It’s common to worry about a snake crossing your path while enjoying the outdoors in Colorado. Southeast Colorado has more than its fair share of snakes, including the venomous rattlesnake. Meeting a snake on the trail is not a huge cause for concern if you understand snake behavior and keep in mind a few safety tips.
1. Rattlesnakes would rather hide
Just as much as you don’t want to see a rattler, they don’t want to see you. They prefer to hide and simply ignore you. However, if you happen to surprise them they will coil up and rattle, letting you know you are too close and you should slowly back away.
2. Leave snakes alone
Some people show their fascination with snakes by trying to poke at them with a stick or grabbing them, and that’s when bites can happen. A common place to get bit is the hands, so avoid bites by leaving snakes alone.
3. Watch where you walk and reach
It’s a good idea to stick to a path rather than bushwhack. Rattlers like grassy areas, stream crossings and rocky outcroppings. Walk slowly and use a walking stick to explore the path ahead. Long pants and high boots help give protection. It’s also a good idea to skip listening to music so you can hear the sound of a rattlesnake’s warning rattle. If you are with kids, teach them about rattlesnakes and inform them not to flip rocks or reach into crevices.
4. If you are bitten, stay calm
The first action to take if you are bitten is to stay calm and immobilize yourself, or the person who received the bite. Take off anything that’s constricting the area like rings, watches, shoes and clothing. The new recommendations are to not apply a tourniquet or pressure dressing, skip ice and heat, and don’t use a commercially-available extrication device as you could cause local tissue damage. Don’t attempt to suck out the venom.
5. Keep the bitten area in a neutral position
It’s best to remain still and keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart. Your cell phone and car keys are your best defense against a snake bite. Get to the emergency department (ED) as quickly as possible, and if you can, call ahead to Prowers Medical Center and inform the ED nursing staff that you have been bitten by a rattlesnake. If you can, carry the person out or construct a makeshift stretcher to limit movement. The more the person moves, the more the poison will distribute around the body.
Every year Prowers Medical Center’s Emergency Department treats an average of one to four patients who have been bitten by a rattlesnake. Department nurses review the administration of the anti-venom Cro-Fab each spring to ensure they are up-to-date on any new recommendations. The pharmacy keeps plenty of Cro-Fab available. PMC’s emergency department is open 24/7, 365 days a year. The emergency team consists of physicians certified in Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS), and registered nurses who hold several certifications, including advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) along with BLS, PALS, TNCC, & ENPC. The ED at Prowers Medical Center is proud to serve the emergency needs of the community.