AUSTIN (KXAN) — “When you’re hiking in snake country, Chaco sandals, any type of sandals or flip-flops are not what you want to be wearing,” Jay Middleton said.
He learned that lesson the hard way while visiting Austin from Denver recently.
Middleton is just one of the 353 people bitten by snakes in Texas this year, according to the Texas Poison Center Network.
“We were supposed to do a bike ride that morning,” Middleton said.
He and his wife were hiking on July 31 in northwest Austin when he was bitten.
“I sort of look back to say something to my wife and I felt a sting on my foot,” Middleton said. “I turned to say something to my wife about it and she’s like, ‘Oh look, a snake.’ And I’m like, ‘I know. It’s a copperhead. It just bit me.'”
Snake sightings have been on the rise recently, likely a result of this summer’s wet weather, according to veterinarians. However, last year, there were significantly more bites. Texas Poison Center Network reported 520 bites in 2020.
“It’s always something to worry about in Central Texas, kind of from-spring-through-fall event,” said Kristen Hullum, St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center trauma injury prevention coordinator.
She says there are some steps you can take if you get bitten, but the most important one is to remain calm and call for an ambulance.
“We don’t want to get your heart rate up,” she said. “We don’t want to be moving and circulating your blood, because that just circulates the venom.”
According to Hullum, snake venom can cause serious damage to your kidneys and heart if it circulates through your blood. On top of that, the venom can break down the tissue around the bite. You could lose skin and muscle if enough venom gets injected. If you do get bitten, anti-venom, which is expensive, may be required to prevent damage to your organs.
“It’s kind of hard to say be calm when you’ve been bitten by a snake,” Middleton said. “But I’ve been practicing meditation this entire year, and my wife’s like, ‘You should try meditating.'”
Luckily for Middleton, the venom did not spread. First responders were able to reach him on the trail and take him to St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center for treatment.
The bite still caused serious damage.
“My entire foot looked like a giant sausage, like I couldn’t even get a finger between my toes,” Middleton said. “They were so, so swollen.”
He spent several weeks on crutches and is just starting to recover.
“Easily one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said. “I’ve been hit by a car on my bike. I’ve broken numerous bones … I thought I knew pain until I got bit by this snake.”
Despite the encounter, Middleton said he’ll return to Austin in the future.
“I love Austin, and it’s a beautiful city, and I’ll be back with the proper hiking shoes,” he said.