This past Monday, Diane was out house-hunting. She checked out a listing for a house that was interesting in part because it was close to a park. After looking at the house, Diane went over to the park to have a look at it, too. This was Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, near I-275 and Gandy Boulevard. She took Ritka, our Vizsla, walking with her. Diane and Ritka were near the water’s edge at about 4:30 PM when Diane saw the water churn. She immediately called to Ritka and started moving away from the water. Ritka’s usual behavior is to run ahead, and that’s just what Ritka did. Diane, though, slipped on the slope and fell to her hands and knees, perhaps in part due to the slip-on “Crocs”-like shoes she was wearing at the time. The churning water was, indeed, a sign of a gator making a lunge, coming out of the water. The gator didn’t connect with anything on his first lunge, but he grabbed Diane’s left calf with his second lunge.
Diane turned and grabbed the gator’s jaw to discourage it from ripping her calf muscle. The gator then released her calf, but when it snapped its jaws shut the second time, Diane’s left thumb was caught there by a tooth. She says that she didn’t care to play tug with a gator, not with just her thumb as the part in the middle. She reached over with her right hand and grabbed the gator’s eye ridge. Diane says that after maybe 30 seconds to a minute of this standoff, the gator opened his jaws, releasing Diane’s thumb. Diane released the gator’s eye ridge. She says that she briefly had considered trying to hold the gator’s jaws closed and using Ritka’s leash to tie it up, but that she didn’t think that she was up to any more tussling with the gator. So the gator headed back to the water and Diane on up the bank and away.
Diane then went back to the van with Ritka, and called to find out about where the nearest medical facility that would treat a gator bite and take our insurance for payment was. She then drove there, to the Morton Plant Bardmoor emergency facility at Starkey and Bryan Dairy Road. Her parents and then I caught up with her there. Her bite wounds were cleaned and dressed, and somewhere around there she had a bout of nausea, sometime about two hours post-attack. The medical staff gave her IV anti-nausea medicine, morphine, and then Vancomycin. They decided she should have observation for the next 24 hours, so they arranged for admittance at Morton Plant Mease in Clearwater. On Tuesday, she received more anitbiotics, since gator bites almost always get infected, and the infections can themselves be fatal. The principal pathogen to be countered is apparently Aeromonas hydrophila. Two orthopedic surgeons had a look and concurred that she would not need surgery. Diane was discharged around 5 PM on Tuesday.
Diane has a couple of weeks of oral antibiotics to continue with, plus twice-daily changes of the wound dressings. We are watching for fever or any sign of infection in the wounds, but so far she is doing fine. She is sleeping a good chunk of the day. That is, when the reporters will leave her alone. She has marks from about two dozen gator teeth on her calf, ranging from scratches through scrapes, tears, and full punctures. She has a pretty big puncture on her left thumb. She had some cuts and abrasions on her right hand.
A second nuisance complaint from the same park was called in Wednesday. A trapper went out and found a gator that had no fear of people at the site of Diane’s attack. He measured it at 6′ 9″ and noted that it was missing about a foot of tail, making it overall about an eight-footer. In looking at past records of fatal attacks, those have been done by gators as small as 6′ 6″. Diane was very fortunate to have come out of this with as little damage as she did.
Here’s some of the coverage of Diane’s story so far:
St. Petersburg Times. This one is slightly inaccurate in places, but was filed before Harwell did an in-person interview with Diane, so we are hoping for a better article later.
Diane says that she wouldn’t mind going to an alligator-free place for a while, so please go vote for our bid to blog an Antarctic trip next February.
Update: ABC News has taken the story to the national audience. Fox News had a segment, but I don’t know if that was regional or national.