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Rattled by a rattler


It's hard to forget your first rattlesnake bite-my intern certainly hasn't.

It seems as if every plant in western Texas has a thorn and every animal has a sting. Dry, dusty environments require tough creatures to survive. I have spent my entire life here, so I just assumed everyplace was just like it. Not so. People come here from far away places, and when they do, they remind me that the rest of the world is much different than my little part.

Dr. Emily is our new intern. She is a feisty, hard-working country girl who moved to western Texas from the central valley of California. This doctor works like a sled dog, and at first, she seemed to be afraid of nothing. But then, about a week into her internship, she saw her first rattlesnake bite.

The horse came in miserable-looking like they all do. Its head was so swollen it could barely breathe. Its eyes were gooey and its skin was splitting. Dr. Emily spent a long time looking at this poor critter and commented on how awful it must be to get bit by one of those slithering varmints. I could see her brain calculating what one of those bites would do to a 100-pound intern if it did that much damage to a 1,200-pound horse. She nursed that horse through the incident and made many comments on how sorry she felt for it. I could tell she was gaining a healthy respect for—and a major fear of—the Western Diamondback.

A few weeks past but the memory of that horse and the dreaded snake did not fade for Dr. Emily. Her questions focused on the normal habitat of said rattlesnake, and her conversations with clients and staff often drifted toward how to identify a Western Diamondback and where its daytime hiding places are. One client mentioned that many rattlesnakes no longer rattle when startled. His theory was that all the rattlers that rattled got their heads cut off with a hoe by a cowboy or farmer. This concept worried her even more. How could she be alerted to these toxic beasts if they sat motionless and camouflaged? Her awareness of the environment was heightened even more after that.

One warm July morning, as I walked from one barn to another at the clinic, I heard a faint noise in the distance. The noise was obviously a person, and he or she was obviously in distress. Before I could analyze the exact source, I saw the problem. It was Dr. Emily. She was screaming, "I NEED A BOY AND A HOE. I NEED A BOY AND A HOE," over and over.

A group of us arrived at the stall she was pointing toward, and she danced about and informed us that a giant rattler was in the stall with a horse. Her eyebrows had migrated up to her hairline, and her lips were bent with terror as she continued to repeat her desire for a hoe before her patient acquired a swollen head.

I saw one of the guys look into the stall and smile, and I knew there was no giant rattler. He started into the stall without the much-requested hoe. Dr. Emily's eyes got even wider when he started herding the bull snake back into the pasture.

"What are you doing?" Dr. Emily asked in a yell. "That thing could make your head swell up and cause all your skin to break and your nose holes to collapse! You just gonna run it off? It will come back!"

The fellow just giggled and assured her that it was just a rowdy bull snake. Bull snakes don't hurt anything, so we don't kill them.

"What do you mean they don't hurt anything? I just about prolapsed trying to get away from it! That thing was six-feet long and hissing, and you're just gonna let it go? It could have given that horse and me heart failure. I HATE SNAKES!"

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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