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Venom in Paradise, and Tiny Tickles, Too

by | Jun 3, 2013


There is one pair of gardening gloves that will get way more use in the future around this place, and not just for trimming sticker-y rose bushes and blackberry brambles.  Those long  protective gloves will be pulled out and put on for pretty much everything that involves logs, wood, and sun-warmed hiding places where a copperhead might coil again  and lie in wait for a juicy arm.

Here is Robby sleeved up with the arms-length pruning gloves I got from Lisa.


He’s sleeved up NOW.  But that wasn’t the case one chilly day a few weeks ago. Tidying up the yard after winter winds had scuffed leaves under the huge fallen oak in our front yard, he reached in to pull out the debris and haul it away to the compost pile.


There may have been a brief sharp pain just above his black nitrile work gloves, but he thought it was an oak twig poking him and never even looked.  Coming in for lunch, he showed me two marks about 1cm. apart on his tender forearm.  We’ve had annoying spider bites before and just assumed this was another one of them.

We called it a spider bite even when the site as well as his whole arm reddened and swelled and itched.  We called it a spider bite, an especially pesky spider bite, even when bands of rash stretched across his chest and stomach.  Could have been a double whammy, we told each other, maybe poison ivy as well.

About a week later, his arm just as red and puffy as ever, the skin around the bite marks began turning black. Hmmm.  What had bitten him? Robby checked with his colleagues at the VLM—what kind of spider has fangs 10 mm. apart?  Because this one seemed unusually venomous.  And wow did it itch!

The answer was speedy and revealing:  No spider in Virginia has fangs that far apart.  This was not a spider bite.

By then, we were visiting a daughter in Augusta County.  A doctor there took a look at the arm and treated it as a Class Four Allergic Reaction.  It slowly began to heal.

We never saw the snake.  Everything pointed, though, to a copperhead defending itself.

We asked ourselves why we were so slow in seeking medical help and promised to be more proactive next time there was a run-in with one of the wild things in our garden.

That’s probably why a few days ago we sat together in TPMG’s after-hours clinic and couldn’t stop laughing.  I was laughing because it seemed so silly to tell a doctor that something had crawled into Robby’s ear while he was lying under his car in the garage.  He was laughing because what turned out to be an adventurous ant exploring his ear canal was tickling without mercy.

What will be next?  One daughter said, “Don’t let Robby out of the house!”  But our garden is our paradise, and we will not be turned out of it by the flaming sword of snake venom or ant annoyance.  Out we go each morning to savor its joys along with whatever the challenges might be.