WASHINGTON Andrew Bacas got a jolt, like an electric shock, when he stuck his hand in his suitcase. He thought it might be the extension cords he'd stashed in there.
That would be wrong.
It was a snake, albeit a little one, and he could tell by the shape of its head and its coloring that it was dangerous.
"It was like a spark going through my hand," said Bacas, 49. "I thought it was all that static electricity in the cords. But when I saw the movement, I knew there was something in there."
Bacas, 49, the varsity boys' crew coach at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va., was back home in Arlington Friday after spending three days at Inova Fairfax Hospital, two in intensive care. The snake turned out to be a canebrake rattlesnake, one of the deadliest snakes in the United States; rescue workers "froze" it with a carbon dioxide extinguisher.
Bacas had just returned home from a spring break conditioning trip to Summerton, S.C., with his team and was unpacking Monday when the 10-inch rattlesnake bit his right hand. Fortunately, this one was a baby.
Even so, by the time he reached the emergency room, his throat had constricted, and he was severely nauseated and suffering from abdominal cramps. Then he started sweating profusely. His initial blood work showed his platelet count and blood clotting factors were impaired, he said.
"They were worried I was going to get worse," said Bacas, who was given an antivenin serum. "Their biggest concern was critical organ damage."
Canebrake bites that result in death usually involve snakes much larger than the one that attacked Bacas, reptile experts say.
Bacas said that the swelling in his right hand, where he was bitten in the fleshy part just below his pinky finger, has gone down but that he still has swelling in his arm and elbow and that several lymph nodes are raised. He said there's discoloration and tenderness.
"I may lose a bit of the musculature there," said Bacas, a private equity investor. "But hopefully there will be no major damage."
His encounter with the snake made national news.
Bacas said he's convinced that it slithered into his bag in South Carolina, where he had left it outside his room for the five days he was there. The bag was full of cords and ropes and "things that make for a perfect hiding place for a snake," he said.
When the snake bit him, he said he used barbecue tongs to pull everything out of the bag, one piece at a time.
"What was left was a perfect little circular coil, an itty-bitty brown snake with a triangular head and speckles," he said.
Bacas said he called his housekeeper, Thelma Rivas, who was downstairs, to the bedroom to help. He told her he had been bitten by a snake and that the snake was still in the bag on the bed.
"I pushed the bag shut, and she zipped it up," he said. "She's the one who trapped him in there."