Tybee Island snake bite puts doctor in ICU

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TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. -- Retired orthopedic surgeon Joe Nettles is well known for running marathons, half marathons and 5K races.

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Joe Nettles spent two days in the intensive care unit after a snake bit him at his Tybee home.  Polly Powers Stramm/ Morris News Service
Polly Powers Stramm/ Morris News Service
Joe Nettles spent two days in the intensive care unit after a snake bit him at his Tybee home.

But the 77-year-old is not likely to forget the race he made in an ambulance last weekend after being bitten by a poisonous snake on Tybee Island.

Nettles' adventure began when he noticed "a little critter" in the swimming pool at his home in front of Officers' Row.

"I've had rat snakes and garden snakes in the pool, so I thought it was a good one," Nettles explained while sitting on his screened porch overlooking the pool. "I thought I would scoot him out." (He often rescues snakes and hands them over to his grandchildren to take to school.)

The snake was attempting to get out of the water and had its head and part of its body sticking up over the pool's side, Nettles said. As soon as Nettles reached to grab the snake behind its head, he realized that the snake was not his usual visitor.

But it was too late. In hindsight, Nettles remembers just as he put his right hand down toward the snake, he noticed its triangular head - a sign of a venomous snake - and a diamond pattern decorating its body. As quick as lightning, the snake whipped around and thrust its fangs into Nettles' right index finger.

After a trip to Memorial University Medical Center and two days in the intensive care unit, Nettles is resting at home and questioning his judgment regarding the snake that, incidentally, escaped.

"I feel foolish," Nettles said. "I realize that I misjudged the situation."

In retrospect, he figures the snake was about 3 feet long, but looked shorter in the water. He didn't notice rattlers, but he certainly felt the effects of venom spreading through his body.

"Without thinking, I reached down to grab (the snake) and,
as I made my move, he made his," Nettles said. "I realized that I better get help."

A widower, Nettles was home alone and, initially, figured he could drive himself to the hospital. But when his hand and arm started swelling and his lip felt numb, he switched gears and decided to call 911.

"Very prompt" Tybee emergency personnel assessed the situation, loaded him into an ambulance and headed for Memorial, he said. Traffic going off the island was heavy but vehicles pulled aside when the ambulance came racing by.

"We made it (to Memorial) in about 20 minutes," Nettles said.

Trauma physicians were anticipating his arrival and quickly began treating Nettles with anti-venom. The main problem with a poisonous snake bite is coagulopathy, which effects blood clotting, Nettles said.

Normally, a person has 280,000 platelets. But after the bite his numbers plummeted to 5,000. He was given platelet transfusions but still must have his blood checked daily for a while.

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julrobs 06/10/11 - 08:05 am
18 yrs ago, I worked in Dr.

18 yrs ago, I worked in Dr. Nettles' office. You are a great doctor and person, and I'm glad you are ok!

augusta citizen
augusta citizen 06/10/11 - 01:08 pm
Glad he okay, hope he has a

Glad he okay, hope he has a quick and full recovery! This couldn't happen to me, I run from all snakes!

blackindependent 06/10/11 - 08:36 pm
"I feel foolish". Now there's

"I feel foolish".
Now there's an understatement if I ever saw one.

I too am glad the doc is OK, butthe good doctor should know, snakes are like terrorists. The only "good " ones are the dead ones.

Yeah, yeah. I know. "Every thing has it's place in the environment".
Yadda yadda.

KSL 06/10/11 - 08:51 pm
I am not a snake fan. They

I am not a snake fan. They scare me. I try to regroup and decide whether they are harmless or harmful. Harmful would be a poisonous snake in my yard. I have pets I don't want put at risk. Harmful would be immediately gone, as in dead. That's on my 3/4ths acre. No room for co-existence.

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