Dana Sanders grew up in Vicksburg, and his family still has a farm just to the south in Claiborne County. And, these days he’s lucky enough to spend most of his time in the outdoors as part of his job as a wetlands consultant along the coast.
So Sanders knows to be careful when in snake territory. But he learned Saturday, when he was bitten on the leg by a mature timber rattlesnake, that one careless moment can have painful consequences.
“It’s a cardinal rule when you’re traveling in the woods that you don’t put your foot where you can’t see,” the 47-year-old said. “I totally broke that rule; I let my guard down.”
Sanders remains hospitalized in Vicksburg today, receiving regular injections of antivenin to overcome the painful symptoms of that bite, which left his left leg swollen from his hip to his toes.
The ordeal began while Sanders and his father were working to clear a shooting lane for a deer-hunting stand on the Claiborne County farm.
“It was the last limb I was going to cut,” Sanders said. “My dad (who was in the stand) said, ‘If you could get that little limb there I would have a clear shot.’”
The younger Sanders was standing in some timber slash piled up on the edge of a food plot, and he took a step toward the offending branch — without having a clear view of the ground.
“I never heard him, never saw him,” Sanders said. “It was just a violent strike.”
After quickly jumping back into the food plot, the hunter pulled up his pant leg and saw two fang marks on his left leg just above the boot.
“The fang marks were over an inch apart,” Sanders said.
He immediately knew he had to determine what species of snake had struck — so Sander eased back to the pile of wood. A 5- to 6-foot-long timber rattler was curled up under some of the slash where Sanders had stepped.
“It was a mature snake,” Sanders said. “It was pushed up in that pile. It’s head looked to be 3 inches in width.
“I think he was cornered. He just did what Mother Nature designed him to do.”
Even after seeing the source of the bite, however, Sanders didn’t panic.
“I was surprisingly calm,” he said. “I knew if I did the right things I could get past this.”
Of course, he also knew he had to get to a hospital as quickly as possible, and his dad drove him to River Region Medical Center in Vicksburg, where he tested positive for venom.
That wasn’t a shocker to the hunter, who already was feeling the results of rattlesnake venom coursing through his veins.
“When I got to the hospital, my right leg was shaking and the pain was so severe,” Sanders said. “They gave me morphine, and it wasn’t touching (the pain).
“They game me Dilaudid, and I told them, ‘Don’t forget where you got that because I’ll be needing some more of it.’”
Blood was oozing from the bite, and it didn’t take long for his lower leg was swollen. The swelling grew worse, moving up his leg until it reached his hip.
Fortunately, by this morning, the swelling was slowing. And the Dilaudid was controlling the pain.
But treatments continue.
“They say it’s a three- to five-day process,” Sanders said. “Every four hours I’m receiving antivenin. Eventually the antivenin will take over.”
Most frustrating about the entire ordeal is that the bite was “totally preventable,” Sanders said.
“We all just take for granted: The chances of getting bitten by a snake are just so low,” he said. “I spend my career outdoors; I have snake leggings, and I wear them sometimes.”
He didn’t have them on Saturday. And, even worse, he moved without carefully inspecting the area.
And he really knows better.
“It’s that time of year, and (snakes are) going to be out,” Sanders said. “Most of the places we hunt in Mississippi — those oak ridges — are perfect habitat for rattlesnakes.
“Wherever the deer are going to be, that’s where rattlers will be.”
He said he hoped his story would convince others to be more cautious and snake-proof their lower legs while scouting for the upcoming season.
“If my story, if the pictures make one person put on snake boot boots or watch where they step, then it’s worth it,” Sanders said.