ST. PETERSBURG — Lorraine Margeson buys sensible, heavy-duty leather gloves perfect for weeding her yard. Weed weaponry also includes a pole for shooing away critters that are no stranger to her yard — rattlesnakes.
A ferocious environmentalist, Margeson loves her rattlers to the point of warning her north St. Petersburg neighbors to leave them alone. "There's so much going against them,'' she says, meaning her cold-blooded friends disappearing throughout Florida because of habitat destruction and persecution.
On Sunday, she forgot to wear her gloves or use her pole.
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Margeson and her husband, Don, live on a woody acre abutting Mangrove Bay Golf Course, a place where rattlers, especially the big and dangerous eastern diamondbacks, like the pines, palmetto and mangrove habitat.
A City Council candidate whose platform includes environmental protection, she has seldom met a critter she doesn't love. She rehabs injured birds and at Fort De Soto monitors seabird nests.
At home, birds by the hundreds come to her feeders. Rattlesnakes often hide beneath the feeders to eat the mice and rats that eat the fallen seed. She sees a lot of pygmy rattlers, which can inflict a painful bite, but is more cautious around the diamondbacks, which are potentially deadly. "But they're not aggressive,'' she says. "When I want to move them out of the way, I squirt them in the face with the hose.''
Last summer she was pleased to discover a plump, 6-foot female eastern diamondback in her yard. She was sure it was pregnant. Perhaps her yard soon would be blessed with a new crop of babies.
Margeson, 56, was born in Brooklyn. She happens to be a New Yorker who lives up to the reputation of many New Yorkers. That is, she can be abrasively outspoken. If she catches somebody messing with her birds or her snakes, she rises to her full 5 feet 2 inches; opens her mouth; and lets the capital letters, exclamation points and profanities fly.
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Sunday was yard work day.
She was heading for the mower when she noticed vines creeping out of her front-yard flower bed onto the sidewalk. Because the modest-looking greenery was on the sidewalk, she didn't worry about something hiding beneath. She yanked.
She dropped the vegetation.
On her left pointer-finger knuckle was a dot of blood. A quarter inch away was another dot that hadn't broken the skin. Fang marks. Something small had bitten her, yet it hurt more than any bee or wasp sting she had ever experienced.
"DON!" she yelled at her husband. "THE TRUCK. EMERGENCY ROOM. RATTLESNAKE. NOW!''
At St. Anthony's Hospital, her discomfort grew almost as fast as her swelling hand, which soon resembled a small ham. Because she couldn't provide a without-a-doubt snake identification, a nurse administered Benadryl intravenously but waited on the antivenin.
Venomous snakes bite about 7,000 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About five of those people die. More than 25 percent of the bites are "dry,'' meaning that the snake injected less than a full dose of venom.
The swelling stopped. Margeson was discharged without needing antivenin. "I think I got a nick more than a full-blown bite,'' she said Monday, "probably from a baby eastern diamondback. My hand still hurts like hell.''
She has no intention of going on a rattlesnake-killing rampage.
"It was my fault. I was complacent. But, honey, I'm wearing gloves from now on no matter what.''