PORTLAND, Ore. – Snake collector Matt Wilkinson of Portland grabbed a 20-inch rattler from the highway near Maupin, and three weeks later, to impress his ex-girlfriend, he stuck the serpent in his mouth.
He was soon near death with a swollen tongue that blocked his throat. Trauma doctors at the Oregon Health and Science University saved his life.
"You can assume alcohol was involved," he said. Actually, not just beer. It was something he called a "mixture of stupid stuff."
Calls from cable network television stations poured in Tuesday, when he still had sore muscles and nerves from the venom.
It happened at a barbecue with friends.
Wilkinson, 23, had downed a six-pack and his ex-girlfriend asked him for a beer. He handed her one, not realizing the snake was also in his hand.
"She said, 'Get that thing out of my face,'" Wilkinson said. "I told her it was a nice snake. 'Nothing can happen. Watch.'"
So he stuck the snake in his mouth.
"It got a hold of my tongue," he said.
He was having breathing problems when his ex-girlfriend drove him to the hospital. "She was the only one sober," Wilkinson said.
En route, they spotted a police car and asked for help.
His next memory, he said, was waking up at the hospital.
Doctors could not get a breathing tube down his throat.
Dr. Richard Mullins cut a hole in Wilkinson's neck to insert the breathing tube. Physicians started giving antivenin, moved him to intensive care and kept him sedated until the swelling went down.
The Poison Control Center sees about 50 people a year with snake bites, usually hikers. Deaths from rattlesnake bites in Oregon are extremely rare.
Wilkinson, who works in construction, has yet to return to work. His three Western diamondback rattlers have been removed from his home.
He says co-workers have been pretty blunt.
"They were like, 'What the heck were you thinking?'" Wilkinson said.
The answer? "It's my own stupidity."