Diary Of A Rattlesnake Bite

It began as a trip to his Polk County hunting property to plant food plots. An encounter with a timber rattler changed a man’s life—and almost took it.

Daryl Kirby | November 1, 2012

Brian Hearn, of Calhoun, spent seven days in a Rome hospital and couldn’t work for 30 days after being bitten by a 4-foot timber rattler in Polk County. The dangerous bite was drastically more serious because Brian’s body rejected the antivenom.

He’ll be the first to tell you, he’d do lots different if he could only replay the events of Sept. 29, 2012, starting with leaving a rattlesnake well enough alone.

Brian Hearn was at his Polk County property planting food plots when an encounter with a 4-foot timber rattlesnake, also known as a canebrake, just about killed the 38-year-old Calhoun hunter.

“The moral here is the snake was doing nothing to me. It was defending itself from me trying to kill it. I should have left it alone and went on my way—lesson learned,” Brian posted that evening on GON’s web forum while he lay in the hospital. The forum posts from Brian as he struggled in the hospital, along with questions and comments from other forum members over the next several weeks, provides an intriguing diary of Brian’s painfully and nearly fatal ordeal.

The forum thread began the day of the snakebite with a message posted by a user named “nmorgan83” asking for prayers for his friend Brian, who’s user name on the forum is “gadestroyer74.”

Later that evening, at about 8:30 p.m., Brian was able to update his own condition from a hospital bed. Below is his initial post to the forum—it and others are edited for understandable typos as Brian dealt with severe pain and the affects of pain medications and for common forum abbreviations.

Brian wrote, “I was traveling across a food plot that we just planted. I was going to the next one when I saw a decent-sized snake, so I sped up to see it. Ran it over with the ATV. I got off to go around and went to stomp it with my foot (tennis shoes). I lost my balance and fell over to the side away from the snake. On the way down the snake struck me in the back of the calf on right leg. I knew instantly I had been bit. I quickly jumped up, grabbed a stick to dispose of the snake. The stick broke, so I got another and beat some more. It was a 4-foot timber rattler with five buttons. Thanks everyone for your thoughts and prayers!”

Brian said he’s never messed with a snake before.

“I’m scared of them,” he said.

Concern about two kids and an elderly man who were also working at the property that day might be what spurred him to kill the snake, he said.

“I made a poor judgement call. I was worried one of the kids or the old man would come across it,” Brian said.

At 2:26 a.m. the morning after the bite, he posted, “Sometimes you don’t think things through…”

Brian’s humble and honest responses to the good-natured ribbing he took on the forum for going after a rattlesnake by stomping it wearing tennis shoes is evident and appreciated by other members throughout the thread over the next month.

On Oct. 1, “bubbabuck” posted, “Holy Cow! Just read this Gadestroyer… brother I’m glad you are improving dude! Good grief man! I hate like mad you’re having to go through that nonsense… hope you make a full and quick recovery… lots of huntin’ coming up soon! Note to self do NOT leave a perfectly good 4-wheeler to stomp a mud hole in a rattler with tennis shoes on!”

Brian responded, “Thanks bubba! I surely am not gonna do that again, wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Yeah I made a bad decision getting off and trying to stomp that snake with my tennis shoes. Sure do appreciate you thinking about me brother…”

The forum posts by Brian also detail what the body goes through after a bite from a rattlesnake. One member asked how long after the bite it took for Brian to feel the effects of the venom?

He wrote, “The first thing I felt was like a bee sting. That was instant. Then I began to feel tingling throughout my body within 10 minutes, and there was this horrible taste in my mouth about the same time frame. At about the 15-minute mark, my muscles began to tense up and contract, and breathing became harder. At about the 20- to 25-minute mark my throat and tongue began to swell and breathing became difficult. All extremities where completely numb and tingling as if they where asleep by the 40-minute mark. I began to slip out of consciousness, and from what I am told I was stopping breathing.”

During the ambulance ride, Brian’s blood pressure dropped drastically and he actually stopped breathing twice. He was stabilized by EMT personnel and then further at the hospital, Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome. But as it turns out he was far from out of the woods.

The 4-foot rattlesnake that bit Brian Hearn. His lesson—leave the snakes alone.

“At Redmond they did not know how to treat me. They had to call Emory. They had never had anyone bitten by a rattlesnake,” Brian said. “I was swallowing my tongue, gasping for air. They had to sedate me.”

Later they began treatment with antivenom, but Brian’s body rejected it. He again began having serious difficulty breathing, and he also lost all feeling to his extremities. His body was left to fight the venom naturally—Brian’s white blood cells versus the venom of a pit viper. The toxicity of a timber rattlesnake’s venom is not usually as lethal as a diamondback and is generally less destructive to the soft tissues, but they can still kill a person if not treated quickly. The bite of a timber rattlesnake certainly requires immediate medical attention.

Three days after the bite, a post made by Brian illustrated the struggle he went though.

“Fellas y’all pray for me. The emotional part of this is really getting to me. Right now I’m confused and disoriented, so many things are changing, having hot flashes. Tried to get up and that didn’t go too well. I’m struggling today. Lord please help me get through these times,” he wrote.

Brian’s stay at the hospital lasted seven days, and he was confined to his house for weeks after being released.

“I was bitten Sept. 29 at 1:30 p.m. and wasn’t cleared to return to work full time until today,” Brian said on Oct. 22. “I’m doing good. This is my first day back at work today. It’s swelling a little bit today, and it’s a little bit red. I’m still a little bit sore in places, but not too bad.”

Brian said the entire ordeal has changed his life.

“It was purely up to the Good Lord. It was just a miracle. I’m blessed to be alive. Clearly I would do things differently, but it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. I never even thought about snakes before, but now I’m scared to walk in the dark.

“What helped save my life was things I read on the GON Forum. There were so many things I read over the years being on the site that contributed to not panicking,” Brian said.

He recommended people take advantage of the free website to learn from other folks, most of whom enjoy hunting and fishing.

“You get some nonsense, but the pure knowledge that I have gained from the site has been great. There are some great people. They do some great things for people in need, too. I’m really blessed to be on the site,” Brian said.

Brian summed up his ordeal with some great advice.

“I surely hope everyone that has read will remember this—no snake is worth your life to kill it. Be safe, and give snakes their space. If you have to, kill it from a distance, it’s not worth death.”

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