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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Farmer survives taipan bite

A FAR Northern farmer who was hospitalised after being bitten by one of the world’s most venomous snakes initially thought he had trodden on a thorny weed hidden in the grass in his backyard.

Tom Jones, 66, had just finished a long morning of work at his farm about 35km outside of Cooktown and was ready to relax at home, when he spotted a sprinkler in his yard that needed to be shifted.

Mr Jones ventured a short distance out into the yard, barefoot, when he felt a sharp pain on the side of his big toe on his left foot as he walked past a patch of long grass.

“It felt like I’d trodden on sensitive weed, but I couldn’t see any of it anywhere,” he said.

“There was a split second where I thought ‘hang on, my foot was lifted off the ground when this happened, and it didn’t add up.

“I looked around and there he was behind me: his body zigzag shaped, with his head up in the air.”

It didn’t take Mr Jones long to identify the snake and understand that he had just been bitten by a coastal taipan, one of the most venomous snakes in the world.

“I thought ‘bloody hell, I know what’s happening here’ – I’d been bitten by a taipan,” he said.

The coastal taipan, which is found throughout north-eastern Queensland and the Northern Territory, is a dangerously venomous species with strongly neurotoxic venom.

It possesses the third most toxic land snake venom known, and many human deaths have resulted from bites by this species.

Mr Jones administered first aid on himself, wrapping his leg up tightly in a compression bandage. He then drove to Cooktown Hospital’s Emergency Department.

After receiving emergency care, he was kept in hospital for observation and clinicians initially believed he had received a ‘dry’ bite, without venom being injected into his bloodstream by the snake’s sharp fangs.

About 10 hours later, however, things took a turn for the worse.

“I started getting double vision and then they realised I’d been envenomated,” Mr Jones said.

“The Royal Flying Doctor Service came, and they ran me to the airport. I was in Cairns within about 15 minutes.”

At Cairns Hospital, Mr Jones’ condition had deteriorated further as the strong venom from the snake took hold within his blood, affecting its ability to clot.

“I couldn’t maintain blood pressure, and there was bleeding in my mouth,” Mr Jones said.

“That’s when they decided to give me the antivenom.”

Once the antivenom was administered to Mr Jones, he described the feeling as having “the worst hangover in the world.”

“I had sweat pouring off me as soon as they started pumping the antivenom into me,” he said.

“Once they got it in there, I was still crook, but I felt better – it was a hungover feeling: the worst you’ve ever had. And the feeling didn’t go away.

“They ended up giving me medication for the nausea, but I still had double vision, and felt sick in the gut.

“I couldn’t open my eyelids and couldn’t swallow properly but by the next morning, things were much better.”

Cairns Hospital toxicologist Dr Mark Little said Mr Jones was lucky to survive the snake bite, as taipan venom could cause bleeding, muscle break down, as well as paralysis.

“Tom potentially had a number of life-threatening complications due to his taipan bite,” he said.

“The emergency department team worked very hard to stabilise his condition.”

Mr Jones was under no illusion about how lucky he was to have survived his taipan encounter.

“Dr Little told me to go and buy a lottery ticket, because obviously my luck was still holding,” he said.

“I never ever go anywhere without my boots on, ever.”

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: Chalumbin Wind Farm redesigned and Past Mayor Kevin Byrne remembered.

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