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"Animal Bite"

An evening shift finds my partner Don and I with our Paramedic intern on a call that should definitely go down into the annals of Emergency Medical Services bizarre calls! While working the streets of Washington County, Oregon, just outside of Portland, we receive a page to a victim of an "Animal Bite" in a nearby residential district. The following true events transpire...

Having run many of these calls in the past, and in this very same area, we both provision this call to be a dog bite. Crime activity is on the rise on these streets so the local police force is busy trying to keep a lid on things, as well as the Canine (K-9) officers, who are frequently called in to assist in the job "To Protect and Serve the Community". It wasn't unusual to find an assailant brought down by one of these awesome dogs after having ripped open the leg or arm of the perpetrator, and then finding yellow globules of subcutaneous fat lying all over the ground or grass near the victims injuries. Enroute, Don and I picture this call to be no different.

We arrive at an apartment complex to find fire and police already at the scene, our emergency beacons combining with their's to light up the night. Police and firemen are gathered outside the doorway of a downstairs apartment unit. The captain, wearing his identifiable red helmet, is observed to be on a cordless phone talking, pacing back and forth on the entrance walkway.

We gather our equipment and gurney and proceed up to the apartment, pushing our intern ahead of us. After walking through the doorway we find more firemen and police positioned inside the living room. One fireman, in particular, is glued against the side wall with his hands up as high as his shoulders, a facial grimace and slowly shaking his head from side to side, saying, "I ain't gettin' near that thing!" Our attention is then directed by the fireman's gaze into the dining room where we find a man, probably in his early thirties, kneeling on the linoleum floor, his right arm raised up bent at the elbow at a ninety degree angle and a LARGE snake coiled around his upper arm! By the spotted pattern on the snakes skin it appears to be a constrictor species, either that of a Boa or a Python. The snakes head can be seen within the large coil around his arm and it is big, about the size of a large mans hand. The reptiles mouth encompases most of the patients hand with part of the hand and fingers somewhat visible. The tips of the fingers are very cyanotic.

"Are you okay?" I ask while looking at the patients grimaced face.

"Yeah, it would be better if you got this thing off of me!" he anxiously responds.

"I bet! Hang in there," I struggle for words of encouragement. The rest of the snake drops to the floor into the kitchen. I can see the refrigerator to my right and it is moved away from the wall about two feet.

"He gets behind it sometimes where it is warm. When his body expands he moves it away from the wall," the owner succeeds at educating me.

"What do you think?" I turn to our intern and ask.

"Well, I think we need to get this thing off of him!" he accurately responds after being put on the spot. Don and I can't help but to crack a smile. Our Paramedic "wannabee" remains with the patient, as we walk outside to the fire Captain to get a report.

"Hey guys. I'm trying to get someone from the zoo on the line right now. I'll let you know as soon as I find out something," Cap turns and informs us, anticipating our arrival. We turn back up the walkway, both of us deep in thought.

"Don, we've got succinylcholine now! Why don't we paralyze the damn thing?!" I exclaim.

"Haha!" Don chuckles. "But how are we going to get an order for THAT?! he continues with the inflection of his voice rising.

"Hey, it's a reptile, lets put it under water in the bath tub. It has to come up for air! a firefighter throws out an interesting proposal. Just then, Cap walks back into the apartment.

"I've got the zoo reptile curator on the phone with me right now. He's gonna tell me how to get that thing off of him, hold on," the Captain is interrupted by the zoo official. "Yes...okay...I understand..." the captain replies. "Okay, and then?"...Cap holds the phone down to his shoulder, "Guys, you have to unwrap the snake from his arm. Get two people on the snake and begin to walk around the patient in circles."

Immediatley a firefighter reaches down and grabs the tail end of the snake while I handle the section below the patient's arm. We start to walk around the patient in a clockwise motion while other firefighters guide us around obstacles in the living and dining room. The reptile is big, about five to six inches in width at it's midsection and is considerably heavy! Continued movement and resistance from the animal makes the task even more difficult. A police officer joins in on the fun. The unrestrained tail wraps itself around the firefighters leg adding to the already difficult situation.

We are making rapid progress and the unwrapping is almost complete. The snake begins to clench down tighter on the patients hand, now that we are nearing it's head. The victim lets out with a "Argh!" Don reaches in and grabs the constrictor below it's head and behind it's neck to stabilize it. Cap relays our progress back to the phone and listens for more help.

