In 1957, a Scientist Carefully Documented His Own Death from a Snakebite

Caitlin Schneider

On September 25, 1957, American herpetologist Karl P. Schmidt went about as far as one can go in the name of science.

In the process of identifying a boomslang snake (Dispholidus typus) at the Chicago Natural History Museum, Schmidt picked up the reptile, and it immediately struck, plunging its rear fangs into his left thumb. The scientist sucked the venom from the wounds—and then began to chronicle every detail of the bite’s aftermath, from his symptoms to what he ate and how he slept. Within about 24 hours, Schmidt was dead from respiratory arrest and cerebral hemorrhage. 

According to this video from NPR’s Science Friday, Schmidt didn’t believe the snake had delivered a fatal dose of venom when he opted to studiously record his experience rather than seeking medical attention. ("5:30–6:30 p.m.: Strong chill and shaking, followed by fever of 101.7 degrees. Bleeding of mucus membranes in the mouth began about 5:30, apparently mostly from gums. 8:30 pm.: Ate two pieces of milk toast.") Still, they also note that he likely knew that the only anti-venom for the creature was in its homeland of Africa. Whether he misjudged his situation or accepted it, the resulting document is a sad and beautiful work of scientific observation.

[h/t Gizmodo]