Me: Prodigal: Watch out for snakes out there.
Prodigal: I will, I don’t want to take chances.
Me: That is a wise move.
This is from the book Where Angels Walk by Joan Wester Anderson
Years ago the Durrance family, natives of southwestern Florida, moved to a house in a partially completed subdivision, once farmland. Set apart by side roads, the Durrance house was the only dwelling on their street, and their vast lot was surrounded by woodsy grass, palmetto clumps, and drainage ditches.
Even without a telephone, Debbie Durrance felt comfortable in the isolated brushland, but she was apprehensive about letting her children roam at will. Things could happen—kids could get hurt in places where their cries couldn’t be heard. And there had been several reports of rattlesnakes in the area; their pets had even been bitten. “Noise and traffic scare rattlers,” Debbie explains, “but they’re very much at home in a quiet area like ours.”
Still, one lazy Sunday afternoon just before Easter, when twelve-year old Mark decided to wander the land with the BB gun and his dog, Debbie agreed. She started dinner dishes, enjoying the peace and quiet of the mild day.
Mark was enjoying the sunshine too. Spying a bird in a clump of palm, he leaped over a drainage ditch for a closer view, landed on something movable–and felt a burst of agony as if his foot had exploded. In horror, he realized that a huge rattlesnake was hanging on to his foot, puncturing his shoe right below the ankle. Mark had never felt pain this intense. And the snake’s fangs seemed to be stuck in his ankle! Through a haze, Mark saw his dog growling and snapping at the snake, which eventually released its grip and slithered away.
But the rattler’s deadly venom had entered at the main vein in Mark’s leg, the worst place for a bite. By now, that vein was carrying poison through Mark’s body, attacking every system. Horrified, Mark realized that his strength was ebbing quickly, and he could barely walk. That 150 yards home might as well be 150 miles. He was going to die out here–and his family didn’t even know he was hurt.
Debbie was putting away the dishes when she heard the front door open and her older son shout, “Mark, what’s wrong?”
In horror, she heard Mark answer, “I’ve been rattlesnake-bit.” She raced to the living room, just as Mark fell to the floor. Pulling off his shoe as Buddy ran for his father, Debbie saw the foot already swollen and purple, and she smelled the same musky odor that she had noticed when her pets had been bitten. It was true–a snake had bitten him. And it was not a simple flesh wound. Debbie began to tremble. Without a phone, they would have to drive Mark seventeen miles to the nearest emergency center. Would there be time? Not my child, God, she prayed. Please, not Mark!
Her husband, Bobby raced in and picked up his son. The family ran to their truck and sped down the highway. Mark was already having convulsions, and his breathing grew fainter. The only thing Debbie could do in the tense and silent truck cab was pray.
As they neared the emergency center, however, steam floated from the truck’s hood. It was overheating! “Bobby, what are we going to do if it stops?” Debbie asked in panic, but it was already too late. Bobby braked for another car and the engine died. The Durrances were in the middle of traffic, but although Bobby leaped from the cab and tried to flag someone down, vehicles just kept going around them.
Then an old compact car pulled over. The driver was a Haitian farmworker who didn’t speak English, but the familys’ frantic actions told him all he needed to know. Debbie and Buddy dragged Mark into the car. “The driver sped off, following my pointing and wild gestures, and we arrived at the emergency center just a short time later,” Debbie says.
At the center, a team attempted to stabilize Mark. “Usually a snakebite could be treated at an emergency center,” Debbie explains. “But because the venom in Mark’s leg had hit a main vein, he was being poisoned at a more rapid rate and needed special care.” By the time an ambulance had been summoned to take him to the nearest hospital in Naples, ten miles away, Mark had lapsed into a coma.
For the next twelve hours the Naples hospital staff worked on Mark. Debbie and Bobby sensed that the team didn’t think their son would survive. Debbie continued to pray.
During the next few days, every part of Mark’s body stopped functioning except his heart. The venom bloated him, swelling his eyes so tightly closed that his lashes were barely visible. His kidneys failed. A respirator moved his lifeless lungs up and down. Internal hemorrhaging caused blood to seep not only from his ears, mouth, and eyes but also from his pores; he required transfusions of eighteen pints of blood before the nightmare had ended. There was a ninety percent chance he would lose his leg, and it swelled so large that eventually the doctors slashed it from top to bottom to relieve the pressure. Every new symptom was worse than the last.
Debbie sat for hours by his bedside, praying aloud and talking to her son. “I hoped Mark might hear my words to him and to God.” she says. “I wanted him to know that I believed he would live.”
Miraculously, Mark began to improve. Gradually he emerged from the coma and began writing to his parents on a tablet. Then one day the doctors took him off the respirator. And though his voice was scratchy, Mark began to tell them of his terrible ordeal.
“It was a rattler. It stuck on my shoe and wouldn’t let go….”
“But where were you?” Mark’s father wanted to know.
“Out in the fields, next to the ditch.”
“But that’s at least 150 yards!”
“He must have been much closer,” one of the doctors said, shaking his head. “Mark could never have walked that far. There was too much venom in his system–he would have been unconscious right away.”
And there were thirteen steps up the front of the house to the living room. How had this terrible wounded boy managed to climb them?
“The man in white helped me,” Mark explained, in answer to their questions.
“Man? What man? Debbie asked.
“The man. He was just….there. When I knew I couldn’t make it to the house, he picked me up and carried me.”
“What did he look like?” Debbie felt a tingle on the back of her neck.
“I never saw his face, only from his shoulders down. But he had on a white robe and his arms were real strong. He reached down and picked me up, and I was hurting so bad that I just sort of leaned my head on him. I felt calm.”
“Did he say anything, Mark?”
“He talked to me in a deep voice,” Mark answered. “He told me I was going to be real sick, but not to worry. Then he carried me up the stairs and I didn’t see him again.”
A man in white…. Debbie didn’t know what to say. Had her son dreamed the whole thing? But how had he gotten home?
Mark was in the hospital for nine weeks. Later he had numerous grafts to rebuild the muscle and tissue at the back of his leg. But doctors expect him to suffer no permanent damage.
Behold the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.
Jennifer Van Allen