Heart attack, snake bite or shingles?

By Tammy Keith Originally Published May 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 3, 2013 at 1:20 p.m.
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In the space of a few days, my husband thought he had a heart attack, pulled muscle, snake bite or the shingles.

He was right about one of them.

Martyr that he is, he didn’t tell me immediately that he was having pain. It started after he worked in the backyard, pulling weeds and raking.

He picked up piles of leaves with his bare hands and put them in a yard-waste can. He noticed one of the sticks in the can moving and, on second glance, realized it was a snake that he must have picked up with a bunch of leaves and loaded in there.

He got the hoe and dispatched it, as he put it. He later regretted it because, unlike my brother who thinks the only good snake is a dead snake, my husband realized this was a harmless one.

We arranged the snake corpse on top of the trash can. I took a picture of it and sent it to my sister-in-law, Jane, who is a Master Gardener and has seen her share of snakes.

Prairie king snake, came the answer. Harmlessness confirmed.

On Monday, after a weekend of working, my husband said he thought he was having a heart attack. When ibuprofen eased his pain, he figured it was a pulled muscle, although the pain would be in his side, chest or back and would change from aching to burning to stabbing.

Then he noticed a spot on his side and decided the snake had bitten him. He had it all figured out — it must have been on a bag of mulch he carried under his arm.

I looked at the place and couldn’t see fang marks. It looked like an old scar to me.

“That doesn’t look like a snake bite to you?”

First of all, I’ve never seen a snake bite. Secondly, no.

But I saw some places on his back that looked bad.

“Something ate you up back here, though,” I said.

I told him they looked like chigger bites, almost like blisters.

I took a picture of it, plus the alleged snake bite, and sent them to my brother, Shane. He’s a head and neck surgeon, but he’s the only medical authority in the family (excuse me, other than my mother).

He was en route to an important event with his friend, a family-practice doctor. (The truth — they were taking their kids to a Shrek and Friends soiree).

Dr. Brad did a long-distance diagnosis.

The good news: It wasn’t a snake bite. The bad news: It was shingles.

I knew that you can get shingles if you’ve had the chickenpox, but I learned something else: Everyone has a shingles story. They’ve either had it or know someone who has.

My husband’s mother had shingles, and my mother had shingles years and years ago, and she still has pain from it.

My husband said, at best, the pain is like the worst sunburn he’s ever had. Sometimes it’s a sharp pain. At other times it’s like a severely pulled muscle.

He’s glad it wasn’t a heart attack, but a pulled muscle or a nonpoisonous snake bite sound pretty good to him about now.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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