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Austin Stevens - The Last Snake Man

Read another excerpt from 'The Last Snake Man'

Gazing down first at my swelling finger, oozing a bloody discharge from the fang puncture wound, and then into my, by now, somewhat frightened, pain-filled eyes, he suddenly, as if having made a decision, sprang to life and proceeded heroically to administer all the wrong treatment that was at the time available to men of his profession.

'My life was in far more danger of being terminated by motor accident than it ever was from the snakebite.'
Austin Stevens' finger after it was bitten by a Puff adder. From 'The Last Snake Man'. © Noir Publishing.
Grabbing for a nearby length of nylon cord, he wound it tightly around my bitten finger a few centimetres above the puncture, effectively cutting off all blood flow to and from the area. This, he had been taught, would prevent the venom from spreading further up the limb. Next, he snapped open an ampoule of serum, drew up the contents into a syringe and proceeded to plunge the needle repeatedly into my now enormously, and extremely painfully, swelling finger.

A half dozen times or more he did this, without removing the terrible nylon tourniquet and the injected serum collected and swelled my finger to the point of bursting like an over-inflated balloon until, finally, I screamed out loud with the agony of it!

Suddenly realising the reason for my distress, staff-sergeant Swart dropped the syringe and tugged hurriedly at the terrible, constricting nylon cord and, as it came undone, the rush of blood and serum up into my hand almost brought me to my knees in a further wave of agony. However, this was the relief needed though; unknown to staff-sergeant Swart, the damage was already done! I myself would at that time probably have treated snakebite with similar ignorance, as snakebite treatment then was a subject still undergoing much speculative research.
Austin Stevens stroking a King cobra. From 'The Last Snake Man'. © Noir Publishing.
'I myself would at that time probably have treated snakebite with similar ignorance.'

Staff-sergeant Swart had administered my treatment roughly as he had been taught, the theory behind the teaching being that to apply a tourniquet would restrict the flow of the venom and then, by injecting serum around the site of the bite, the isolated venom would be neutralised before having chance to be further distributed throughout the body. However, today we know that snake venoms consist of a complex combination of enzymes and protein fractions, so complex that scientists still have not been able to duplicate them artificially.

In the case of neurotoxic venoms (nerve effecting) most often present in African cobras and mambas, a tourniquet can be of some considerable help in retarding the spread of venom. However, such a tourniquet should be in the form of a wide crepe, or stretch bandage, wrapped firmly around and along the entire length of the bitten limb. In this way the blood flow is not restricted, but slowed, as is the possible flow of venom even along the lymphatics. A narrow cord tourniquet, tightly bound around a limb, greatly promotes the chances of resultant gangrenous effects. This is especially the case with a puff adder bite as the venom is largely cytotoxic (tissue destroying) and should not be isolated by a sharp, tightly bound tourniquet, as the isolated and concentrated cytotoxins will destroy tissue in the area, beyond repair, thus promoting gangrene.

Serum should not be injected close to the site of the bite, especially when such a bite is located on a small appendage such as a finger, and especially not in the case of adder bite, as the further punctures made by the needle allow easy access for the destructive venom fractions.
Austin Stevens - From 'The Last Snake Man'. © Noir Publishing.
At the same time, the restriction placed on the blood flow by the swelling of the limb caused by the venom is compounded by the swelling incurred by introduction of serum so close to the bite site. This, in itself, will promote the chances of gangrenous effects. Serum should be introduced only by an intravenous route, as snake venoms, for the greater part, are designed to spread quickly, making it impossible to isolate and neutralise them at the point of entry.

Standing back now, both Sarge and staff-sergeant Swart watched with big frightened eyes as I writhed in agony, clutching at my hand as I did so. The pain was terrible and my finger was already turning purple as the venom was making full use of all the advantages it had been afforded by the incorrect treatment procedures. Quickly, another ampule of serum was snapped open and the contents injected intramuscularly at the shoulder. There remained nothing else to do now but to lay me down as comfortably as possible and radio for a doctor.

And we took off like a dragster at the speedway, crashing right through the base entrance gate as we did so. In the back with me was Sarge and staff-sergeant Swart, clutching for their lives as the truck took to the sandy tracks at impossible speed. I think for the endurance of that ride, my life was in far more danger of being terminated by motor accident than it ever was from the snakebite!
'The Last Snake Man'. © Noir Publishing.
The Last Snake Man is available from leading booksellers or can be bought bought direct from Noir Publishing, RRP £19.99.

Only available in hardback, the book contains many fantastic photos as well as telling the story of how Austin came to be the world's leading Snake Man, from his early days in the army, through his record breaking stint in a snake pit (107 days) to his recent TV appearances, and fully explians his love and empathy for the snakes.

Click here to buy the book from Noir Publishing.