The charming (and handsome!) GG of Skulls in the Stars sent me this fantastic gem of an old paper, and I can't resist. Sadly, I just missed this month's edition of the Giant's Shoulders, but perhaps this will make next month!!
Beholde! An affair with a Rattle-fnake! And an excuse for Sci to talk lieke thif!! Because everything is better when you talk lieke thif (don't we all read those old fashioned s's like f's and end up with an old-fashioned lisp?).
"A Letter from Mr J. Breintal to Peter Collinfoxl, F. RXS. contairnng an Account of what he felt after being bit by a Rattle-fnake" Philosophical Transactions, 1747.
Sci finds this letter particularly amusing in light of a lot of older work in drug research. When certain kinds of drug research were in their early days, some researchers would take the compounds they found on synthesized in an effort to determine their effects. But of course, that's for drugs, but what about something so natural it's still sitting inside...the snake?
And thus this letter begins, where the author relates how he was climbing a hill (to get to some cows, I have no idea why that was), and as he got to the top, he...
Ouchie. I'll bet he founded his rattles. He probably sounded them, too.
Apparently the writer did indeed know what to do when faced with a rattlesnake bite, but in the heat of passion he got angry, and first spent a little time digging up the rattlesnake and bashing its head in. I can't say I blame him.
But then we get to my personal favorite part:
Obviously he probably meant "SUCKING out the poison", but probably didn't think about how wrong that sentence was going to look over 200 years later.
So let's pause a minute here, and ask: what IS rattlenake poison?
Most vipers (of which the rattlesnake is a type of pit viper) have a type of venom containing snake venom metalloproteinases (SVMPs). The '-ases' on the end denotes an enzyme, and they are "metallo" because they have a domain that is dependent on zinc. The exact mechanism for SVMPs actually still isn't known, but what IS known is that SVMPs immediately go in and start destroying your microvessels, creating vascular hemorrhage. This means that blood begins to leak out of your vessels, causing swelling, organ damage, and difficulties with blood clotting. The net result of this can be the loss of a limb, or death, but usually these days we get the antivenom in time and you're just left with a scar.
For this guy, however, there was no antivenom. He started out with extreme swelling, not in the bite site, but in his LIPS and TONGUE, which he had been using to suck out the poison. Obviously some of it got in.
This being 1747, they tried some stuff which obviously wasn't going to work. The first thing was a chicken, which they cut open, and laid flat still alive, over the guy's hand. He claims this sucked out some of the poison, because the chicken "immediately swelled, grew black, and stunk", but I'm not sure if that was due to poison from contact, or from the fact that they just cut open the chicken.
The man did keep his hand and arm elevated, trying to keep the poison from getting further. This may not have been a good move, nowadays it's recommended to keep the limb BELOW the level of the heart, to prevent the venom from circulating as much as possible. They also recommend keeping the heart rate low, but as the guy already hunted down a snake, bashed it's head in, and ran home, I think the jig is up there.
They then made a plaster out of Turmeric, and tied that on. As the night wore on, the author's hand felt cold and numb, and though the swelling had been low before...
This sounds pretty hideous, he clearly has a lot of edema, and ended up slitting his fingertips to relieve some of the pressure, and then slitting open the back of the hand near the bite. It sounds like he got a lot of pus out, either as a side effect of the bite itself, or possibly of infection. They then "tied the hand of fast' which means they applied a tourniquet, to prevent blood flow out from the hand and prevent spreading the poison to the rest of the body (probably they should have done this earlier...but oh well).
Finally, what appeared to work at drawing out the poison, was a poultice of ash-bark and vinegar. I'm not sure if this DID work, since after this, he released the tourniquet, and his entire side turned black, and he started spitting blood and developed a fever. His symptoms ended up lasting NINE DAYS, and his arm and side were not returned to normal for months. The blackness of the skin that he experienced was probably a result of the venom causing hemorrhage in the area, and it probably took a great deal of time before the necrotic tissue had been replaced by healthy tissue again.
Now, of course, we have antivenom, which is where you take VERY diluted venom from the snake (they milk snakes for this, which sounds TOO cool), and inject it into a horse, goat, or cat. The animal then fights off the mild infection of the venom and produces a mound of antibodies to fight the venom. These antibodies can then be extracted from the blood of the animal (by a small blood draw), and purified for use in treating snakebite. When you give antivenom, the antibodies bind up the venom so that it cannot exert its effects on the body.
But of course, even with antivenom, a rattlesnake bite is a medical emergency. So make sure to stay away from Rattle-fnakes. Also rattlesnakes, I hear they are dangerous, too.