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If you got bit by a poisonous snake, you’d know so, right? Surely, that’s the type of experience a person is bound to be cognizant of. Not necessarily, as this next story shows.

It happened to Sean O’Donnell, a biology professor who was teaching a tropical field course in the rainforest of Costa Rica. He was standing and watching birds when he felt a sharp pain in his left foot. Thinking it was a sting from a bullet ant or a scorpion, he removed his shoe and sock to find a single puncture wound. He never saw a snake before or after this event, so he went on about his day.

Shortly thereafter, however, he got dizzy and disoriented, but managed to make his way back to the group. He mentioned that he thought he might have been bitten by a snake, but others in the group (including a herpetologist) thought the wound more consistent with a bullet ant.

He went back with a pounding headache, ate lunch, attended a lecture, and had dinner. At 10:00 that night, when the pain wouldn’t subside and he noticed blood in his urine, he insisted upon being taken to a local clinic. The doctor there concluded it wasn’t a snake bite, but suggested he seek medical care at a facility 2 hrs. away in Costa Rica’s capital city. After a battery of tests, it was found that his blood cell counts and other vitals were “off the charts,” and that he had indeed been bitten by a viper and was lucky to have survived. (paragraph break) Upon careful examination when he returned home, sure enough, there were two puncture wounds in his boot, only one of which penetrated teh sole of his foot, which is why he only had the one injection mark. (It’s also probably why he didn’t die; he only received a partial invenimation.) This story reinforces an age-old adage of safety:

When it doubt, check it out. (par. break) As O’Donnel says, “There are two important lessons to take from this experience. First, snake bites are not unitary in their presentation. Even people with extensive tropical field experience, and those who have seen viper bite cases, may not be in a good position to recognize a wound as a snake bite. Second, if there is even a remote possibility that a person was bitten by a viper, bring the victim immediately to a fully-staffed hospital. Time is truly of the essence.

Internal physiological distress is not always clearly manifested in the victim’s demeanor or subjective state.” (p. break) While most people aren’t planning on visiting a tropical rainforest anytime soon, it’s good advice for us all, and not just when it comes to snakebites. Children are notorious for hurting themselves when no one is looking, and it’s up to parents to try and play detective to figure out what happened. As this story shows, even doctors and experts can miss the mark. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yoursel for your child if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong.


1. Sean O’Donnel, “Bushwhacked,” National History, Feb. 2016, p. 48

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