Clay Petruski felt the venom burn as it worked its way into his blood.
His throat began to swell and his blood pressure dropped.
The 50-year-old man had driven to the store for some cleaning supplies and gasoline for his chain saw. But then he saw the snake — an eastern diamondback rattler he estimated to be about 6 feet long — stretched along a dirt road about a half-mile from his Putnam County home in Florahome.
He doesn’t like to see snakes killed and knows most of his neighbors — including his wife — couldn’t resist speeding up and running over the rattler. Petruski said he stopped and attempted to shoo it into the woods.
“He wasn’t getting off that damn road,” Petruski said. “... Normally they just take off.”
Petruski said he moved closer, picked up a stick and tried to prod it along. That’s when the snake lashed out and bit him on the hand.
A metallic taste invaded his mouth, he said, as the venom was absorbed.
He remembers calling his wife, driving home then going inside to find a belt for a tourniquet. But instead he collapsed on the couch, his wife, Terri Petruski, said.
“Within two minutes my memory was shot,” he said. “... I would have figured I had a little time.”
Terri Petruski said her husband, now slumped over, just looked at her and said the word sick a few times.
By the time Clay Petruski arrived at UF Health Gainesville, he was close to death, his doctor said. Ibrahim Faruqi, who’s treated about 25 to 30 venomous snake bites during his time at the hospital, said it was one of the worst he has seen.
Petruski’s throat had swollen so much he could barely breathe, and the tube that hooked him up to a ventilator wouldn’t slide down his throat. Doctors cut a hole below his Adam’s apple and slid it down his trachea, Faruqi said.
Faruqi said they used 52 vials of antivenin over about two weeks. Petruski was bit May 16, but wasn’t released until Tuesday.
UF Health Gainesville treats about 50 to 75 venomous snake bites a year, Faruqi said. He doesn’t remember losing a patient. He said that’s largely because of the team of doctors who work there.
According to Karen Parker, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, snakes become active as the weather heats up.
“They are coming out of their winter lethargy,” she said.
The eastern diamondback is Florida’s largest and most dangerous snake, according to Fish and Wildlife. It is also one of the most aggressive.
Six venomous snakes are found in Florida — the eastern diamondback, pigmy rattler, canebrake rattler, cottonmouth (commonly called a water moccasin), copperhead and coral snake.
Parker doesn’t recommend approaching any venomous snake. Eastern diamondback snakes can launch themselves up to half their body length, she said.
But if someone does come upon one on a trail or road, stomp around or throw a pinecone or stick at it, she said. They can hear the vibrations through the ground.
Michael Patterson, fire and emergency medical services chief for Putnam County, said there’s lots of streams, lakes and swamps throughout the county where snakes are often found. He said he has noticed snakes have become more active as the weather heats up, but not anything out of the normal.
Petruski said he won’t stop to save a snake again.
“I’ll never do it again,” he said. “Bad scare for my wife.”
He thanked God and the doctors who saved his life.
He said he plans to go back to Gainesville “thanking them myself because I want to show them their work wasn’t in vain.”
Derek Gilliam: (904) 359-4619