Terri Hurd thought she was holding a bull snake Monday afternoon until the eight-inch western diamondback wiggling in her right hand started shaking its rattle.
"Almost right after I caught it, I realized it wasn't a bull snake," said Hurd, 52, of Cave Junction. "And then I didn't know how to get rid of it."
Hurd's friend had called to her from the garden bed in the front yard: "Terri! I found a bull snake," she said.
Being a snake admirer, Hurd quickly rushed over to snatch it up for a closer examination.
"When I picked it up I knew it wasn't a friendly snake. ... He was strong and kept trying to turn around and bite me. He just looked evil, he was scary," she said. "I would have never picked it up had I known it was a rattlesnake."
The snake started coiling around her right hand, she said, so she used her left to start uncoiling it. Just when she had it unwrapped, she reared back to throw the snake and it sunk both fangs into her left index finger.
"I had to pull him off because he was latched on just hanging there," she said. "Immediately, it burned. ... I was an hour and a half away from the hospital and I was scared."
Hurd's friends called 911 and an ambulance came to her rescue.
Her hand had already begun to swell and her hands, lips and tongue had gone numb and tingly by the time paramedics arrived, she said. By the time she was checked into Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford — the Grants Pass hospital's emergency room was full — the swelling had moved past her wrist and was on its way up her arm, she said.
And her hand was like a balloon: "It was like I had no palm," she said.
She was given 60 doses of antivenom before the swelling stopped — at her shoulder. Each dose runs about $5,000, said Lauren Van Sickle, spokeswoman for the hospital. Hurd was released from the hospital on Friday.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Simon Wray said bites from young rattlesnakes tend to be worse that those of larger snakes.
"The issue is that the younger snakes don't have the experience that older snakes do. Older, more experienced snakes, as a defense mechanism, are prone to dry biting, or striking without releasing any venom."
Younger snakes tend to always deliver venom and usually more of it than adult snakes will let go, he said.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States, and only about five die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Hurd has insurance, but she isn't sure how much of the massive bill it will cover. Having recently been laid off from her job as a certified nursing assistant at the Rogue Valley Manor, Hurd says paying for the medical services she received will be a challenge. But she considers herself lucky.
With a few months of physical therapy, she should get back full use of her left hand and arm.
As for the snake, its head was lopped off shortly after the biting, she said.
"I don't think I'll pick any more snakes up," said Hurd, who pointed to a camera at the foot of her hospital bed.
A friend gave it to her as a get-well present, along with a piece of advice: Take pictures of snakes, but don't touch.
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.