I may catch trouble for this one. For a few years, I was the medical examiner for Lee Co. Virginia. As such I had to see some pretty terrible things. In general, more than one would normally see as just a physician or surgeon…or maybe it was more concentrated in time than one would normally experience. Burned bodies where nothing was left but the skull and part of the spine, horrible car crashes…usually due to stupidity and alcohol. I would have to sign papers for death and certification etc. I would also have to sign on a body that was to be cremated. I have no idea where the law came from but I’d get a call from the mortuary asking for my signature. One unusual one was when I received a call from Charlie Province, a local funeral director. He needed my signature for a cremation. I told him I’d be down after work. He said did I want to see the body…a strange question since they had already been certified dead and didn’t need cause of death etc. for the paperwork. I asked why would I, and he said the body had been in the ground for 39 years. As it turned out, the family was from far away and were tired of having to drive so far to visit the grave so they decided to have it exhumed and cremated so they could have the ashes with them. Logical but kinda weird. So, I went down. The casket was in pretty good repair (having absolutely no experience in this kind of thing), with rust only on the hinges. The man, had been killed in a hunting accident by his brother. He had been buried in a flannel shirt and blue jeans as I recall. He had strawberry red hair and was in his 30s I think. He had been embalmed (I did not know that this was not a requirement in Virginia). His skin was charcoal grey and like is frequently stated, his nails looked like they had continued to grow due the the shrinking back of the skin of the cuticle area. There were a few spots on the body where a mold had caused bubbling under the skin deforming it somewhat. The people in Hollywood would have been as intrigued as I was.
So, the reason for starting this issue was the snake bite. I am in Southwest Virginia, where Virginia and Tennessee and Kentucky all come together. It’s quite mountainous and due to the mountain, quite isolated. The Bible belt is in high gear here, mostly made-up of Southern Baptists, but there are Catholics and Methodists and Mormons (at least their missionaries) and Jehovas Witness. Then there is one more but I don’t remember the name (at the moment)…Snake handling church. They exist in the area but I don’t know where or how many. I’ve seen them on TV and their ritual is just as bizarre as one might consider Catholicism if you had never seen either before. So, I get a call to play M.E. and there was this body. I won’t describe much as it might be improperly taken, but it was bitten at noon on Sunday, and they prayed over it for an hour or so and there was no improvement, so it went home to be propped up on the living room sofa where it was prayed over all the rest of Sunday, Sunday night, Monday, Monday night and it finally died Tuesday morning. I had to have details for the record and as such I had to call the family. I usually much prefer meeting the family face to face under such circumstances but what I needed was so cut and dry that I called. A youngster answered the phone and was the deceaseds child, she was loud and lively like a teenager might be considered, and it sounded like a party was going on there. With noise a plenty and laughter. The wife came on the phone and answered my question straight frward,excused herself and went back to the festivities. I’ve never been to on and I respect snakes too much to trust them. There is a phrase in the bible…yes I had to look. Mark 16;18…”They shall take up serpents and if they drink of any poison it will not hurt them, and they shall lay hands on any any sick person. they shall be healed”. I’ll let you do the bible google youreslf, but it is surely there. I never got to experience the “good” parts. It is said they can drink Stychninie and cyanide and not die, but I’m not aware of this. I have enough probems getting permission to use EDTA on a minor snake bite with which I do have experience. Disallowed because it is “experimental”. sigh Well, I was taken aback by this familys animated happiness. I said thank you and hung up, and wondered, could there possibley be a better send of from this world, than a big happy party. I wonder where I ask “Is fate a fundamental property of reality”? I wonder where I can get the answer to this one.
4/7/12 During my time in Florida, I had 2 occasions to experience Miami Serpentarium. A man named Bill Haast started it. He was well known for his antiserum. He would inject himself with low doses of various snake venoms and his body developed an antiserum. I recall one event where the vaccine was flown in a military jet to save at least one person. There were many. He went into partnership with I believe he was a man named Cambell and together they produced a vaccine known to help some neurologic disorders. One had to live in Fla and be a practicing physician there to write for the prescriptions for “Proven”. You can Google Bill Haast and see a lot about him. He died at age 100. The first time I went to the serpetarium, the building had a large square courtyard, that was surrounded by about a 16 inch high hedge. Bill would put a fairly large wooden box on 2 saw horses and then open the box. A King Cobra would come out of the box and onto the lawn in front of us. Standing barely 10 feet from this huge snake…if he wanted he could certainly have escaped or gotten someone across that tiny hedge. Bill would tap it on the head and it would rise up almost 4 feet above the grass. He talked and worked his way around till he was able to catch it one handed and show off it’s fangs and milk the venom. I was impressed. His hands were uncommonly gnarly from being injected so many times. I recommend the Google search to understand what he did. Of unusual note, some time after his partner died (if my memory serves right) the vaccine was found to have a “special” ingredient of another snake poison. And the government shut down the business. Sure wish I had a photo of that action. There were other animals in his mini zoo. A sad experience not long after I was there…a young child fell into the crocodile enclosure and was killed. Bill jumped in and shot the croc with a gun, but the boy was already dead. I too, would have trouble getting over that.