Weather News

Hurricane Dorian’s new danger: Copperhead bites Hilton Head woman cleaning up the yard

A Hilton Head Island woman has a warning for the throngs of people cleaning up their yards after Hurricane Dorian: wear snake-proof gloves.

Carolyn Bivens Cote was bitten by a copperhead snake on the left forefinger at mid-day Saturday while cleaning her yard in The Headlands section of Hilton Head Plantation.

“It was a pretty little snake to cause so much damage,” she said Sunday from her bed at Hilton Head Hospital.

Cote was to be kept at the hospital for a second night Sunday, as intravenous infusions of the antivenom serum CroFab continued.

“It felt like a wasp sting,” she said. “By the time I was in the ambulance, it was hurting so bad — I mean screaming kind of hurting.”

And her hand quickly looked like a football.

On Sunday, the hand was still sore to the touch and she couldn’t do something as simple as open a tube of toothpaste.

“But it doesn’t ache all the time like it was,” she said.

Cote was getting movement back in her fingers, but told friends of Facebook:

“I just want to start September over!”

On Monday, Sept. 2, Cote and her cats, Alexander and Kahlua, left Hilton Head ahead of Hurricane Dorian after the governor ordered a mandatory evacuation. She stayed with a niece, two hours away. “Kahlua meowed all the way,” she said, “but old man Alexander just let out an occasional guttural howl to show his displeasure.”

When she got back Thursday afternoon, her roommate was raking the driveway and had filled a washtub with leaves and limbs.

Like hundreds of others along the coastline, Cote went out Saturday morning to gather up yard debris. She was loading bags in her trunk when she saw a metal decorative plant holder she’s been wanting to get rid of resting by the house. She didn’t know that the snake was curled up behind it.

She reached down to pick up the plant holder and was bitten by the copperhead. It was lying against the cement slab at the base of the house.

Cote went inside, and quickly made the decision to call 911 rather than drive to the hospital. Then she went out to take a picture of the snake so it could be identified. She said it seemed like the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue ambulance pulled up from Station 5 within seconds. She grabbed her purse, and off she went.

Cote said Hilton Head Plantation Security was called and went to the house to kill the snake.

Through it all, Cote is maintaining the pleasant attitude of a 35-year Delta Air Lines international flight attendant and passenger service supervisor.

And because she and her late husband retired to Hilton Head in 1998, she knows about snakes.

“I‘ve always watched where I step,” she said. “I never go out in the yard wearing sandals.”

That helps in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where recent years have set records for the number of snakebites. In 2017, Hilton Head Hospital treated 25 snakebite patients.

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But now Cote has different thoughts.

For one thing, what if she had refused to evacuate and was bitten by a snake while Hilton Head Hospital was closed and the fire and rescue service was down?

And she has new warnings for everyone busy cleaning the yard after Hurricane Dorian lightly brushed Beaufort County:

“Get snake-proof gloves.”

“Look before you reach.”

“Stir the area up with a pitchfork or rake before you reach for anything.”

“Be careful out there.”

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Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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