Kevin Weisgerber can count himself lucky.
An upper extremity venomous snake bite, as he would discover Sept. 15 when a copperhead bit into his left hand outside his Old Hollow home, can be far more serious than when a snake strikes a lower extremity.
As the Journal of Hand Surgery noted only last month, “Encounters with venomous snakes can lead to substantial morbidity or mortality if managed inappropriately.”
This includes copperheads.
“It struck in a fraction of second, less than a fraction of a second, lightning fast,” Weisgerber tells this newspaper of the Saturday night episode, blaming himself for getting bitten in the first place. After all, he’s been relocating copperheads that get too close to his house for 40 years and this was his first serious encounter.
Fortunately, Weisgerber’s son, Aron, owner-operator of Mountain Adventures of Virginia, happened to be 30 seconds from pulling his vehicle into his parents’ driveway when his dad got bitten.
“Luckily, I was able to apply a venom extractor suction device within a minute or so of it happening,” Aron wrote on social media. “I watched about a third of a thimble of clearish liquid get sucked out of his skin before the blood started coming out. I had my mom get him a chair so he could sit to keep his heart rate low and I called 911.”
Aron got his dad into the car, steering with one hand and continuing to apply suction to the wound with the other, and rendezvoused with Sperryville and Washington fire and rescue positioned on Route 211.
“His blood pressure went really high, sweating, he was dizzy and faint,” said Aron. “His arm, upper arm and armpit became really swollen with extreme pain.”
Eventually after reaching the hospital in Warrenton, Weisgerber was administered antivenom — close to two vials, he says. It was when his body broke out in hives that he was transferred to the intensive care unit.
“I think they helped,” he says of the vials. “I think that’s part of why I’m doing so good. But on the other side of it I think having the extractor [helped] — we witnessed some of the venom coming back out of the wound, so I feel that was initially a good thing.”
The timing of his son’s arrival at the house, not to mention his quick thinking and having in his possession a venom extraction kit, coupled with the rapid response of the county’s fire and rescue — volunteers praised more than once by both father and son — all contributed to Weisgerber’s speedy recovery.
“I spent the night in the ICU, and the next day [Sunday] my blood count came back together,” he says. “I was back on the job Tuesday — part-time. I slept most of Wednesday. And I’m going now to see Dr. McCue. They wanted me to have another doctor take a look at it.”
Like his son, who’s kept an anti-venom kit in his backpack for 18 years and never used it until now, Weisgerber recommends keeping an extractor or two close at hand, whether storing it in a house — where his wife has kept one handy on a shelf — or when entering the backcountry. There are many brands available, all very affordable (locally, Happy Camper Equipment Co. in Sperryville has additional anti-venom kits on order).
As for the copperheads, Weisgerber knows they’re not going anywhere, especially at this time of year.
“This is their time. Late August and September is when they crawl and they get active and they mate,” he points out. “Rattlers I tend to let go — they are usually traveling and typically they won’t stay. They’re usually by themselves, whereas the copperheads are usually paired up.”