Whole Earth Winter 1997

Recently, a neighbor, bitten on the foot, went to the nearest Tucson hospital. You'd think that St. Mary's would know what to do. No doctor showed any real experience (were they reading Merck Manuals in the hall?) They tested her with a horse-serum-based anti-venom and she appeared tolerant until large doses were injected. Serum sickness erupted. (Eighty-five percent of people treated with horse serum are "hypersensitive.") They did nothing to prevent deep infection, despite our requests, and her foot became hugely edemic (the size of a football), staph boils endlessly leaking. Finally, we went to South Tucson, figuring that Mexican-Indio culture had been around rattlers long enough. The herbaria sported rattlesnake skins, prepared skeletons, rattles, and an incredibly knowledgeable pharmacist who sold us, for $18, a bag of hierba del manso (Anemopsis californica), a root collected in saline soils throughout Sonora. We ground the herb in a coffee grinder and boiled it in water to produce a hot bath for her foot. Twenty minutes of immersion immediately reduced the swelling and started a long (still painful) healing.

Dr. Andy Weit then told me about Dr. Ronald Guderian in Ecuador and outbackers in Australia using stun guns for snake bites (before stun guns, they used car battery jumping cables plus a screwdriver). He also found a study by Dr. Carl Osborn on treating brown recluse spider bites in Oklahoma with controlled shocks. Besides halting symptoms, the shock stopped pain within fifteen minutes to half an hour. The current may denature the proteins; some believe it unhinges the venom because the body is negatively charged and venom holds a postive charge. Best results for snake bites appear by jump-starting the bite within twenty minutes of evenomation, shocking with no less than 20,000 Volts (up to 45,000), low amperage DC current. The technique is highly controversial, with doctor debates galore. Dr. Jude McNally, Assistant Director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (an outstanding community service group) suggests that the "cures" following electrotherapy may be among the fifty percent of all rattlesnake biles not severe enough to require or warrant aggressive treatment. (Rattlesnakes, remarkably, can control the amount of venom they inject.) "If you put a dead chicken on the bite, you will get a living testimonial that dead-chicken treatment is followed by a rapid cure." The FDA has not approved this technique, any more than it has hierba del manso. Various articles warn: AC (from the house socket) can cause a heart attack! Never apply AC to your body! Be sure that the voltage is less than 45,000 per shock! Never have your friend leave the stun-gun going in one spot. Tetanus update and antibiotics are always prescribed.