How Not To Treat A Snakebite

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You know all those movie Westerns where someone gets bitten by a rattlesnake? The hero always puts on a tourniquet, then slices ope the wound and sucks the venom out. All heroic and all, right? The best way to save someone's life, right?

More like the best way to kill the victim. Or cause an amputation.

Mike Edwards, 46, was bitten by a timber rattlesnake Saturday while working on his Rockvale farm. The bite was so severe that Edwards was kept at Vanderbilt University Medical Center until Monday.

The standard snakebite scene in many movies shows the victim applying a tourniquet to the limb and then cutting the wound and sucking out the venom.

As Edwards and his wife, Andrea, waited for the ambulance to arrive, a good Samaritan tried to help using advice gleaned from Hollywood.

"She put a tourniquet on his arm," Andrea Edwards said. "We were on the phone with the EMT who was on his way to us, and he said to take it off."

As the Edwards learned when they arrived at Vanderbilt, the tourniquet could have cost him his hand or arm.

"The toxicologist at Vanderbilt said the tourniquet just kept all of the venom in one place, and it swelled, which made it harder for the antivenin to get to it," Mike Edwards said.

Edwards' condition was critical by the time they arrived at the hospital and his blood pressure was dangerously low, his wife said. Mike said he lost vision at one point and was convulsively twitching.

"They told me another 10 minutes, and we could have lost him," she said.

Middle Tennessee Medical Center's Dr. Kevin Beier, who specializes in emergency treatment, said venom is used by snakes to break down the tissue of prey to make them easier to digest.

"When you trap the venom, it causes tissue damage and necrosis (tissue death)," Beier said.

Here's the FDA advice for treating snakebite and first aid. Basically, a band above the wound can be used but should be loose enough to slip a finger over. Commercial snakebite kits include suction devices, but no cuts should be made if you attempt to use them.

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