LONG WAIT: Billen Cliffs man Bo Kaan was bitten by a rough-scaled snake last month and endured a five hour wait in hospital as blood tests were carried out to determine the type of snake.
LONG WAIT: Billen Cliffs man Bo Kaan was bitten by a rough-scaled snake last month and endured a five hour wait in hospital as blood tests were carried out to determine the type of snake. Cathy Adams

Life or death delay

ONE of the original shareholders at Billen Cliffs is thanking his lucky stars he is alive after a run-in with a deadly rough-scaled snake at his property last month.

But Bo Kaan, 51, says his treatment at Lismore Base Hospital was delayed because no one in the Emergency Department was willing to use the services of a herpetologist to identify the dead body of the snake that bit him.

Instead, Mr Kaan had to endure five hours in emergency waiting for pathology to diagnose the poison coursing through his body - which they first thought to be that of a tiger snake, because the venom of both snakes reacts in a similar fashion.

In the end, the anti-venin caused a severe allergic reaction with Mr Kaan's muscles stiffening so severely that he couldn't eat for five days.

Mr Kaan said that had the snake he held in his hand on arrival at Lismore Base been correctly identified by a qualified snake person sooner, he might not have had such a severe allergic reaction to the anti-venin.

Mr Kaan, a Dutch-born immigrant who moved to Australia when he was a toddler, credits himself as a keen amateur snake enthusiast, who mistook the toxic rough-scaled for a freshwater snake, which is not poisonous.

Within moments the bite affected his system, causing him to faint. His blood lost its ability to coagulate, and he feared for his health. His daughter drove him to the Rock Valley Road where they were met by ambulance.

Interestingly, four days later a WIRES snake handler near Coffs Harbour fell victim to another rough-scaled snake, after he mistook it for a harmless tree snake.

That man also blacked out, but was driving a car at the time. He recovered from both ordeals.

In that instance Coffs Harbour Hospital staff relied on the expert opinion of snake handler Steve McEwan to identify the type of snake.

A North Coast Area Health Service spokesman said hospital protocol relied on blood samples from victims, rather than physical identification of the snake itself.

And any bite must not be cleaned, because venom will remain at the wound site and can be used for identification.

Rough-scaled snake

Also known as a Clarence River snake, rough-scaled snakes are found between the Barrington Tops and Southern Queensland with an isolated population around Cairns.

The rough-scaled snake has a slender to medium build, with a large head distinct from the body. Its back, sides and tail range in colour from brown to olive to dark brown, with dark transverse blotches or stripes predominantly across the anterior body (may be indistinct in older individuals).

Rough-scaled snakes prefer to live in moist habitats ranging from rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest, and open forest, to shrubland and heath.



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