Please, folks, be very, very careful about any advice given by non-medical professionals about how to treat rattlesnake bites. Everything you learned in boy scout/girl scout first aid training is up for re-examination. Some of the things that were recommended a couple of decades ago can actually kill people. If you haven't had recent training, brush up!
Because I myself do not know the most up-to-date standards of emergency care for snake bites, I googled it. Several good sites popped up, with what looked like authoritative information. here are some contradictions among them but there are a few points that stand out. Bottom line: get the person to qualified medical treatment immediately!
- DO keep the person calm, and immobilize the limb as much as possible. You don't want adrenaline or movement to increase the heart rate and blood pressure, thus pushing the venom through the body faster than it is already going.
- DO keep the affected limb below heart level.
- DO get the person to the hospital immediately. Avoid any situation that causes delay. In the case of a gathering, EMS should be called. While a gathering evacuation vehicle can get the person out and down the road, transfer ASAP to a fully equipped ambulance with trained personnel is the ideal.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet. Tourniquets should always be the LAST LINE OF DEFENSE in an otherwise imminently lethal situation, as the person will very likely lose the limb below the tourniquets due to lack of circulation. When a tourniquet absolutely MUST be used, do not loosen it intermittently. Doing so can cause a lethal drop in blood pressure. Also, when a tourniquet is loosened, it allows a massive influx of venom to the system that may stop the heart. Now, if you are bitten by a snake with a neurotoxin that kills within seconds or minutes, or if you just amputated your foot with your weed-whacker and are fifty miles from the nearest hospital, by all means try the tourniquet--what have you got to lose? But in a gathering situation? Probably not. If you are the first person to respond, get qualified medical folks to come to the scene to make these decisions
- DO NOT apply electric shock. This is an unproven treatment. http://www.docsdetecting.com/docsplace/aoi/snakbite.html
- DO NOT cut open the skin on or near the bite to suction out the venom. Snake bite victims often lose limbs to secondary infections, and this is a good way to make sure they get one.
- DO NOT apply cold or ice to the area.
- DO NOT provide the victim with alcohol.
- Some sources say to wash the wound with soap and water. others say not to
- Some sources say that a wide compression bandage above the wound can slow the venom. Such a bandage should go all the way around the wound, and should be loose enough to slip one finger under. Other sources say that there is no evidence for effectiveness--but there is no evidence that it harms
- While there are indigenous healers in other parts of the world who do use botanical treatments that actually work against the various harms of snake bite--including anti-inflammatory, coagulant, detoxification, and neutralization properties--those alternative treatments are not available in this country, and in any case need to be further researched before any recommendation could be made that they be considered as an alternative to standard anti-venom treatment. Click here for reference.
- There are many people at gatherings who claim to be "healers" who have no training other than the books they have read, and no qualifications other than huge egos. There are also many very gifted practitioners who provide excellent emergency, first aid, and alternative treatments to gatherers in need of medical assistance. If you are bitten by a snake, ill, or injured, please use common sense when trusting your health and well-being to someone you don't know. It's okay to be skeptical, to want a second opinion, to ask what others know of someone's knowledge and skill level, and to request assistance with getting medical care in town.
- Be assertive about your needs, your likes/dislikes, preferences, need for privacy/modesty, and respect for your wishes about what is done to your body. If you don't feel skilled enough in being assertive, make sure a friend accompanies you to any consultation about your health. This is true in both a gathering situation, and in a mainstream medical situation.
- If anyone touches you during any massage, medical examination or treatment in a way that is inappropriate/coercive/assaultive SPEAK UP!! It is never okay for someone to manipulate, coerce, trick, or force another person into unwanted physical contact. Neither the mainstream medical profession nor the alternative healing communities want predators in their midst.