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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rattlesnake Bites: Avoidance and Treatment

When I was a teenager hiking around the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California, we used to always carry a snakebite kit. It was the thing to do. We never left home without one.

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia
The kit was about the size of your thumb. It contained a sharp blade, a tourniquet and two suction cups. It also had a little rolled up piece of paper with instructions to lance the site of the bite, apply a suction cup to draw out the poison and place a tourniquet between the bite and the heart to keep the poison from circulating through the body.
An alternative to the application of suction cups that we all knew about was to simply suck out the poison by mouth and spit it out along with any blood from the cutting of the site. We all boldly affirmed that we would do this for one another but inside we shuddered at the thought – at least I know I did. A human-blood-and-rattlesnake-poison cocktail just didn’t sound that appetizing.
Fortunately, none of us hiking buddies ever had to use the snakebite kit or suck a snakebite site. I don’t even remember seeing or hearing a rattlesnake on the trail.

There are about 30 different rattlesnake species  in the world. At least one species lives in each of the 48 contiguous states of the United States. Their ubiquitous presence would make one think that encountering a rattlesnake would be rather common. But, such encounters are relatively rare.
As is the case with many forms of wildlife, rattlesnakes are not any more anxious to meet humans than humans are to meet them. They hibernate all winter and come out of their dens in March or April to start sunning themselves and hunting rodents and reptiles. The Spring and Fall seasons when rattlesnakes are migrating to and from their hibernation dens is when you would most likely see one.

If you or someone in your hiking party gets bit by a rattlesnake, the first thing to do is to send for medical help. Then help the victim to lie down, and keep him or her calm. Immobilize the site with a splint, but don’t cut off circulation by binding it too tight. If possible keep the site of the bite below the level of the heart. Remove any jewelry at or near the bite site.
Here are some things not to do. Never cut the site, never apply a tourniquet and don’t bother trying to suck out the poison. Such activities, even though they were recommended years ago, are not recommended today because they are virtually ineffective and could cause physical damage.
A rattlesnake bite can be fatal. So, it is nothing to play with. But, it is good to note that less than 1% of all poisonous snake bites in the United States are fatal. Even though a rattlesnake bite does not end up in a fatality, it can make the victim very sick and very uncomfortable.
The best antidote for a rattlesnake bite is to avoid it in the first place. Here are some ways to do that.
While hiking, stay alert to the sight and sounds of rattlesnakes. The rattle at the end of a rattlesnake’s tail makes a distinctive and fairly loud warning sound like a buzz. The rattle, whether detected by sight or sound, is the most definitive feature that positively identifies the rattlesnake. Other features such as size, shape or color vary greatly within the species and can be confused with the same features in other snakes.
So, look for and listen for the rattle. If you detect it, stop and back off slowly. Make no sudden moves. Never approach the reptile. An important piece of information to remember is that a rattlesnake can strike something that is at a distance of two thirds of its body length. In other words, a 6-foot rattlesnake can strike you if you are within 4 feet of it.
Another thing to be aware of is that young rattlesnakes, even babies, can be as deadly as adults.
Keep hands and feet from under bushes, tall grass and large rocks where rattlesnakes like to hide from predators and stay cool during hot summer days. And, wear leather boots and long pants while hiking in the desert where rattlesnakes are very common.
Rattlesnakes are an important part of our wilderness environment. So, we should leave them alone. And, with a little awareness and care on our part while hiking and backpacking, we should be able to avoid them and their potentially deadly bites.

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You Need to Be Able to Take Care of Yourself

