Eric Ebinger On Surviving a Rattlesnake Bite

Last spring, Eric Ebinger, 44, and his son, Rio, 10, were on a float trip on a remote stretch of Montana's Flathead River when a rattlesnake bit Eric in the leg. Eric tells the story:

"Rio and I had just unloaded the raft at a campsite when I went to find a good place to fish. I hiked to the riverbank and made a cast, and then set my rod on a rock. I had found a forked stick that I was going to use as a rod stand, but when I squatted down to drive it into the ground, I felt this slight pinprick on my upper thigh. When I stood up I saw a medium-size rattlesnake coiled between my legs.

We knew the area well and had seen snakes there before, but I guess I let my guard down. I jumped away from the snake and rushed over to Rio and said, "Son, you got to pack up the gear and get me to a hospital."

I walked to the raft and tied a strand of rope around my thigh as a tourniquet, then lay down and elevated my leg. After Rio loaded the gear, he launched the raft and started downstream. Rio began to cry and kept saying, "I don't want you to die, Dad." I tried to reassure him that I'd be okay, but I was already acting loopy from the poison. I asked Rio where my hat was, and he said, "Dad, it's on your head."

Rio was able to gather his strength--at one point he had to jump out of the raft to tow it and me upstream for about 100 yards. About two hours after we left the campsite, we reached a spot that gave us close access to the highway. Rio tied the raft to a tree, then helped me limp toward the road. When I finally got service on my cellphone, I called our shuttle guide to come get us. An ambulance would've taken forever. We were in the middle of nowhere.

"The doctors said it was the worst snakebite they'd ever seen."

-Eric Ebinger

The doctors said it was the worst snakebite they'd ever seen. My leg swelled to the size of two watermelons, and they injected me with four doses of antivenin. That first night I was writhing in pain and puked nonstop. I wouldn't wish that sort of agony on my worst enemy.

It didn't hit me how amazing Rio was until one of the doctors said to me, "Your son saved your life." I guess knowing my son--how much I've taught him about the woods and rowing--it didn't surprise me that much. He's definitely not like most 10-year-olds.

As soon as I recovered, we took another fishing trip right away. We even went back to that same spot, and I found my fishing rod. It was lying on the ground right where I got bit.

--As told to Colin Kearns