"Okay, we've unwrapped the snake, now what?" Cap anxiously awaits the next set of instructions. "And then you have to do WHAT?! he exclaims. All eyes are now fixed on Cap's conversation and puzzled expression listening intently. Cap pulls the phone away from his ear and asks, "Okay, who has a credit card?" At that moment everyone with their hands free starts frantically reaching into their back pockets for their wallets without pausing to question the relavence of the question. Within seconds five or more plastic cards are being held up with a "pick me, pick me" expression on their faces!

"Here's what you have to do," Cap begins to instruct but hesitates and puts the phone back up to his ear, "Where again do we have to put it?" he questions the curator's instructions. He then puts the phone back onto his shoulder, "Okay, someone has to firmly jab the credit card into the gumline of the snake, right below his nose. The snake should let go of his grip after this is done." All present begin to look at each other after hearing the seeming absurdity of the instructions just given!

"You've got to be kidding!"..."I ain't going to do it!"...Heck with that!"..."You have to do what?!" The comments erupt in unison. I ask another firefighter to take my position on the snake.

"Wait, you have to do what again Cap?" I ask, stepping to the front of the operation, taking the initiative to be the "chosen one".

"You have to take the credit card and firmly jab it into the snakes gumline right below his nose," Cap repeats, reiterating the instructions given by the curator. "The snake should let go of his grip at that point," he continues.

Now, I'll have to admit, I got pretty anxious just then and could only imagine the snake releasing his grip and grabbing MY hand once I got close enough to be able to pull this delicate operation off! I knew that constrictors have short, ridge-like rows of teeth as opposed to fangs like the pit vipers do. They use their teeth to hold onto their prey while they constrict with their bodies, their muscles contracting with every breath the victim takes in order to suffocate them. But even that knowledge didn't relieve my apprehension!

I move directly in front of the snake's head and positioned my Visa card in my hand of my outstretched right arm. Firmly holding the card I identify the reptiles nose and visualize the gumline. Everyone steadies themselves. I move a bit closer to make an accurate hit when the snake gives out a loud, gutteral "HISS!" from within it's depths! My knee-jerk response moves me back in a microsecond! "Damn, this is intense!" I think to myself. I regroup and now know that the animal didn't like what I am about to do. I get back into postion, steadily prepare to make the transaction, then THRUST the plastic into the gumline with the quickest "in and out" motion I'd ever performed! Like two, two-by-fours being slapped together, a loud "CLOCK" rings out in the room! The snake releases it's grip from the victims hand just like the instructions said it would! Don maintains his grip on the snakes neck with the snakes mouth wide open now.

"Who's snake is it?" I ask.

"It's mine, it's a pet," the patient shakily responds. "I let it out when we went to dinner. I came home to find it coiled up on the comforter so I went to put it back in it's cage. When I reached down to pick him up it must have been hungry because it grabbed my hand. It happened so fast I didn't have time to do anything else," he replies still holding his injured hand up.

"Where's the cage?" I ask.

"It's in the back bedroom," he points.

The rest of the guys have a wrestling match on their hands as they proceed into the bedroom where the animals cage is. They succeed at putting the snake back in it's cage on a well deserved "time out". The snake must be ten feet long!

Our intern begins his assessment. The tips of his fingers still appear cyanotic although he has good movement of them. The skin on the back of the hand has two rows of partial thickness teeth marks with minimal bleeding. The rest of his arm appears a bit pale but uninjured.

"You know, you really should be seen at the hospital," the intern encourages. "Your fingers don't look that good," he continues.

"Yeah, I know, I'll be alright," the patient replies, the tone of his voice and body language suggesting a refusal to go.

"I can't guarantee that your fingers are going to get better. If you don't go your situation may get worse and you could end up losing them," the intern explains the risks and complications. "If you don't want to go with us why don't you have one of your friends or family take you up to the emergency room?" our intern suggests an alternative.

"Okay, I'll do that. I really appreciate you guys coming out. Thanks again," the patient expresses his gratitude back to us.

"If you change your mind don't hesitate to call us back. It's not a problem," I chime in with additional instructions. Fire and police begin to clean up the apartment and put furniture back in it's place as the patient signs our refusal form.

With bags in hand we all walk back to our respective vehicles and get ready for the next one.

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