First things first: Don’t blame the snake.
That’s one of Alexis Powers’ messages following getting bitten by a venomous snake, a copperhead, last Saturday at her home off N. Hairston near Memorial Drive.
“I get upset when people say it was the snake’s fault,” said Powers, 20, an anthropology major at Georgia State University.
It’s not the snake that’s the problem, it’s “us building houses in their territory,” she said.
Powers’ other important message: “Watch where you step. That’s the only advice I can give.” If you’re walking around outside at night, have a flashlight.
On Sept. 15 around 10 p.m., Powers had just pulled up to her home with her boyfriend, Andre Mintz. The plan was to get her own vehicle so the two of them could both drive to Adams Stadum to pick up Mintz’s sister and her friends from a football game.
Powers got out and walked along the driveway toward her house to get her keys.
Suddenly, she felt something similar to a bee sting on her toe. But when she looked down, what she saw was no bee.
It was a copperhead, of the pit viper family, coiled up right on her driveway. She’d learned enough about snakes throughout her life to know exactly what kind of snake it was.
According to the Savannah River Ecology website, copperheads do most of the snakebites that occur in the Southeast every year. That's because they are "common in forested habitats and are well-camouflaged," the site says.
"Luckily, copperhead venom is not very potent and deaths from copperhead bites are exceedingly rare," according to the site.
Powers didn’t yell or get excited. She calmly went into her house and told her parents what happened and what needed to happen next. “I just got bit by a copperhead. I need to go to the emergency room.”
Her mother, Jan Dunaway, who called 911, said she was "just in shock" when she heard the news. Other than get help, she wasn't sure what to do or what the impact of the bite would be.
One thing she knew for sure: her daughter wasn't joking around. "She doesn't play those kinds of games," Dunaway said.
It took about 8-10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive after making the call. By that time, the pain was excruciating.
“It felt like my foot was going to take off from my leg,” Powers said. “It was a deep, searing pain. It felt like my bones were on fire.”
Copperhead venom is Powers was given morphine and transported to Grady --- where, she soon learned, another person had come in for a snake bite that same evening, a short time before she had arrived.
Powers did not require anti-venom. She was prescribed an antibiotic and pain meds, and spent a few days on crutches. The swelling is down and she said she feels a lot better. She was told she's progressing as expected and should be 100 percent in a couple of weeks.
Various snakes including copperheads live throughout Georgia.
“Copperheads are pretty docile,” Brian McKnight, lead educator with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association.
They mostly like the lowland forest floor near a water source, McKnight said. They like places such as rocky areas and low hedges too, but -- as Powers can attest -- they can be found in other places.
“Adaptable animals can live in almost any setting,” McKnight said.
Dave Butler, greenspace environment manager with DeKalb County’s natural resources management office said there has been an increase in wildlife sightings in general - everything from birds and bees, coyotes and foxes, to snakes -- because of the steady warm weather Georgia has had, including last year’s mild winter.
McKnight agreed. “We had the early warm-up in winter. There have been increased snake sightings and snake bites. It’s overall in Georgia,” he said.
Powers and her parents give kudos to the emergency medical technicians Misty and Zack from fire station 11 on James B. Rivers Dr. in the City of Stone Mountain for making her laugh by telling jokes and for helping keep her mother calm, respectively; the emergency room staff at Grady; Sara Miller, PharmD-toxicology, nurse Robert Curry II and Dr. Brent Morgan, emergency medicine toxicologist.
"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and please relay this information to those working in the ER on Saturday night," wrote Dunaway in a letter to Grady Hospital System CEO John Haupert. "I realize it is their job, but to us they are our heroes."
If you come across any type of snake:
Leave it alone. Walk away. Don’t touch it. “The only way it’s going to bite you is if you bother them or step on them,” Butler said.
If you see a snake in a DeKalb County park during regular weekday business hours, Butler said call the parks department at 404-371-2711.
“If it’s in your yard, don’t try to remove it. Call your local pest control removal service,” McKnight said.
Should you get bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Butler said it’s very helpful to the medical or emergency personnel to describe the snake as best you can. Follow these steps if bitten by other types of animals, too, such as spiders, Butler said.
Learn more about copperheads and other snakes from the following resources: