What it’s like to survive a deadly snakebite

Jim Lane flatlined three times after a rattlesnake strike
Jim Lane
Photograph by John-Robert Ward II

Those snakes, they’ll lie underneath blueberry bushes and catch birds as they come in to pick berries. He was probably just lying there asleep, digesting birds, and I walked up and scared him. Fifty-four inches long, and he didn’t rattle at all.

When he hit me, it just about knocked my leg out from under me. I had a little pistol in my pocket; it couldn’t have been a more beautiful shot, a perfect neck shot. He fell right between my feet. Then I shot him again, right atop the head.

As a young person, I taught snakebites to the Assemblies of God church kids in Florida. I basically knew what had to be done to save my life. I fell down, got my pocketknife out. I stabbed my leg six times, three on each fang mark. I bled off a lot of the venom.

My face and my head and my shoulders felt like they were on fire. I can’t really explain the pain; you just lie there and quiver, shake, and cry. I cut a section out of my suspenders and made a tourniquet just below my knee. By then my tongue had swollen and filled my mouth up completely, and I couldn’t breathe, so I started crawling.

I crawled till I got so dizzy I felt like I was going to pass out. I’d take my finger and run it way down in my throat and pull it open, enough to get a little air.

This young man and his sister found me. They had to fight to get me in their truck because I’m 218 pounds, and I was just a pile of mush. The ambulance met us at the end of a dirt road.

Inside the helicopter, I flatlined three times. They shocked me back. By the third time, they’d got me to the hospital and started pumping antivenin in me. The doctor said, “Mr. Lane, I don’t know how you’re alive.” They let me go home after about three days.

I was hit in the right leg, and it destroyed a lot of the nerves. They never regenerate. The nerves in my leg are still on fire, just hurting all the time. Other than that, I’m normal old Jim.

The emergency responders saved the snake for me. I had him mounted, and I’ve got him sitting in my living room. He’s coiled in a strike, with his mouth open. I still go by and laugh at him: “Old boy, I got you.” —As told to Josh Green

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.