“The Snake Bite” by Neal Murphy

August 13, 2022 - I have heard it said that “perception is reality”. How a person perceives something, whether rightly or wrongly, to him it is real. I encountered this theory at an early age.

In 1955 I was a college student in Nacogdoches, Texas. To help pay for the high cost of higher education at Stephen F. Austin State University, I had taken a job at a funeral home. The pay at the Oakley-Metcalf Funeral Home was not that great, but it helped with monthly expenses. Basically, I spent all my time away from classes at the funeral home assisting in general chores from driving the ambulance to assisting with funerals.

One sunny spring afternoon, a Saturday, the emergency telephone rang. I usually did not want to allow the caller to wait for more than two rings, so I answered promptly. The person stated that they needed an ambulance to come to the Piney Woods country club on highway 59 south. “What is the problem?”, I queried. “A boy has been bitten by a snake”, came the reply. That was my first encounter with a snake bite, and as a nineteen year old boy, I had little first aid knowledge. Usually we just used the “scoop and run” method to transport a patient to the hospital.

Gary and I raced to the garage, jumped into the white Pontiac emergency ambulance, and pulled into North Street, headed south. I worked the siren and lights as we rushed toward the country club approximately four miles south of town. Driving into the country club area, we spotted a small group of people gathered around someone lying on the ground. “This is the place”, I told Gary. We got out the cot and rolled it up to the small crowd.

“Where did the snake bite him”, I asked no one in particular as I observed the victim to be a young lad of ten or twelve years old. Some one reported that it seemed to be on his right leg, around the calf area. I looked at his leg expecting to see at least a couple of puncture wounds, but saw nothing resembling an injury.

The manager of the club motioned me to walk over to him for a private conversation. He reported to me that he was not sure that the young man had really been bitten, but had called for us just to be safe. He further explained that the boy had worked several times on Saturdays doing odd jobs for them. On this day he was instructed to wade out into a small pond in the fairway, and search for golf balls.

Poking a little innocent fun at the lad, they had warned him about snakes in the pond – to watch out for them. “They will bite you and kill you dead!”, he was warned just as he waded out into the shallow water. Apparently he stepped on a stick in the water which flew up and hit him on the leg. His perception was that it was a deadly snake, and it had delivered a fatal bite to his leg. This was his reality.

Witnesses said that the young boy screamed, ran out of the pond and fell on the ground holding his right leg. Assuming the worst, the manager had called for an emergency ambulance. About that time, the Sheriff arrived and took over the investigation. The “victim” finally admitted that he had not actually seen a snake, and did not think he was bitten. Actual reality had begun to set in.

A call to his parents had been made, and they arrived next. After hugs, kisses, and a thorough examination of his leg, it was decided that he was in good health, and just needed the remainder of the day off.

On the trek back to the ambulance garage, Gary and I had a good laugh about the situation. Most of our calls involved serious medical emergencies, and this one was a welcome break from our reality.