Our daughter was bitten by a rattlesnake. Fear and Ignorance isn’t the answer. Let’s take a responsible approach to co-existing with rattlesnakes in cottage country!
Lately, we have been reading all about the uprising of rattlesnake ‘attacks’ in cottage country and quite frankly, I am quite disappointed. Let me begin by saying that I am not the biggest fan of rattlesnakes, or snakes in general. They scare me. However, I do have a healthy respect for them and understand their role and importance in our environment.
We have been enjoying the cottage experience on Georgian Bay for a very long time. In fact, my family has been coming to the Bay for generations. We love its wild beauty and the organic ruggedness of her shores. We love how it makes us feel alive and how we can enjoy its mostly untouched environment and experience nature in all of its glory. It is definitely for the adventurous and the wild at heart!
Part of the beauty and allure of Georgian Bay is its creatures of which the rattlesnake is one. We have seen many rattlesnakes over the years and I can even tell you that our youngest daughter was bitten by one 6 years ago on her birthday of all days. And yet, it bothers me to no end to hear about their villain-like, attacking nature. Although I was understandably VERY upset when our daughter was bitten, I have had time to reflect and come to a better understanding of these reptiles. I have come to a place of respect and knowledge, rather than ignorance and fear.
Our daughter’s story is unique and worth telling. On Nikki’s 15th birthday, we we all gathered at the family cottage on Georgian Bay. Our youngest daughter and our two grown children, their partners, my parents…we were all here (I write from there now). It was a special time as my father had terminal cancer and was in his final days. The time was sacred and my dad wanted to be on the Bay. He wanted to be with family. He just loved to go out in the boat and fish along the shores of the Bay, exclaiming that “he had already died and gone to heaven.”
For this birthday, we chose to surprise Nikki with a mountain bike. We were so excited to see her face light up when she saw it. We had gone to great lengths to get it to our water access property without her knowing! Needless to say she was thrilled when she received her gift and promptly jumped on it and took off over the septic bed. That young girl wasn’t on that bike 30 seconds and she had launched herself off of the septic bed and was flying through the air. 30 seconds later, she was calling for her dad and requesting that I stay on the deck. 10 minutes later, Gary was taking our daughter to the Parry Sound Emergency department to have the back of her leg sewn back together. Not exactly what we had envisioned as part of a birthday celebration!
While Gary and Nikki were at the hospital, I made a large birthday dinner to celebrate our birthday week (Gary and our 3 children all have birthdays in the same week). Several hours later, they were on their way back from the hospital and dinner was prepared and waiting. We were excited to continue with our birthday celebration. When I saw the boat lights approaching the dock, I ran down to the boat to greet my wounded daughter. “Dinner is ready and waiting,” I exclaimed. We were thrilled that they were back. We proceeded to walk up the path to the cottage, when Nikki yelled, “a snake!” She jumped out of the way as we peered down at the rattlesnake on the rock. Of course, we all avoided it and chuckled at Nikki’s ongoing misfortune – “almost bitten by a rattler!” Well, we commented too soon. When we got up to the cottage, we took a moment to look at the extensive stitches that Nikki had received, sewing the back of her leg together. It was significant. However, as we were looking at her stitches, we glanced at her other leg only to see two holes with blood dripping down from them. She had been bitten by a rattlesnake! We looked in disbelief. How could this be?
We made the appropriate phone calls to EMS, and promptly escorted Nikki back to the boat. Expecting us, the Parry Sound Emergency department was on standby. As we entered the Emergency Room doors, Gary and Nikki were greeted by hospital staff as well as those they had met hours earlier while waiting to be ‘stitched up.’ “Why are you back?” they questioned. They truly did not expect to hear that she had been bitten by a rattlesnake on her other leg. It was somewhat surreal, and extremely unnerving!
Nikki was kept at the hospital for 24 hours. We did not leave her side. The West Parry Sound hospital’s rattlesnake bite protocol is amazing! The staff were amazing! Nikki was amazing! We learned that Nikki had received a dry bite. A dry bite is a warning bite where very little or no venom is released. Nikki was very fortunate and received very little venom in her system and thankfully did not require the anti-venom treatment.
To this day, Nikki loves snakes and all forms of wildlife. She has a great respect for rattlesnakes, but she is not afraid of them. After all, the snake that bit her gave her a warning bite rather than a venomous bite! We continue to live, work and play on Georgian Bay and rattlesnakes are around. We have heard many stories, have lived our own experience, and have chosen to learn more about these creatures. They are part of our environment and they are living in their habitat. We need to learn more about rattlesnakes, to become educated and understanding rather than to respond in fear and ignorance. Yes, there have been rattlesnake bites this year, but why? What were the circumstances? How could they have been prevented? How many were dry bites? What should we be learning and teaching our children about rattlesnakes? In our opinion, generating fear, loathing and disrespect for this reptile is irresponsible and unenlightened. Let’s take some time to understand rattlesnakes and to develop a healthy respect for them. We don’t have to love snakes, but we do think that we do need to take a responsible approach to co-existing with them in cottage country!
Here’s a few things that we have learned:
- Rattlesnakes do not want to be around humans
- Large rattlesnakes have the ability to give warning (or dry) bites
- Smaller rattlesnakes are less likely to be able to give a warning bite and consequently their bites can be more potent
- Rattlesnakes do not want to be around us
- Rattlesnakes like warm places to heat their bodies, especially during mating and birthing seasons
- Rattlesnake bites are mostly preventable; most happen on the foot
- When walking in brush and in wetlands, wear socks, boots and long pants
- Don’t stick your hands under rocks and brush without taking a peek first
- Listen when you are walking; rattlesnakes let you know they are there
- Back away slowly if you encounter a rattlesnake; they will not chase or attack you
- Wear socks and shoes at night. Carry a flashlight to see where you are walking
If you are bitten
- Stay calm and reduce movement
- Clean the wound with soap and water
- Call Emergency Services – 911
- Do not apply ice or a tourniquet
- Do not cut or apply suction to the bite area
- Remove clothing and jewelry around the area as it may swell
Remember to try and stay calm and to soothe the person that has been bitten. Watch for swelling, discolouration, dizziness, pain at the site, blurred vision, heavy sweating and prickling in other parts of the body as this is a sign of a venomous bite. Look for signs of shock such as paleness, rapid heartbeat, enlarged pupils, fast breathing and nausea. Lay the person down and cover them if you notice these signs. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. And remember to assure the person that help is on the way and that very affective rattlesnake bite treatment and protocols are available.
For more information visit:
West Parry Sound Health Centre
Massasauga Rattlesnake Provincial Antivenom Depot