If you read the above headline, you probably thought duh, that's what this whole blog is about so why remind us... The reason is that I have been in more than a half dozen meetings over the past week. These have been Board/Council meetings for government entities, NGOs, social service agencies, and businesses large and small. The main topic at ALL of these meetings, especially those that rely on any sort of government funding/taxes/etc, is that many of these organizations are literally running out of money.
I've sat through budget meetings for decades and aside from small blips, there was always more money coming down the pike. Entities could pretty much count on having a stable source of funding on which to base their budgets and five year projections were almost always on the positive side with income climbing nicely, right along side the growth in expenditures (especially the cost of labor and benefits). During the '70s there were, of course, some segments which had varying degrees of financial meltdown (especially in Texas if I remember correctly), however in my memory I have never seen this type of across the board, everyone is damn near out of money, situation. Scary.
So as I sat in today's meeting with a bunch of government types who were wringing their hands over their next fiscal year budget that has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, it made me wonder how close to financial devastation the American people think we are. For many people, there has always been some savior whether it was a government program, a corporate "bail out" or bankruptcy followed quickly by new offers from credit card and mortgage companies. My admittedly foggy but often accurate crystal ball tells me that the next few years will be unlike anything most of us (those who remember the Great Depression notwithstanding) have ever had to deal with.
So what do you do when your town, city, state, federal government, collection of social service agencies, school district, hospital, police department, and any other number of agencies/businesses that you rely on daily, are of the verge of financial collapse?
Basically your guess is as good as mine but I have some ideas about how I will be preparing:
  • Fewer police on the street due a decline in tax revenue which leads to budget cuts means that I may not be able to call the police when I need them (or they may not show up as quickly as I need them to) which means I will need to be able to protect my home and family. This doesn't just mean being armed. It also means taking home security seriously, avoiding problem areas/problem people/problem situations, and making myself and my family a "least likely target".
  • For my income, diversification is the key. This means not only diversification with local clients but extending my business tentacles across the US AND across the world. Unless you offer a service that is required to be local (ie: you are a plumber) then competition for your job and for the money you could be earning is not just competition from local people but from highly skilled, highly educated people from anywhere in the world. Outsourcing, in sourcing...your economy is not just local anymore, it is global.
  • Multiple streams of income is the corollary to the point above. Live it, learn it, love it.
  • I use cash only and don't carry debt. When TS could hit TF at any time, it is best to be in as flexible a position as possible. Having cash, using cash, and not being saddled by debt is one way to do this.
  • I don't rely on government programs. Period. My granddad taught me this and my mother reinforced the lesson when as a single mother, she would work two or three jobs instead of taking a penny of welfare. When you rely on others (whether it be a government welfare check or an alimony check), the support could be pulled at any minute and you would be left with nothing. When you are the master of your own destiny, this doesn't happen.
  • Our needs are minimal. I like nice things and I buy nice things but if my income was suddenly reduced to a fraction of what I make now, then we would just ratchet back our expenditures as needed. The less you want and need, the better off you are during uncertain times.
  • I don't plan to use Social Security as my retirement plan. It will be a nice bonus if it happens to be available when I retire but my assets are diversified (there's that word again) and I plan to fund my own retirement when the time comes.
  • Building a social network is worth the time and effort. When I need something, whether it be news, information, or a hand with a project, I rely on my network of friends and family before I look elsewhere. Building these networks now may pay off quite well in an uncertain future.
  • I know where to look for the material goods I need. First stop would be the garage which has quite a stockpile of stuff (food, water, disposable goods) but I also know where to look for water (stored in the garage, the rain barrel, a near by stream, etc), food (besides the freezer, we have a garden, I know all of the wild food sources within a 10 mile radius, and if necessary I can hunt and fish), and anything else we may need (store, thrift store, garage sales, dumpster dive, make it myself, etc). Acquiring the stuff you need is a part of life. Being creative about how you acquire it...priceless.
  • Medical and dental care is a necessary part of life. Besides having insurance, should this go away for some reason, I have friends who are doctors, dentists, and specialists; I have a bit of skill in the medical field so I can take care of most small problems myself, and first and foremost, I try to maintain and improve my health with exercise and nutritious food so that hopefully I won't need to use the medical system much.
  • I continue to learn. Things change fast. Sometimes on a daily basis. There are always new options for communications, new technology, and new information to learn which can be extremely beneficial. Continuing to learn, and continuing to adjust your course based on the latest information, is something everyone should do.
The bottom line--my plan is to be able to do as much as possible for myself and my family, live as minimally as possible, and be able to respond in as flexible manner as possible (both in attitude and physically) no matter what happens. I'm hoping you will do the same. If everyone did this, our economic condition would improve overnight.

Home Made Penicillin

Erlenmeyer flaskImage via Wikipedia
I'm not entirely sure where this came from, but thanks to who ever put these instructions together.

