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- Oct 28, 2017
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What happens when you step on a tiger snake? What's it like when a crocodile mistakes your hand for lunch? In the second of a two-part series, Australians share some hair-raising brushes with the animal kingdom.
By Emma Young, Simone Fox Koob & Felicity Lewis
2 JANUARY 2019
Poppy Carson was bitten by a tiger snake.CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER
What happens when, during a sunny kindergarten outing, a tiger snake sinks a fang into a little girl's ankle? And what should you do if, heaven forbid, you find yourself at odds with one of these creatures?
The tiger snake bite
Poppy Carson was five and on a kindergarten bushwalk around Mount Martha, in Victoria, when she stood on a snake. Her mother, Erin, tells what happened next:
“It was the first warm day in October, the sun was out for the first time and there was a group walking along a path, with a teacher at either end.
“Poppy was wearing runners, socks and long pants, and she stood on the snake. It reared up and bit her on the right ankle. It wasn’t until she felt the bite that she even knew the snake was there. It got one fang in and thankfully – still to this day, I’m thankful – it didn’t get both fangs in or we wouldn’t have her.
"It looked like a pinprick. Within a minute, she was on the ground vomiting."
“She was bitten in between the bottom of her jeans and top of her runners, a tiny space. It looked like a pinprick. It was red all around. If you look at it, you wouldn’t notice but because it was red you could identify she was bitten by a snake. It was just minuscule. I envisioned pus and blood and all this stuff and it was nothing like that.
“Within a minute, she was on the ground vomiting. The venom took hold that fast. Thankfully, the kindy teachers, they saw a snake – they weren’t sure what type – but they knew to [apply a pressure bandage] and call the ambulance.
“Within probably eight to 10 minutes, the ambulance was on site, by which time she was severely distressed and vomiting. It took hold really, really quickly. She was taken to Frankston Hospital and within 20 minutes she had lost her eyesight, was unable to move her legs, and had lymph nodes the size of golf balls.
“She was highly, highly distressed, in extreme pain. She was still vomiting so when I arrived, I looked at her and she looked like she was going to die.
“As any parent can imagine, it was absolutely terrifying. Seeing my daughter lying lifeless in a hospital bed is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The adrenaline kicks in.
“She was given the antivenom for a brown and a tiger snake because they couldn’t identify what snake it was, so to be sure they gave her both. At this point, there was muscle breakdown from the venom and that caused her to not be able to move her legs.
Poppy with her mother, Erin Carson, who says, "Seeing my daughter lying lifeless in a hospital bed is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life."CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER
“She was then taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital – she was stable at this point, unconscious but stable – and given another lot of antivenom, so altogether four lots. She had two blood transfusions; they thought they were going to have to replace her kidneys. She was really, really unwell – really, really unwell. She was in hospital for four days.
“She waltzed out of there like she owned the shop. She had a little heart murmur: that happens when children go through trauma, the body compensates by over-beating the heart. That’s cleared up now so there are no other lasting effects other than memories. Now it’s like a badge of honour.
“Poppy still says that she nearly died. In regards to the pain, she doesn’t remember it, to be honest. But she remembers going in an ambulance and there has been a phobia of snakes, and of going back to where it happened.
“Interestingly, she had another school excursion to the same bushland not three weeks ago so, as a family, us returning really did feel like we were moving on. She was so petrified to go back but she was so brave. We only saw one snake and no one was injured or hurt. It’s taken time to get to the point of being able to talk about it without crying.”
"Interestingly, she had another school excursion to the same bushland not three weeks ago so, as a family, us returning really did feel like we were moving on. She was so petrified to go back but she was so brave. We only saw one snake and no one was injured or hurt. It’s taken time to get to the point of being able to talk about it without crying.”
Tiger snake venom affects the blood's ability to clot.CREDIT:ALAMY
Fast facts Tiger snake (Notechis scutatus)
What it is
One of Australia's most venomous snakes, named for their “tiger” bands, and found mainly in temperate areas including the south of WA.
How it hurts
The tiger’s venom affects the ability of blood to clot; causes muscle damage; can spread to the kidneys; can attack the nervous system, paralysing breathing.
Deaths and injuries
Some 17% of identified snakebite victims between 2005 and 2015 were from tiger snakes, with four deaths from 119 confirmed envenomations, according to the Australian Snakebite Project. Bites were mostly from brown snakes (41%) while red-bellied black snakes accounted for 16%.
What to do if bitten
• Lie very still.
• Apply a pressure bandage.
• Call 000.
• Poppy's mum, Erin, urges bushwalkers to wear long pants and gum boots or walking boots and to be vigilant about where they are stepping.