MIRAMAR, Fla. – It’s part of living in South Florida, especially for those who live close to the Everglades.
Javier Ortiz was bitten by a cottonmouth snake while working in the front garden at his Miramar home.
“I came across a dead palm tree branch and removed it to get to the weeds underneath there and when I did that I felt like a pinch on my right hand, on the side of my right hand,” Ortiz said showing an area near his knuckle when the snake bit him.
Doctors from Memorial Healthcare System say they see at least 1 or 2 of these kinds of bites every year and advise that sooner you get treatment, the better.
“We built this house 21 years ago and I’ve never seen a snake ever so when I got bit the last thing on my mind was that it was poisonous. I thought it was no big deal,” Ortiz said.
It turns out, it was a big deal.
The cottonmouth snake, also known as a water moccasin, is venomous.
“I ended up thinking well maybe I’ll go to the urgent care and my wife said, ‘no, we’re going straight to the emergency room’ and thank goodness we did,” Ortiz said.
Dr. Randy Katz, associate district medical director of emergency services for Memorial Healthcare System, said Ortiz came into the emergency room at Memorial Hospital in Miramar with hand swelling and pain.
Katz said medical professionals had to work quickly.
“It slowly affects the local tissue where the snake bite occurred and then it spreads through the bloodstream affecting other parts of the body,” Katz said.
Ortiz said he and his wife looked to see if the snake was still in the same spot before they left. “So, she took a quick picture of it so we could show the hospital when we got there.”
If you can do that safely, Katz said that is the best thing to do. After looking at the photo, the medical team at Memorial called poison control to confirm what kind of snake bit Ortiz.
“The best thing you can do is take a picture, bring that picture with you to the hospital so we know whether or not to treat you with anti-venom,” Katz said.
When they confirmed it was a cottonmouth snake, they started Ortiz on an anti-venom treatment.
Ortiz said his hand was marked from the time he got into the emergency room and it continued every 30 minutes. “It appeared the swelling continued to grow even after the first anti-venom medication. My hand was still starting to grow and it was starting to get into my wrist.”
Within a few hours, the swelling began to subside. He said it took about 8 hours before the swelling stopped and almost two days for his hand to return to normal. He was kept in the hospital’s ICU for two nights until it was determined it was safe for him to go home.
Ortiz wants everyone to know to act quickly if it happens to them.
“If it wasn’t for my wife, I probably would have waited around and from what I’ve heard if you wait 2 or 3 hours before you start treating it, you have a great chance of losing limbs or even losing your life.”
Doctors say if you do get bitten by a snake, don’t try to suck out the venom, don’t apply a tourniquet, don’t apply ice, just go to a hospital, and the sooner the better.
“The longer you wait the higher likelihood of complications and potentially death,” Katz said.
And, if you can do it safely, get a picture of the snake, so it’ll be easier for doctors to figure out whether or not it’s poisonous.
“A lot of the snakes in South Florida live on the fringe of lakes and marshlands, places maybe in the summertime we’d be swimming, picnicking, that kind of thing,” Katz said.
→ Find out more about how to identify the cottonmouth snake and other venomous species found in South Florida by clicking here.