The strike seemed impossibly fast to Bill Ryan Tabb, as if a thick branch had snapped across his leg. Tabb took two steps after the strike, checked up, and felt an odd sensation wash over him – a searing pain that had no precedent. Turning about, he watched a snake wrap into 3’ of coil, head cocked up and mouth agape, holding its ground on the edge of a turnrow in burned down, withered grass. Black-gray body, thick mid-section, and blunt tale, Tabb immediately recognized it as a cottonmouth – and knew he was racing against time.
Tabb should have been planting soybeans or rice, but the skies had opened in the early hours of April 14, 2011, and dumped an unexpected 2” of rain across his Bolivar County farm in northwest Mississippi. In standard fashion, Tabb’s crew had met at his shop that morning and separated to get water off the fields. He loaded an ATV on a trailer and drove to check a report of a car stuck after rutting up a rebuilt turnrow – testament to the grinding surprises that often begin a day on the farm.
When he pulled up close to the damaged turnrow, Tabb left the four-wheeler hooked to the trailer and set off on foot – dressed in shorts and tennis shoes. On almost any other day, Tabb, 38 at the time of the bite, would have been riding the ATV and wearing boots. As Tabb walked the turnrow, a cottonmouth struck the inner ankle of his left leg.
Early March had seen burndown across Tabb’s acreage, and as he looked turned back, the black snake was clearly visible, coiled in brown grass, just along the turnrow’s edge. The heavy rains had likely pushed the cottonmouth out of a ditch and forced it to change ground.
“I left the snake coiled in the grass and just wanted to get help as fast as possible. The pain was building and it was pain I’d never felt before,” Tabb recalls. After a 20-minute drive to the hospital in Cleveland, the bite area was beginning to turn black. “I started getting faint as my blood pressure dropped. I really got nervous and recognized I could be in big trouble. The pain was incredible and it’s difficult to describe how bad my muscles ached.”
Due to high costs and limited shelf life, small hospitals often have limited anti-venom supplies. Tabb was given two vials of anti-venom in Cleveland and then moved to Jackson. After 18 total doses of anti-venom, the poison’s spread was stemmed, but he remained in the hospital for three days and took a full six months at home to fully recover….