Spider victim’s choice: surgery or lawn mower or ?
by Morgan Voorhis
of the Sierra Star
Two years ago, Don Crisp visited Oakhurst Community Medical Center’s
Urgent Care Unit because of a slight inflammation at his beltline. Medical staff
told him it was simply a large inflamed pimple. No big deal.
A week later, that large “pimple” had grown to a diameter of four inches. The area was swollen, scabbed and had a dark circle in the center. Mr. Crisp made a bee-line back to the Oakhurst facility.
Fortunately, a doctor who worked at Yosemite Urgent Care and specialized in toxicology, spotted his exposed abdomen, and from across the room, recognized the pimple for what it was — a brown recluse (pronounced wreck-loose) spider bite.
Things happened quickly for the Oakhurst resident. Because there are no known antibiotics to stop the poison from spreading, Mr. Crisp was advised to see a surgeon.
Removal of the diseased flesh was the only solution, he was told. However, instead of laying under a surgeon’s knife, Mr. Crisp found himself hooked to a lawn mower.
A lawn mower?!?
“Don Bray, a friend of mine, had a doctor friend in Texas, who used a modified stun gun for treatment of insect and snake bites,” says Mr. Crisp.
Sheets of information explaining the procedure were faxed to his emergency room physician, Marland Hansen.
Apparently, a high-voltage, low-current shock to the wounded area neutralizes the poisons, which the body then absorbs.
Mr. Crisp was game for anything. Since he had no stun gun, he improvised and used the next best thing at hand. His lawn mower.
“I hooked up two leads,” he says, “one to the spark plug wire and the other to the head of the lawn mower engine. Then I took the leads and positioned them around the spider bite.
“My wife pulled the crank on the lawn mower, with the spark plug out so it wouldn’t start, and I got the electrical charge.”
While the shock was somewhat painful, “it was bearable,” he adds.
Bearable and successful. After three “treatments,” Mr. Crisp stopped the poison from spreading. The wound healed and the discoloration paled.
“Within an hour of the first treatment, all the burning, itching, and tingling went away,” says Mr. Crisp. “And within a short period of time, the swelling went down.”
Because of this, Mr. Crisp was well prepared for what happened six months later.
He was bit again, this time on the ankle. He immediately had his suspicion confirmed by his doctor, and went home to hook himself up to his lawn mower.
“And it went away almost over night. The longer you wait before you receive the treatment, the longer it takes to work,” explains Mr. Crisp.
The brown recluse spider, also known as the violin spider because of the markings on its back, falls under the same category as the black widow — dangerous.
The main difference is that there is an anti-venom for the black widow spider bite. Victims of the brown recluse spider bite aren’t nearly as fortunate.
While doctors treat the bite with steroid drugs, antibiotics and antihistamines, it usually has little or no effect.
Venom from the generally painless bite can destroy flesh and muscle, create deep ulcers, and cause persistent flu-like symptoms.
In some cases, a skin graft is necessary to repair the damaged area of skin around the bite.
Once in the bloodstream, the powerful venom can also cause hemolysis, a breakdown of red blood cells, that sometimes leads to liver or kidney failure.
The recluse, which is common in the southern and western United
States, is brown to tan in color, with a darker “violin” shape on its back.
Its body is about a quarter to a half-inch long, with a leg span ranging from nickel-size to quarter-size, and it has six eyes.
The spider spins thick, irregular webs and prefers dark, warm places and dusty corners. When frightened, it often bites and runs. The female is more poisonous than the male.
While it prefers making its home within our homes, the spider likes out-of-the-way spaces, especially attics, basements, or closets and dresser drawers that aren’t opened often. Outside the house, it hides in rock or leaf piles.
Even though it’s been two years since Mr. Crisp has had too-close
contact with a recluse, he now feels it is his obligation to pass his knowledge
on. What prompted this decision was spotting one of his friends out shopping.
