The rain had made the water in the dog's bucket murky with pollen from the shade trees overhead. I really should dump that out and refill it, I thought. I carefully reached out and pulled the top edge of the pail forward, releasing its contents onto his deck. He had a deck all his own within his pen, great for sunning himself and staying up out of the grass and away from pests.
Suddenly I jerked my hand away. Something on the bottom of the bucket must have been very sharp, because I had felt a quick stabbing pain. I turned the bucket back over and examined it. I could see nothing that would have punctured my thumb, yet blood was beginning to trickle in a big red line down my hand.
I stepped back. Only then did I see a long brown patched tail sliding and gliding away into the saplings on the other side of the dog's fence.
Lightheaded and dizzy from shock, I fled up the stairs into the house and called 911. From some of the tales my acquaintances had related, I was in big trouble. Supposedly the local hospital did not stock anti-venom and I was in for a $50,000 helicopter ride to one that did.
The firemen arrived before the ambulance did. They all stood around and asked me to repeat my story several times.
"Are you sure it wasn't a lizard?" one of them said.
No, I thought. I'm just a panicky person who is afraid of lizards and goes around calling 911 for no reason. But outwardly I just said, "I'm sure." I had seen lots of copperheads before. I knew what they looked like and knew to avoid them whenever I saw them.
The EMT was none too sympathetic, either. He said very little. I felt as if I were committing some kind of crime against them to have asked for help.
"Did I do the right thing?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he said in a tone that sounded like he meant the opposite.
At the hospital I had to repeat the story several more times to several more people. One of the ladies who worked there seemed to relate, and told me a story about a friend of hers who gardened, who was bitten on the same arm in the same flower bed two years in a row.
The doctor found the puncture wound amid the swelling and said they would observe me for a while before determining how to treat me. This was all new to me and I didn't know what to think. I was beginning to develop a migraine from having my system flooded with stress and adrenalin. The doctor said I should eat something or watch a movie and just chill out for a while. I smiled insincerely and did not tell him that I was too nauseated to eat anything.
I ended up sitting on a hospital bed for four hours. No meds were needed. They did a blood test and determined that I would be okay without the anti-venom. And I found out that, contrary to what I'd heard, they did keep it on hand locally. However, it was better not to use it unless absolutely necessary, according to the doctor, because it had some rather unpleasant side effects.
So I went home that night with a band aid on my thumb and a new knowledge of snakebite procedure. The wound was very sore for the next week and I had lost quite a bit of blood before I ever got to the hospital, but aside from that I was okay. At least physically. I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach whenever I go to give the dog's water bucket a fresh refill.
Copperheads love water. What I didn't know before is that they are actually genetic cousins to water moccasins. They like to come out after the rain on a warm day, and they like to linger near any collected pools, including pails. While moccasins will show you their white mouth to warn you before they bite, copperheads are apt to bite quickly with little to no provocation.
So to my readers, enjoy the outdoors but keep both eyes open, especially after a storm has passed.