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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Twice Bitten, Once Shy -- A Snake in the Grass

The Story of a Dilemma: "What Kind Is It?"

Tim Jones was working in his rural Scioto County backyard clearing weeds from a fence line. He was picking the undesirable foliage with his bare hands, as had been his custom for many years, and depositing it in a wheelbarrow. He spotted some movement on the ground near the fence. It startled him a little, but he just assumed the slight disturbance was a lizard or perhaps even a box turtle, nothing much to worry about.

Tim continued to pull the weeds towards the direction of the movement and suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his right hand as if he had been hit by a nail gun. He looked at his feet and was shocked to see a fat body of a distinctly marked snake poised and ready to strike again. Before Tim could move, the snake sprang and bit him again in the lower leg. He screamed, "Oh no, this thing is biting me!"

Terrified, Tim immediately thought "copperhead" and knew his bite world require a trip to the hospital. He backed away from the fence, out of reach of the snake. He walked back to his house as calmly as possible. By that time Tim's encounter had caught the attention of his next door neighbors and his wife Sue. In just a matter of minutes the wounds became sore and his body started throbbing.

After discovering Tim had been bitten by a snake, Bob, Tim's neighbor, ran to the fence line to retrieve the snake in order that doctors might make a proper identification. Bob saw the wheelbarrow and the place where Tim had been weeding, and he caught a quick glimpse of the serpent racing away. Tim tried to catch the snake but it had gone into thick underbrush. He looked and looked again, but the snake was nowhere in sight. He gave up his retrieval and rushed back to Tim's house.

By this time Tim had calmed down somewhat. "Tim," said Bob confidently, "you don't have to worry. I saw the snake speeding away, and I am confident it was just a northern water snake." Bob had always been a nature lover, and he was an accomplished outdoors man as well. Tim felt pretty sure that Bob knew his business. Bob continued, "It's a big boy. I saw it but I couldn't catch it. Those bites hurt like hell, but you are going to be fine. That snake won't do you any real harm."

But, Sue, still terribly upset, began searching the Net for photos of the snake. With the help of Bob and her husband, Sue narrowed her search down to these two snakes: (1) a venomous copperhead, and (2) a non-venomous northern water snake.

(1) Copperhead

(2) Northern Water Snake

After studying the two photos and discussing what both Tim and Bob had identified as distinguishing markers, Tim and Sue were not so sure that Bob could say with absolute certainty which serpent had inflicted the bites.. Realizing their only good decision was to rush Tim to the hospital, Sue called ahead on her cellphone. Tim, by now pretty sick with shock, and Sue hurried to the car and raced toward Hilltown Hospital in order that Tim might be given a thorough examination and diagnosis.

A Letter To the Editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times

Here is a portion of a letter to the editor of the Times written by Russell Robinson, formerly of Portsmouth and now living in Columbus.

"I work with troubled youth in Columbus and I would love to one day come home and promote positive change and give young people coping tools as well as tools to deal with anger and decision-making.

"The do-good people of Portsmouth are in my opinion way too passive and accepting to southern Ohio drug culture and addiction. Portsmouth has gained notoriety for being the pain pill-abusing capital of America and has had television programs featuring the drug epidemic in southern Ohio. But what good are all of the labels and attention if nothing is done about the problem at the core of all of this? When will we carve out a safe place in southern Ohio for our kids to grow and be all that they can be? My brother is a single father and has had my nephew living with him in Portsmouth, a place where at one time was considered a safe place to live. Now there are no jobs, no aspirations or hope for success from our youth unless they find a way out of Portsmouth. It should not be this way, the world is getting smaller and Portsmouth is drifting further away from reaping the fruit from worldly prosperity and continues to fall deeper into the dark hole of the drug town collapse."

The Allegory

Scioto County has been bitten by a dangerous serpent. To identify the particular species of the snake that had struck the area and the extent of the injury it had caused, many professionals had to research carefully and painstakingly evaluate all of the circumstances.

