My hand recoils as if I have touched a hot skillet. I look down and see a ruby-red jewel of blood welling up from the pinprick where a fang pierced the skin on the top of my right index finger. I feel a little sting from the puncture wound. More alarmingly, only seconds after the bite, the tops of my forearms and the backs of both hands begin tingling.
Instantly, I am overwhelmed by the gravity of what I have done to myself. I am all alone in the outdoors with no one to help me. My God, I can’t believe it! How could I possibly have put myself in so much danger? Of all people, I should know better. I quell a couple seconds’ worth of rage in which I feel like thrashing the poor snake to death. My predicament is grave. After my first bite from an eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) 17 years earlier, my legs collapsed in four minutes. This time I am all alone on a barrier island with no one to assist me. I have to walk back to the kayak, paddle myself across the bay, and drive myself to help.
I put on my backpack and begin walking in a straight line for my kayak. Emotionally, I am a wreck. I want to cry out in anguish for my stupidity. I feel panicky because I know that, against all medical recommendations to lie still so the venom won’t be more rapidly pumped through my body, I must exercise vigorously to get off this island and save my life. If I don’t, I may be here for days before anyone comes by—long after I am dead.
During lectures I give on snakebite first aid, I stress the importance of getting quickly to medical help. I suggest that victims have other people transport them to the hospital and that they move as little as possible. Somebody invariably asks, “What do you do if you are all by yourself in the boondocks?” As I walk, I think how ironic it is that I am faced with that very situation.
Then I take my own advice. I do what anyone must do in such a circumstance. I decide to steel my mind and body to survive no matter what. I suppress my fear and anxiety and use the most determined force of will I can muster to get myself into the hands of help. I do not run: I walk with purpose. I take a few deep breaths, clear my mind of any negative thoughts, and start repeating in my mind, “I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it. . . .”