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Axton man survives bite of rattlesnake
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Peggy Marlowe shows a portrait of her and her husband Ernest, who was bitten by a rattlesnake May 3. He is recuperating at home now. (Bulletin photo)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

An Axton man still is recovering from a near-fatal rattlesnake bite he suffered May 3.

Ernest Marlowe was unavailable Friday to do an interview about a rattlesnake bite, according to his wife, Peggy Marlowe. But she recounted what happened so the public will know that rattlesnakes and copperheads are in the Mountain Valley community.

Marlowe, a caregiver who is a licensed practical nurse, said that about 4 p.m. May 3 she and her husband were looking for mountain laurel on the family farm off Deer Haven Road in Mountain Valley. She wanted it for a flower bed in the yard of their home on Chatham Road, Axton.

When Ernest Marlowe reached down into some bushes, he was bitten on his left index finger by what turned out to be a rattlesnake, which had eight little rattles and a button, she said. One of the snake's two fangs punctured the skin, piercing a blood vessel and causing profuse bleeding, she said.

Ernest Marlowe jumped back and didn't know what had happened at first, his wife said. He started sucking his finger, which a doctor from the University of Virginia Medical Center later said may have saved Marlowe's life by getting out part of the venom, although it caused his tongue to swell.

After being bitten, Marlowe walked up to his wife, told her what had happened and asked, ""˜Reckon I ought to go to the doctor?'" she said.

She said she told him he needed to get to the emergency room. She said he was calm and level-headed. "If it was me, I would have panicked," she said.

They got in a pickup and headed for Memorial Hospital in Martinsville, with Ernest driving and Peggy calling 9-1-1. On the way, Marlowe said he was getting numb all over and dizzy, so his wife took over the driving and he began talking with 9-1-1.

"I put on the flasher on and floored it," she said.

Along the way, they met up with an ambulance summoned by 9-1-1. Ernest Marlowe needed help getting into the ambulance because by that time, he was weak and paralysis was setting in.

As his condition worsened as the day went on, he experienced hemorrhaging; stomach spasms; nausea and dry heaves; swelling of his tongue, lips, neck and hand; trouble breathing; dropping blood pressure; extreme pain; headaches; and strange head sensations, Peggy Marlowe said. However, he never lost consciousness.

He was given two vials of antivenom medicine at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville and was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center early the next morning, May 4.

Daughter Tina Postell drove Peggy Marlowe to Charlottesville, getting a speeding ticket on the way. When they arrived, Ernest Marlowe was connected to heart and blood monitors and IVs, the hand where he suffered the bite was "huge," the lower part of that hand was black and swelling was going up that arm, Peggy Marlowe said.

He was given three vials of antivenom medicine at U.Va. Medical Center, and a fourth was ready, she said.

At one point, a nurse asked him how long he had been a diabetic, but he was not diabetic, so the venom apparently affected his pancreas and his sugar level went up, Peggy Marlowe said. He didn't sleep for a total of 28 hours after he was bitten, she said, adding that he described the ordeal as the most painful thing he has been through in his life.

His condition had greatly improved by the time he was released from U.Va. Medical Center about mid-day on Monday, May 5, Peggy Marlowe said. After it had appeared he would survive, a doctor said that it was rare for a person bitten in a blood vessel by a rattlesnake to survive, she said.

That, she said, is because venom in the blood vessel will go to the heart and then will be carried through arteries throughout the body. Panicking after being bitten in a blood vessel can make the heart beat faster, sending venom throughout the body faster and lessening the chances of survival, she said.

The family was told that the fact that Ernest Marlowe, 62, was in good health and was not a smoker (venom could further damage the lungs) improved his chances of survival, Peggy Marlowe said.

When she was visiting her husband in the hospital, she said she tried to be strong and brave in front of him "and then go outside and cry and pray, "˜God, take care of him; that's my soul mate.'"�

Ernest Marlowe kept a positive attitude, even cutting up with nurses at times, his wife said. "He showed no signs of being afraid. I was terrified," she said. "He said he thought he was going to make it."�

And if even he didn't, he told his crying sister, he would get to see his parents in heaven sooner, Peggy Marlowe said.

She said of her husband's survival: "I know prayer did it. ... He was so close to death." During the ordeal, she called "prayer warriors" - including her preacher, family members and friends - and asked them to pray for her husband.

"I've seen too many things that prayer answered that doctors can't explain," she said.

Ernest Marlowe also is "thankful the Lord saved his life," his wife said. "I thank he realizes how close he came to dying and appreciates the little things more" now.

Since Ernest Marlowe was released from U.Va. Medical Center, the hand where he was bitten was swollen and partially black for several days, and he gets occasional headaches more often than he used to and gets tired more easily, especially when he is working in the sun, his wife said.

"I'm hoping this will all go away," she said, adding that he still is under a local doctor's care but things are looking good.

Ernest Marlowe was four weeks away from retirement on the day he was bitten by a rattlesnake, and as of Friday, he was one week away from retirement from the city of Martinsville, where he has been employed 35 years. He also is a cattle farmer.

He also is no stranger to bites. Several years ago, he was bitten by a black widow spider and also a recluse spider, his wife said, joking that he has added the snakebite to his résumé.

Peggy Marlowe said her heart goes out to the family of June Newman Engle of Ridgeway, who died recently after suffering a snakebite when she was working in a flower garden. Some doctors suspected an allergic reaction.


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