June 15, 2017
A few nights ago I dreamed I was in Nigerian with my grandchildren. The eldest, Chidi, was lounging with us outdoors when he reached under a rock and a snake struck his fingers. As his face clouded with pain and fear I grabbed his fingers to cut the bite and suck out the venom, while yelling at my wife to use my belt for a tourniquet above Chidi’s elbow and then dial 911. (911 in Nigeria? Well, this was a dream!) Just then I woke up crying.
All that was standard procedure taught in my youth. But when I called Chidi later to tell him, he quickly corrected me. Everything I did in that dream, Chidi told me (except “911”), would hasten the spread of the venom in a body rather than prevent it! Reaching deeper into my science and consulting Google for confirmation, I found that he was absolutely right. (Anyone remember Mark Twain’s quip, about when he was 17 and thought his father was embarrassingly “dumb”?)
HERE’S THE SCIENCE:
The heart circulates blood as a two-stroke pump. At DIASTOLE the heart muscles relax and blood is sucked up the veins into the heart; then comes SYSTOLE, the stroke in which heart muscles contract to push the blood out/down the arteries. So the venom-laden blood that I may suck out has first to travel through the heart and be pumped out to the rest of the body before I can draw out some of it (on the down-stroke, so to say). Thus, my sucking (yuck!) would assist rather than retard the spread of the venom. Score another one for youth!
In fact, the Mayo Clinic First-Aid instruction explicitly cautions us not to apply tourniquet or try to suck out the venom.