Helen Hixon (left), of Idyllwild, and Lee Anderson of La Quinta, were photographing wildflowers in Garner Valley when a rattlesnake bit Anderson. Photo by Lee Anderson 

“Helen, it got me,” Lee Anderson called out to her friend Helen Hixon of Idyllwild.

Wednesday, May 15, the two women were hiking along a road in Garner Valley. They were not on Thomas Mountain or hiking a trail leading to the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail was chosen because of all the wildflowers blooming and the convenient access from Morris Ranch Road. 

Actually, it was more of a road than a trail, but the wildflowers and other plant growth were dense and doing beautifully from the wet winter.

Hixon was a few paces ahead of Anderson when she heard her friend’s warning and cry. Then they both watched the rattlesnake slither across the road into the undergrowth after its aggressive act to assert dominion over the area.

After trying to return to the car, Anderson needed to sit. The bite was on her shin and the pain was beginning. Hixon calmly used her cell phone to call 911.

The operator also urged them to just sit. Do not continue walking and wait for emergency help, which would be dispatched immediately. Anderson was grateful that Hixon could use the phone to obtain coordinates for 911 to dispatch the medical help.

Anderson’s swollen leg in the hospital, where she recovered in five days. Photo by Lee Anderson

Hixon also urged Anderson to slow her breathing. They also knew to remove all of Anderson’s jewelry because the snake venom causes tissue to swell.

This avoids two dangerous problems. The first is, as the tissue on the fingers, toes, arms and legs swells, something tight — such as a ring or even a tourniquet — could restrict needed blood flow. Secondly, it avoids having to have the jewelry cut or damaged when removed later.

An Idyllwild Fire Department ambulance arrived and sped off with Anderson. After a quick stop at Station 30 in Pinyon to verify that an air ambulance was not available, IFD rushed Anderson to Eisenhower Medical Center.

Even with a paramedic administering an IV in the ambulance, Anderson experienced a lot of pain and discomfort, which continued in the emergency room.

After the Eisenhower medical team consulted with Loma Linda University Medical Center and one in Colorado, she received her first injection of anti-venom. Within hours she was transported to Loma Linda.

Anderson was not released until Sunday. During those five days, she received 11 injections of anti-venom. That in itself is a possible danger to her kidneys and she had to have her blood tested regularly for three  weeks.

She needed a walker upon release because she was still weak from the bite, but on May 23, she said happily, “I’m getting better every day. It was slow at first but much better now.”

Anderson lives in La Quinta and Hixon in Pine Cove. They are long-time friends and had planned a walk to photograph the blooming wildflowers, agreeing to meet in the middle — Garner Valley. Originally, they were going to go to Lake Hemet and also found the Ramona Trailhead closed, which is how they found the Morris Ranch Road offshoot.

“The flowers and butterflies were gorgeous,” Hixon said. They were just walking along the dirt road admiring the flora, when Anderson was bitten.

“I stepped near a bush. I didn’t see or hear it. Then it was terrifying,” she said. “You should be aware, but I was looking at the flowers.” Then the snake, nearly black, seemed to move toward Hixon, who remained calm, but slowly backed away.

While awaiting the medical help, Anderson admitted she thought she could die from a snake bite. 

Both women said they never heard the snake rattle, it just seemed to strike without any warning or cause.

The venom attacks the body’s muscles. While recovering in Loma Linda, she felt very weak and initially couldn’t stand without help. Her leg, but not her foot, continued to swell for several days, which was why the staff continued to administer the anti-venom.

As Anderson was being transported to Eisenhower, Hixon drove her friend’s car there and called her husband again to meet her at the hospital.

Since coming home, Anderson has been able to abandon the walker, but she still tires easily.

The incident will have an effect on Anderson’s future hikes. She will likely wear guards on her lower legs, will stay away from tall grasses and bushes, and may avoid Garner Valley, especially in the spring.

She also urges the posting of signs warning of snake habitat and a notice that someone has been bitten in the area.

But the friends who hike all the time will continue, just more carefully.