An avid outdoorsman, Ryan Toogood fishes for sharks in the Atlantic, hikes alligator habitat in the Everglades and even owns a pair of snake-proof boots.
But he was wearing flip-flops when he stopped to stretch his legs on a drive across Alligator Alley, and that was all the opening a poisonous water moccasin needed to bite the side of his right big toe.
“‘Wow!’ I remembered thinking,” the 29-year-old Boynton Beach man said Wednesday. “‘This hurts like hell, but that’s a cool-looking snake.’”
Toogood said that despite pain that felt “like someone driving a nail through my toe and pounding on my foot at the same time,” he stayed calm enough to pull his smartphone from his pocket and snap a picture of the reptile.
The snake, with mouth open, was hissing at him, Toogood said.
Toogood’s agonizing adventure began about 6:45 p.m. Saturday at a rest area of Big Cypress National Preserve as he and his girlftriend, Kate Walsh, were returning to their home from a fishing trip to Naples.
Hobbling back to his car just 20 feet away, Toogood slipped behind the wheel and told Walsh, “A snake just bit me on the big toe,” he said.
At that point, he said he did not know what kind of snake it was.
Toogood said he thought he could complete the drive home. But as soon as he put his foot on the pedal, a surge of pain made him realize he needed help, Toogood said.
Walsh dialed 911, Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue arrived within minutes. They looked at Toogood’s foot, forwarded the picture of the snake to the Miami-Dade Venom Response Unit, and called for a fire-rescue helicopter.
“That’s what made me the most anxious,” said Toogood, who also is an insulin-dependent diabetic. “They don’t airlift you unless it’s serious.”
Checking his monitor, Toogood said he could see his blood-sugar levels spiking.
An ambulance took him down Interstate 75 to a helicopter. It was the first chopper ride of his life, and soon he was in the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston.
Waiting at the hospital with the Venom Response Unit paramedics was someone Toogood recognized from television: Capt. Jeffrey Fobb, who has appeared on Animal Planet’s “Swamp Wars.”
“I was star-struck right off the bat,” Toogood said. “He was a calming presence who helped take my mind off things.”
Toogood was treated with several doses of antivenin during his hospital stay.
The Venom Response Unit responds to about 20 to 30 poisonous snakebite calls each year, Fobb said.
Fobb praised Toogood as an excellent patient, “aware of his health issues, aware of his pain level, calm enough to tell us what’s going on.”
After two nights in the hospital Toogood returned home Monday. The swelling in his foot is down, as is the pain, but walking still hurts, said Toogood, a New Jersey native who studied law at the University of Miami. Both he and Walsh are attorneys with a West Palm Beach firm.
He said heexpects to be back in the office next week.
“The whole thing has been surreal,” he said of the past four days. “I would characterize this as an unfortunate accident. I was wearing flip-flops in the Everglades, and even though the snake bit me on a patch of grass that had just been mowed, it is his territory.”
Many have asked Toogood if he killed the snake, which Fobb said was likely a juvenile.
“No, I didn’t kill the snake,” Toogood said. “I hope it lives a long and healthy life and gets a lot bigger. I sort of like the idea that there is a snake out there that got me good.”