He was dressed in pants, with one pant leg hanging loosely. The other screamed at the seams, as though his leg would break free any moment, recalls Mr. Crisp.
“He got bit by a brown recluse on the ankle one year ago,” explains Mr. Crisp. “The wound is still open and still draining. He’s been to doctor after doctor, tried antibiotic after antibiotic, but nothing helps. And now, he’s about to lose his leg. I thought to myself, ‘what can I do to help him?’ It just broke my heart.”
Mr. Crisp offered his lawn mower treatment, and his friend promised to try it.
Most people express stronger reactions to this unorthodox alternative, such as “You’ve got to be kidding.”
But Mr. Crisp assures that he finds this topic no-joking matter.
In fact, there are medical studies and cases showing that direct high-voltage current shock is effective in arresting the poison from spreading.
There have been many confirmed or suspected spider bites that have been
treated via this method.
In each case, the first treatment ended the tissue damage, and none of the cases required excision or graft.
Multiple shocks of one-to-two seconds were used. In the more severe cases, added shocks were administered. It was important to have a grounding wire on the opposite side of the limb or across the inflamed area so that the shock could reach the depths of the bite.
Take heed that, because most venoms contain enzymes that promote the spread of the venom, direct injection into the bite site is strongly advised against. To do so allows the poison to spread through each needle track.
“The shock treatment is a simple solution. It’s non-threatening,” says Mr. Crisp. “Did you know that missionaries in Africa take cattle prods to do the same thing?”
Dr. Hansen, a physician practicing family medicine, agrees with
Mr. Crisp that cattle prods are effective tools in arresting the poison.
“You can use lawn mowers, stun guns, electric cattle prods,” says Dr. Hansen, “anything that gives a sudden blast of high voltage, but with a very low current. That way you don’t get burned, only mildly shocked.”
Dr. Hansen was unaware of this treatment until the day he examined Mr. Crisp at Urgent Care. That’s the day he learned a great deal on shock treatment for the bite.
“This is done around the world,” says Dr. Hansen. “In 1992, the American College of Emergency Physicians tried it on 50 people, and they said that they couldn’t tell if it did any good or not. So they don’t recommend it. Nor do they forbid it.”
While Dr. Hansen has never spotted a brown recluse and has only seen six sores that he was reasonably sure were caused by the spider bite in 33 years, he admits that many doctors don’t know what to attribute the blackened ulcerated area to at first glance.
“I had a very good friend who had one on his leg and he saw five different doctors,” he says.
“And while he was back in Michigan, the doctors there had never seen anything like it and thought it was cancer. So they cut it out and left a hole in his leg, which they later grafted,” the doctor says.
“Right away, the pathologist said it wasn’t cancer, but necrotic or dead tissue,” continues Dr. Hansen. “Cutting it out cured him, but also left him with a huge scar.”
In those rare instances when Dr. Hansen does come across a victim of the brown recluse, he now recommends shock, not only to patients, but friends or acquaintances.
“And if I was bit, I’d try it myself,” admits Dr. Hansen. “It’s just hard to refute the evidence. Don had it for weeks, started shocking himself and in days, he was better.”
For those still skeptical, Mr. Crisp reiterates that people in third-world countries regularly use this method, which leads him to ask: “Why do we have our heads in the sand in the United States?”
If you are bit, you may feel a little sting but usually little if any pain.
After a few hours, you will begin to feel pain that may range from mild to severe. You will notice a rash and then a blister forming at the place you were bitten.
You may also feel weak and nauseous, begin to vomit , become feverish or have chills.
If you do not get medical treatment for the bite, the rash will spread, and the center will turn hard and dark. Then your skin will break open and ooze.
Without medical treatment, sooner or later, your red blood cells will begin to die.
What to do
Use an antiseptic around the bite and place an ice pack over it. Then get to your physician as quickly as possible.
Precautions to take
Copyright © 1998, The Sierra Star
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