Snakebite victim remains in ICU

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2002

Features Editor

Bob McLendon retired a month ago after serving 35 years with the sheriff’s department in Gainesville, Fla. In all those years, he had never faced a situation as dangerous and as potentially deadly as the one he found himself in Tuesday afternoon.

McLendon was busy on his farm in Henderson, clearing the clutter of old logs left by Hurricane Opal. The sun was beating down as he was cutting the logs into three-foot lengths to make for easy hauling.

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Perhaps, the loud buzzing of the chain saw drowned out the rattle. Perhaps, the snake didn’t rattle at all.

McLendon was cutting the last log when, like a blot of lightning, the 6-foot rattler struck.

"It came over the top of the log right at me," McLendon said. "It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to react. It struck, then it pulled back like it was going to strike again."

The snakes movements were instantaneous and McLendon was helpless against the pit viper. If the snake had struck again, he could not have moved in time to prevent being bitten a second time.

"But, it seemed like when the snake pulled back, it lost its balance and went over backwards on the logs,"

he said. "Then, it slithered away."

Having been in law enforcement, McLendon knew what to do. He knew time was the most important factor in saving his life and the telephone was only a short distance away.

After calling 911, he called a friend, Cheryl Michael, and she kept him on the phone, trying to keep him calm until the paramedics arrived.

In just over 30 minutes from the time he was bitten, McLendon was being treated at Edge Regional Medical Center.

"I thought I had been in pain before, but I have never experienced anything like the pain from a snake bite," he


One fang had penetrated deeply into McLendon’s right hand. The other, fortunately, had only grazed it. However, McLendon was in severe pain, the swelling was moving up his arm rapidly and his condition was serious.

"The doctors saw Bob was going to need more anti-venom than they had, so they started trying to find more anti-venom

for him," Michael said.

Jennifer Ventress, chief nursing officer at Edge, said there is a temporary nationwide shortage of anti-venom because the way it is produced is being changed.

"We started calling all the hospitals in the area, but it’s not easy to give up anti-venom when you have a limited supply," she said. "One Montgomery hospital only had one vial. One hospital had six and one had four."

Edge was able to obtain the additional vials they needed to meet the critical need from hospitals and Greenville and Ozark.

McLendon was unaware of the drama going on around him, but his family was.

"I knew snake bites could be serious, but I didn’t realize how serious until last night," said McLendon’s son, Gary. "He was in so much pain and the swelling was so bad. He was disoriented and it was scary."

McLendon said his concern for his dad was that he might have an allergic reaction to the anti venom and go into anaphylactic shock.

"The swelling had gone all the way up his arm and into his shoulders," McLendon said. "The doctors said if the swelling didn’t begin to go down, they would have to make an incision in his arm to release the fluid. We were really worried, but they didn’t have to do that."

By late afternoon, Wednesday, the swelling was beginning to go down, but the pain was still severe.

"It hurts real bad and it’s sore, but I’m feeling better," McLendon said. "But, I think I’ll be here for a while."

Gary McLendon said his dad will probably be in ICU until Friday and in the hospital at least until Monday.

"He’s not out of the woods

yet, but we feel better about him," he said. "We’ve learned a lot from this. Snakes can be deadly, so everyone needs to be especially careful any time they are in an area where snakes could be."

Editor’s note: Ventress said ERMC has replenished its supply of anti venom and is ready to meet the needs of its patients.