Robert Hughson: Coral snake bites Miramar man

A paramedic for 26 years, Robert Hughson thought he knew something about pain. But that was before he was bitten by a coral snake.

"I felt the most horrifying burn in my leg, and looked down and the snake was chewing on my foot," the 53-year-old Miramar resident said Sunday from his bed at Memorial Regional Hospital. "I almost died."

Hughson's close encounter with one the most deadly reptiles in the U.S. began Tuesday morning when he stepped outside his house in the 6400 block of Southwest 21st Street to investigate a loud clanging noise coming from his AC unit, he said.

But just as he diagnosed a fan blade hitting the housing, the snake latched on to his sandaled left foot right at the ankle, he said. Hughson said he shook the snake off, sending it flying into the grass, where it disappeared.

From his training as a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue paramedic, Hughson said he recognized the snake and the pain and immediately called 911.

Miramar Fire Rescue responded and also alerted Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom Response Bureau, which dispatched a helicopter and five vials of antivenin.

Hughson said help arrived within five minutes.

"In the emergency room, the pain started getting worse and worse," said Hughson, who retired on disability in 2002. "I was losing sensation in my foot and my tongue swelled."

He said doctors intubated him and hooked him to a ventilator.

But as his vital signs plummeted, doctors realized that for Hughson — who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 330 pounds — five vials was not enough. The chopper went back to Miami for five more vials.

Even now, said Hughson, "my tongue feels heavy and when I stand and try to walk the pain inside my leg and foot is excruciating."

Still, he said he could be discharged in the next day or two.

"There is a tremendous amount of pain in these bites," said Heidi Cohen, a Memorial Regional emergency room physician who has treated several coral snake bite victims. "These animals are extremely dangerous and toxic. Avoid them."

Griselle Marino, spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, said about 100 coral snake bites a year are reported in the U.S., with 70 coming in Florida.

The critters are also more active after a lot of rain, she said.

Marino's advice: wear shoes, even when taking out the garbage.

Hughson's advice: "Be careful. These snakes are everywhere. I will never go in my backyard again. And I am getting rid of all my flip-flops."

 

Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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