Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

February 28th 2011
The good story that bit me

Where the story bit In writing this particular tale I can prove to all a new qualification: that of knowing a good story when it bit me. Having spent the last twenty years on Magnetic Island I have successfully avoided this specific credential but on Thursday afternoon, whilst, stepping out of a shed, where we live at Bolger Bay, your correspondent felt a sharp tap on the toe and turned to stare death in the eye, well, a death adder at least.

We’d been busy tidying up and I’m still in the mood for blaming the whole affair on the very poor quality of the thongs I’d purchased just the week before. The straps that meet between the toe just plain broke off. Removing the offending flippers I continued to work naked from the ankle down. Then for perhaps the 10th or 20th time that day I stepped outside and over a fat, little, orange and brown crocheted, toxic sock.

Death adders are fast disappearing in Australia but not on Magnetic, where, their very laid-back attitude is appreciated. But even in Magnetic’s outback, away from the bright lights of Nelly Bay, after the umpteenth near-treading-on by a large primate, our adder had simply had enough.

Let’s be clear. It didn’t really hurt that much. But, toxic socks aside, it was a shock. A moment I’d thought about many a time in the bush and as I heard myself call out “Pen! I’ve been bitten by a death adder!”, a flush of adrenalin-laced excitement hit - making me worry that the venom was getting a big free wave to surge on through my body.

Pen came running and the look of fear on her face triggered a useful counter-reaction in of jokey blokey passivity in me. I ripped my dirty work shirt to make a bandage, I saw blood on my finger where I’d momentarily held my toe - tied a quick granny knot around it and then she was handing me my mobile. Here we go I thought. Here’s me with a real snake bite and I’m dialling 000. All so strangely unreal and super real at the same time. Pen had vanished but I was busy explaining to the emergency girl - who might have been in Mumbai for all I knew - that I was on Magnetic Island and that we will have to drive out in the 4WD because there’s still a tree down over the road since the cyclone (come on TCC) and we will meet the ambo along the road and blah, blah and yep we will put the emergency indicator thingy on too.

But Pen was not idle. She’d bolted to another shed and returned with a proper bandage which she applied with perfect pressure to the offending foot.

She hates driving and I hate being a passenger but off we went through the many small lakes which become semi-permanent features of much of Sunglow Avenue and the West Point track during the wet.

We joke that Pen’s vivid creative view of the world leads her to seeing things when driving which sometimes ain’t what they seem. The old dictum - which I try to uphold: “I brake for snakes” can become, when Pen is at the wheel, “I stop for sticks”. But this time whole upper branches of Yasi-fallen trees snapped, crackled and popped as she ploughed her way through every milky tea coloured slush hole, fearfully and repeatedly asking me, “How do you feel now?”

I felt fine. My foot however was feeling a bit weird.

We met the ambulance near Ned Lees Creek and soon I was in the care of chirpy ambo Kerry Dillon who added considerably to my mummification with a pressure bandage up to my thigh and then a splint for good measure. With a list of questions I was to become expert in answering through the rest of the night, Kerry had me sorted and soon we were away but, being tall and a bit cramped by the space, I wondered why my current bed was called a stretcher.

With a pick-up attached to my heart I watched Magnetic’s familiar but cyclone-denuded sights recede through the rear window while my personal percussion played back through the cabin’s sound system. I’ve been told my heart has a rather odd rhythm. Now I know for sure. It’s unusually slow but with an off-beat every now and then. Medical types all assume I must be an athlete and I hate to let them down but there’s no more compelling listening to be had than in waiting to make sure there’s another “beep” coming.

Kerry stopped briefly at the Island clinic where apparently I’d rated a triage category 2, which, out of 5, are rated in reverse levels of seriousness to that of cyclones and this mean’t a certain trip to Townsville Hospital.

The ferry was waiting and new ambos, Brendan and John appeared to escort me and another poor soul across the bay. “Are you seeing double? Can I see your teeth? Do you have a headache? Nausea? Bruising? .... Brendan, wanted to know all. Pen had arrived with supplies and we rolled past legendary ferry deckie Tony Wilson who wondered why I’d been disturbing the wildlife.

Brendan with his patient

Immediately on board Brendan had a cannula into my wrist - better now than out on the bouncy bay. Again came the questions, “Fine, yep, no problems, just a sore foot” I answered.

Arriving in Townsville another ambulance was ready and waiting. My new ambos were Selina and Phil. The questions were repeated and so were my answers. Their manner was totally professional and reassuring but a macabre vision interrupted. Two Teddy bears hung from above. Their knitted heads stuck through the hand rail and their little cross-shaped eyes fixed in a deathly stare. I looked instead through the “000” sign, read “emergency” backwards and listened again for my next “beep”.

