so ... I couldn't see it," O'Hara said.
"I took one step out of the water, and on my second step, it bit me right as my foot went down.
"I saw it, right as it bit me, and then as it was taking off," he said.
He recognized the large black diamonds on the snake's back, and knew the snake was poisonous.
"I was actually pretty calm (when it happened)," O'Hara said. "I just turned to Colin and said 'F--k, I just got bit by a snake.' "
Dawdy responded immediately.
The campsite was more than an hour's hike away, at the top of a densely forested mountain. Dawdy ran up to the camp in half an hour.
"The men at the camp, when I told them, they all said that there was no chance he was going to die," Dawdy said, "but apparently -- the doctors told us -- people do die from this kind of snake."
O'Hara learned that those who perish from such a snake bit are as much a killed by virtue of geography. "It's usually because they're so far away and they can't get to a hospital, or because local people who can't afford to go to the hospital die from infection afterwards," he said.
Waiting by the waterfall for nearly an hour and a half for Dawdy to return, O'Hara said he tied a rope around his leg to try to prevent the venom from spreading.
The Brownsberg site manager had called a truck to meet O'Hara back at the drop-off point on the mountaintop, but he explained to O'Hara that he needed to hike back up to meet it.
The hike took two and a half hours.
"It was pretty brutal," O'Hara said. "My head was just spinning and my foot was getting huge and it was hurting a lot."
When he made it to the truck he was rushed to a small medical clinic 90 minutes from Brownsberg. They had no anti-venom to offer him, but rather transferred him on to Suriname's capital, Paramaribo.
"It was pretty terrible," O'Hara said of the capital city's hospital. "They didn't want to give me the anti-venom because I didn't have my insurance on me."
Both O'Hara and Dawdy were insured, but on the corporate plan of O'Hara's girlfriend, Colin's sister, Kate Dawdy.
"The hospital staff wasn't able to (process) his file because my name was on his benefits card." Kate Dawdy explained.
"They gave me a bunch of pain killers and they took my blood," O'Hara said. "The venom attacks your red blood cells so your blood doesn't coagulate, though, so my foot just kept spitting out blood from where they put the needle.
"Then they brought me to the intensive care unit. They gave me plasma and a bunch of IV's, all that fun stuff," he said.
Back in Kingston, Kate received a Facebook message from her brother, explaining their dilemma.
"The first thing I read online about bushmaster snakes," she said "was that, the best thing you can do if you're bitten by a bushmaster is stay calm, find a quiet place in the jungle to lie down, and prepare to die ... I was freaking out."
She began working to get O'Hara's insurance claim processed though Canada, and called her dad to help her book a flight down to South America to meet them.
By Saturday in Paramaribo, three days after his bite, O'Hara said the doctors finally resolved to give him the anti-venom serum. Insurance hadn't come through because it was the weekend, but extensive bruising along his side suggested he was bleeding internally, they said, with blood pooling in his body.
His prognosis immediately improved, and Kate was advised to hold off on the flight. O'Hara would be able to come home when his circulation improved, but in the meantime she said her family doctor assured her that Amazon medical clinics would be better equipped than Canadian ones to treat O'Hara.
Unable to move his leg, without an appetite, and exhausted, O'Hara said he just lay sweltering the 36 C heat in Paramaribo, waiting to get better.
There were cockroaches in his bed, ants and termites visible everywhere he said, and eight other people in the room. One Dawdy said, was a convict under constant police supervision.
Three nurses tended to more than 200 patients on his floor, he said.
Dawdy was allowed to visit two hours a day. He searched the hospital for extra pillows to prop up O'Hara's giant, swollen leg, which he said had grown so big his swim shorts didn't fit around his knee.
His toes were discoloured, and the skin on his foot had started to peel from infection and lack of circulation.
"They told me if the swelling didn't go down they were going to cut it open from my ankle up to my thigh, to relieve the pressure on my veins," he said. They also discussed amputating his toes and warned him that sometimes people lost feet to bushmaster bites.
The men were given a tentative July 4 departure date from the hospital, and immediately booked their flights.
"The day I left they told me they wanted me to stay an extra week, because the infection wasn't getting any better," said O'Hara. "We just left anyway."
Kate Dawdy met them at Pearson International Airport in Toronto and took O'Hara immediately to a doctor, who said she'd never treated a viper bit before.
She decided immediately to give him stronger antibiotics and painkillers
"The doctor said I was lucky I didn't lose my foot because the infection was pretty deep inside," O'hara said.
Since arriving back in Kingston, O'Hara's getting home care from CanCare Health Services on Midpark Drive, and though he still can't put weight on his leg, said he feels fine.
Work has given him an indefinite recovery time, he said, so the biggest inconvenience now is an inability to join the rest of the Dawdys in the family pool.
'I just got bit by a snake'


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  • You Are HereON Press: 'I just got bit by a snake' - W von Papinešu, Fri Jul 15 09:23:08 2011

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