Victor Pratt knows a thing or two about rattlesnakes, as he made clear to reporters last week, after regaining consciousness in a Phoenix hospital.
Always has. He played with rattlers all the time as a child, he told NBC News 12. Later on, he learned how to cook them.
“You cut the heads off. They taste just like chicken,” he said, a mic clipped to his hospital gown – a bit hard to understand because his face had swollen up.
Pratt even learned long ago what a rattler bite felt like, after a mishap as a teenager, though that of course could not compare to the incident Sept. 7, when he tried to re-create his childhood memories in his late 40s.
It was at his son’s birthday party near Coolidge, outside Phoenix, he told NBC 12. They were at a lake. A rattlesnake happened along, as snakes tend to.
“I showed them how to catch it and I was playing with it like little kids do,” Pratt told Fox 10.
“I was showing off,” he admitted. “Like I always do.”
The photos did look impressive, while the pose lasted: There was Pratt on his back in the dirt, with one end of the snake in each hand. There was Pratt on his feet, beside his son, wearing the snake like a scarf.
A close-up showed the snake’s fanged agape mouth, just inches from Pratt’s faded print T-shirt.
There might even have been a photo of Pratt cooking the snake, the Arizona Republic reported.
Except, not pictured, it got loose before that point in the party, and went right for Pratt’s face.
And now something else he knew about snakes crossed his mind: That the venom would spread within seconds.
“I kept my mind strong,” he told Fox 10. His sons drove him to a nearby emergency room, where a doctor quickly inserted a tube in his airway to keep him breathing as the poison swelled his flesh.
“There is a 100 percent chance he would have died if he’d not have made it to the hospital within minutes,” said Steven Curry, who directs the department of medical toxicology at Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix, where Pratt was airlifted later that day.
“The facial swelling is so immense that even your tongue and lips and the inside of your throat swell,” Curry said. “In simple terms, it would be strangulation.”
Pratt was sedated and in shock when Curry first saw him. He remained unconscious for several days, as doctors treated him with the first of what would eventually be 28 vials of antivenin.
Curry’s department sees about 70 snake bite patients each year, he said. And while facial bites are rare, men like Pratt who fancy themselves snake charmers are not.
“In my career, and I’ve been doing this for about 35 years or so, I’ve only seen one illegitimate snake bite in a woman,” he said, meaning a bite in which the victim saw the snake and didn’t try to escape.
“We find they are far too intelligent to go messing around.”
As for Pratt, he woke up from his sedation last week and entertained reporters while waiting to be discharged from the hospital, which was expected to happen Monday.
He struggled to get his words out through his bloated cheeks, but was not so proud that he couldn’t admit a deficiency in his lifelong knowledge of the snake.
“Think before you go out there and play with rattlesnakes,” he told Fox 10 late last week. “You might not make it next time.”