Spending time with people whose life’s work is to save and preserve lives, is in itself, a benefit. And while such positivity is clearly infectious I doubted that it alone was the reason I was still feeling so chipper.

There is something both absurd and wonderful that so many resources are made available at no charge for situations like this. I quietly dipped me lid to former Townsville State Parliamentarian Mike Reynolds, who, as Emergency Services Minister pushed through the ambulance levy to make sure all trips in Queensland such as mine remained free to the public.

Next I was entering hospital via its bowels and while the decor was industrial the attention was first class. I gathered it was a quiet night in Accident and Emergency. Nobody was racing to save anybody but there was a poor chap bruised and bloodied opposite who emitted a crow-like “Arrrg” every couple of minutes while another bloke seemed to be getting angry with his thongs. I knew how he felt. Thongs can let you down.

This was all too easy I thought. I know my snakes. It was a death adder without doubt and yet I was still absolutely fine an hour later.

Nurse Dave, who came to take my blood, wouldn’t have his photo taken so I threatened to describe him instead. His burly presence was however a front for a very thoughtful and funny fellow. A Marx Bros fan who claimed I just had “man flu” described himself as, “a Mongo nurse” - remember Mongo who punches out the horse in “Blazing Saddles”. Dave did the Q & A as well as any: the numbness, the nausea, the chest pain, the head ache and “show me your teeth” (that’s to check my gums aren’t bleeding), were all passed as usual. I just had a sore foot. So we waited while the heart rate machine kept alarming that my beat was too slow and the auto blood-pressure constrictor squeezed my arm at intervals reminding me of its bush cousin who’d caused my hospital visit. Meanwhile I overheard one, non-herpetologically-versed nurse, tell another, “This patient was bitten by a black adder!”

Dr Sara Crooksley explains my situation

Soon I was to meet Dr Sara Cooksley who told me that until the blood tests were back I’d stay in the splint. She also explained that, with snake bites, the Doctors will pay more attention to what the blood tests say than anything I, as a patient, might have to contribute. We patients were unreliable as the blood may well be doing strange things before a patient knew about it. One possibility was that my blood could stop coagulating (clogging up). This didn’t seem too bad to me as I didn’t have any wounds apart from the cannula and the adders own little fang holes. Surely the hospital could fix them. But Dr Sara explained that all through the body there will be continuing tiny ruptures I wouldn’t know about because the blood is continually patching them up by coagulation and that, without it, I could start leaking all over my ship.

Eventually the blood tests came back and all was fine. Now was the time to release the splint and pressure bandage and see what would happen. If there was any venom in that bite now would be its chance to have a good go at my vitals but all under the watchful eye of Dr Sara.

Off come the bandages

Off came the bandage and the quiz was repeated. Nothing, zilch and all’s fine and even better my foot was feeling all the better now released from its hours in bondage. But Dr Sara wasn’t totally convinced. Things could still happen and I’d need to be observed for another 6 hours at least. No going back to Maggie tonight!

So that night we were placed in a special over-night room and poor Pen made do with a business-class chair while I snoozed comfortably except for the quiz at 2am. At 6am the final blood test was taken and this convinced the very thorough experts that I had, in nurse Dave’s words, “Dodged a bullet!”

I was as lucky as I was impressed at my treatment by the many professionals all along the way that day. And, if this tale helps show that some bits of Queensland Health actually work well - very well in fact - then it should be acknowledged. This lucky patient is certainly grateful.

Peek-a-boo adder

The little toxic sock what bit me

Postscript: The following day I returned to the shed and the laid-back little toxic sock had moved about half a metre and was quietly waiting for me under the leaves. This time I was ready with my trusty adder wire and he/she was quickly into a bucket for a nice long walk and release.

Story: George Hirst
Photos: Pen Sheridan & George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

The good story that bit me
David Donohue
February 27th 2011
good on you George - great yarn and a good outcome all around. Loved "toxic sock"
Calvin Dodd
February 27th 2011
Glad you're still with us George, and didn't suffer much. Sounds like the adder just gave you a warning bite without injecting it's valuble venom. He probably considers you a mate whom needs to be reminded of the safe work wear requirements on MI
February 27th 2011
Good story George. The more we learn about the snakes that live on the island the better for all. Sadly they are much feared and maligned by many people. Once on the forts walk I found a Spotted Python (non venomous) that someone had stomped on, obviously an unthinking reaction.