If you've followed the progress of big pharma, many excellent antibiotics have fallen out of favor either because one or two strains of a bug have developed a resistance to the drug, or because the patent ran out and it just wasn't profitable enough.

Many infections can still be effectively treated with such tried and true antibiotics such as penicillin.

If things keep heading down the drain, this may be very valuable information. Imagine if you can synthesize an antibiotic when no one else can. How valuable do you think that will be?

About the ingredients:

Lactose Monohydrate is commonly known as "milk sugar". It is available in health food stores, and online at places like E-bay and Amazon. Sometimes it is sold under simply "lactose powder".

Corn Starch shouldn't need any explanation. Available in grocery stores.

Sodium Nitrate available online and in chemistry supply stores.

Magnesium Sulfate is commonly known as "Epsom Salts" and is available in drug stores.

Monopotassium Phosphate is available online, and also in health food stores and drug stores.

Glucose Monohydrate (Dextrose) is available online and in health food stores.

Zinc Sulfate is available online and also in drug stores and health food stores.

Manganese Sulfate is available online and also in home improvement / hardware stores and gardening centers.

The liquid referred to before the outlined extraction process can be consumed or used as a topical antibacterial. If you seek to form a powdered, stable version of the drug, you will need to perform the extraction process.

HCL (Hydrochloric Acid) is also known as Muriatic Acid and is available in pool supply stores.

Ethyl Acetate is available online.

All of these substances are able to be grown, extracted and synthesized from common materials, so even if you run out of any stored ingredients you have put up, you can always make more of your own. Just do the research and put the processes away in your little notebook.



Step 1
Prepare a penicillium culture by exposing a slice of bread or citrus peel to the air at 70 deg. F until a bluish-green mold develops.

Cut two slices of whole wheat bread into ½ inch cubes and place in a 750ml Erlenmeyer flask with a cotton (non-absorbent) plug. It is important that the bread does not contain any mold inhibitors such as “mycoban”. Sterilize the flask and contents in a pressure cooker for at least 15 minutes at 15 pounds. An alternate method is to place in an oven at 315 deg F for one hour.

Using a sterile transfer loop (flamed) transfer the spores from the bread or peel into the flask containing the bread cubes.

Allow the cubes to incubate in the dark at 70 deg F for 5 days. After incubation, store in the refrigerator for not longer than two weeks.

Step 2
Prepare one liter of the following media:

Lactose Monohydrate 44.0 gm
Corn Starch 25.0 gm
Sodium Nitrate 3.0 gm
Magnesium Sulfate 0.25 gm
Potassium Phosphate Mono 0.50 gm
Glucose Monohydrate 2.75 gm
Zinc Sulfate 0.044 gm
Manganese Sulfate 0.044 gm

Dissolve in order in 500ml of cold tap water and add sufficient cold tap water to make one liter.

Adjust pH to 5.0-5.5 using HCL. Fill a series of milk bottles with a quantity of this media. Use only enough media so that when the bottle is placed on its side the media will not touch the cotton plug.

Sterilize the bottles and media in a pressure cooker or stove as previously outlined. When cool, inoculate with spores from the bread cubes. Use approximately the equivalent of one tablespoon.

Allow bottles to incubate on their sides at 70 deg F for 7 days. It is important that the bottles are not disturbed during this time. At the end of 7 days if your culture is capable of producing penicillin it will be dispersed in the liquid portion of the media.

Filter fermentation media, plug with cotton and refrigerate immediately. Use as soon as possible.

Step 3
To extract the penicillin the following procedure may be attempted. Do the following technique as rapidly as possible.

Adjust the cold fermentation filtrate to pH 2.2 using .01/N HCL. Mix cold filtrate with cold ethyl acetate in a separatory funnel and shake well for 30 seconds.

Drain the ethyl acetate into a beaker which has been placed in an ice bath and repeat the process until all filtrate is depleted.

Add 1% potassium acetate and mix. Permit ethyl acetate (flammable) to evaporate. This can be induced by a constant flow of air over the top of the beaker.

The remaining crystals are a mixture of potassium penicillin and potassium acetate.


*authors note: potassium acetate is a preservative and is commonly used as an acidity regulator in processed foods. It'll help the penicillin last longer on the shelf provided it is kept in a dry, closed container and away from light and heat.