Since the snake was at large and skilled in the arts of deception but potentially deadly to many, these "do-good" people had to act swiftly before the large reptile could strike again and again without warning. They had to be thorough and particular in identifying the variety of the snake, be sure of the contents of any potential venom, plan a method of helping those suffering snakebites, and organize a mass movement to prevent the serpent from harming any innocent victims. Daunting work indeed.

Yet, to many in the public sector, the harm done was unfortunate but tolerable under the conditions. Most people believed the damage could be healed with some local attention, and there was no reason for great alarm. Anyway, to these folks, those who didn't want to be bitten should protect themselves and their loved ones by staying away from "snaky" places and devilish reptiles. These people rationalized their view with this thought process: "The bitten had brought the pain upon themselves."

And, some of the residents were sure the "do good" people were just "out to get" any harmless snakes with similar markings. These folks trusted that the problem would soon go away. It always had before. They thought, "Why restrict a venomous serpent anyway?"

Soon, the professionals did their measurements, read their papers, and thoroughly investigated their problem. They found that the serpent was a monster -- a gigantic, poisonous snake of the deadliest variety. They realized that in view of the circumstances they had to issue an emergency health epidemic. The monster had gone unchecked for so long that it was now fearless of the public and was engaged in activities that drained the lifeblood of the county.

To draw attention to this ever-spreading danger and to expose the truth, the "do good" people organized a campaign that included health professionals, lawmakers, enforcement professionals, and the media. The truth was sensational and bloody -- it drew the scrutiny of the entire country. The truth left some bitter tastes in the mouths of those in the area because the news was grim. They believed that the media was painting the county as the worst hell on earth. But, the campaign to expose the monstrous snake had to be carried forth.

After exposure, the epidemic drew not only attention but also help. Others in the state and the nation had witnessed similar threats in their counties. The governor, the attorney general, the house of representatives, the senate, regional commissions, higher level educational institutions, various branches of law enforcement, clinics and rehabilitation facilities, local judges and attorneys, special interest groups, churches, private citizens, young children -- all began working together to stop the deadly work of the snake. 

Slowly, step by step, Scioto County is closing in on the ravenous beast, the deceitful supplier of deadly venom.

 Sorry For the Drama

I am saying when your loved one has the distinguishing marks of a snakebite, don't take chances. You may not be able to identify the cause of the wounds, but don't assume a well-intentioned friend knows the extent of danger from a quick evaluation. To be proactive is to be safe. No one wants a human to suffer permanent damage or die needlessly. In such cases, to err on the side of safety is essential.

Drugs, especially rx drugs, may appear relatively safe to many people. When prescribed and used correctly, most are beneficial. However, some prescriptions that look like a harmless water snakes may be poisonous copperheads. A person who finds himself "bitten" by the venomous copperhead should seek immediate treatment. One bite could prove fatal. No one in their right mind should stake his life upon speculation.

Mr. Robinson, I agree with much you say in your letter to the editor. But, I strongly disagree with your statement that follows: "The do-good people of Portsmouth are in my opinion way too passive and accepting to southern Ohio drug culture and addiction."

Many of us here are not willing to accept another person's interpretation of a water snake or a copperhead, much less their view of a minor problem or a health epidemic. We are working day and night to relieve this "drug culture and addiction." We know the tough battles we face with the deep ties of drugs within our communities. We have done our "homework" and continue to educate our public with true conviction. Please understand, Mr. Robinson, everyone has to help effect a major change.

Mr. Robinson, I hope you do "one day come home and promote positive change and give young people coping tools as well as tools to deal with anger and decision-making." We can put you right to work, and, in turn, you can help change your old community.

We have a deadly beast here in Scioto County, but many of us have dedicated ourselves to learning how to defeat it. This serpent has taken some very hard blows in the past two years. Make no mistake, it is marginally crippled, but it still breathes strongly and boldly preys upon our children. With the work and dedication of each new person, we will corner it sooner instead of later. Believe in the power of the individual human will as it, with God's help, collectively moves forward.

As far as a timetable for new jobs, a new general attitude, and a new respect, I cannot even give you a relatively close ETA. Even if it takes lifetimes to accomplish the good work, the work must be done. Welcome home soon and join the "do good" people ASAP. We need your help.

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