Luckily the Death Adder is the only Elapid (venomous) snake on the island with the potential to kill humans- there are no Taipans or Brown Snakes here as far as we know.

Snakes need to kill their prey in order to swallow it whole. Venomous snakes (Elapids and Colubrids) don't always deliver a full dose of venom when alarmed- the "fright bite" which is saying "leave me alone!".

Good on you for knowing the correct first aid, being to constrict and immobilize. Gone are the days of cut, suck and tourniquet as I learned in my Boy Scout days way back when.

Snakes are amazing animals that share our beautiful island. I implore everyone to learn all about our wildlife as you will know the dangers and how to deal with them, and you will also be totally amazed.
February 27th 2011
Obviously the Death Adder put 2 and 2 together,and decided your ecological footprint was a threat.
Barb Gibbs
February 27th 2011
Great story George! What a lucky day...shoulda bought yourself a lotto ticket I reckon.(:
Had you not been the calm., collected guy you are, it may have been worse, even without venom...just the anxiety and heart problems. From now on you are Lucky George, by George. What a tale indeed(:
February 27th 2011
Great to hear you came through unscathed, George. How lucky for you that Pen was there - it would have been a more serious outcome otherwise!
My family say I'm over-cautious, but I think a compression bandage in your pocket whilst out working in the yard is a good idea - and a life jacket in the bath,too. (Just joking!)
Seriously, you are a most entertaining writer, and we need more tales of your Magnetic life.
February 27th 2011
some people will do anything for a story, eh... :)
good story though... maybe he was a life adder... wellness adder, perhaps... false alarm adder..? free trip to the mainland adder...
Vicki & Chris
February 27th 2011
Hi George & Penny, were very lucky!
Strangely enough 2 months after coming here to live, I was bitten by a snake, in the dark. I had no idea what type of snake but it felt as though I had rose cuttings or brambles attack my ankles. I also spent time with fantastic medical professionals both at our clinic and in Townsville. Very pleased you are OK.
February 27th 2011
So glad you lived to tell the tale, George.
Helene Rankin
February 27th 2011
Glad to read your story & find the happy ending! I walk the bush every day & have been fortunate to just have close encounters with tree snakes. Recently my mum needed to have an emergency trip to TGH and we also experienced the kindness and professional excellence of the island clinic, ambo's and emergency staff at TGH.
Good on you George!
February 28th 2011
Such a great story of your encounter with the sock, so glad you are ok and very impressed that you didn't bludgeon the sock to death as a lot of people would have done. Sounds like you care about the beautiful environment on Maggie. Hope you have some boots now though! Cath
February 28th 2011
Hi George, glad to hear you're ok. (loved the story, too)
February 28th 2011
would you believe straight after reading this and writing my little reply I had a callout from one of the people here at Jaspers to remove a snake from a room... turned out to be a green tree snake.. so there I was playing with it and showing to around and saying how they never bite when, right on cue, it latched onto my ear!
mmmmm... oh well, they ALMOST never bite!... but syncronicity or what?
February 28th 2011
Dearest George,
We are all so glad that you lived to "tell the tale" As quoted above,good for us all to be reminded of the right medical management. Bless Pen for her loving and professional care. I don't think I would be strong enough to live on the island. Just too much excitement.
Hope to talk to you soon.
With much love
Your sister
February 28th 2011
Great story, wonderfully told. I nearly picked up a "dishcloth" one day and at the last moment saw it was an adder. The snake removalist breezily told me that there would be dozens of them within a 10 metre radius of the house so I started wearing my glasses outdoors.
Keep up the great work and stay safe,

February 28th 2011
great story, and now I know what to expect come the day I tread on one :)

glad you survived so easily :)
February 28th 2011
Phew! Surely one of your nine lives is gone now Geo. p'rbly for Pen too. Dunno who to thank, but I'm very glad you had at least one spare.
February 28th 2011
The lengths people go to for a story! Great news you're OK and were looked after so well :)
Pat Coleman
March 1st 2011
Glad you still kikcing George, but I think I have a theory as to why it actually bit you. It must have been a serpent with a foot fetish that was thoroughly insulted by your totally ugly feet.
March 1st 2011
Fantastic story. Very pleased to hear that you're okay. I wonder if you might do an article reminding folk of the correct proceedure to take for snake bite? You might even do another on basic CPR. It's amazing how many people don't know the basics of either.
April 18th 2011
adder boy george, news of your near demise only reached me the other day at mullum market via gavin
boots only in the yard please.

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