Rachel Myrick and her family were looking for a bite to eat at a steakhouse in Virginia. But instead, she was on the receiving end of a bite — from a copperhead snake that managed to get inside a LongHorn Steakhouse and attack her toes and foot.
Myrick said the incident occurred Sept. 12 when she, her boyfriend and her 13-year-old son were meeting other family and friends at the restaurant in Fredericksburg.
She said she and her son had walked through a set of doors and were in a foyer area, about to go through another set of doors into the dining room, when she felt a sharp pain in her left foot.
At first she thought it was a bee or hornet sting. She said she took a second step and felt a bite that was more painful. It caused her to drop her wallet and phone from one hand and let go of her son’s hand as she bent down to touch her left foot.
As she clutched her foot, she said she felt something under her fingers.
“I felt it wiggle,” she said. “I knew what was going on. It was attached to my foot.”
She said she started to kick her foot and screamed, “I got bit! I got bit!”
Myrick described it as the “worst pain” she’s ever felt. Her boyfriend, Michael Clem, and son stomped on the snake and killed it.
As her boyfriend called 911, dispatchers told him to leave the snake in place so personnel could see it when they arrived. Clem helped her onto a bench outside while her family and friends let passersby know about the dead snake on the floor.
“People were going in and out,” Myrick recalled. “You could hear the screams of women, children.”
Rutherfoord Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, confirmed that the snake was a juvenile copperhead. He said the snake likely bit in self-defense and possibly got inside through a crack or crevice in the foundation.
“I’m sure it was lost,” Rose said of the snake. He said Myrick, 35, just “happened to be the one right there at the same time as the snake.”
Rose said a baby snake’s venom is “just as potent as a full grown snake” and that she likely got a bigger dose of venom than if she had been bitten by an adult snake, which could also use its fangs and not inject venom — a bite referred to as a “dry bite.”
Officials at the restaurant chain said they think the snake may have come from a nearby retention pond. In an emailed statement, a spokesman for LongHorn Steakhouse called it a “highly unusual incident.”
He said the restaurant is working with its facilities team to determine how the snake gained entry, adding that they were “taking steps to prevent it from happening again.”
According to the Virginia Poison Center, there have been 125 reported bites from venomous snakes this year in central and eastern Virginia. That’s compared with 129 for all of 2016.
Myrick was treated with pain medications and antivenin. She said doctors told her it will likely take three months to be pain-free.
She said it still feels “absolutely surreal” that she got bitten in the foyer of a restaurant.
“I know snakes are out there but you wouldn’t think you would need to look out for them at a restaurant,” Myrick said. While not a snake hater — or lover — Myrick said she prefers snakes “behind glass and in cages.”
A friend brought her a stuffed snake to the hospital to keep as a memento.
Myrick, who is originally from Falls Church, works in real estate. After the bite, she said she is not able to work, drive or put much weight on her foot. After five days in the hospital, she’s on crutches and recovering at home.
Myrick said she was thankful for family, friends and neighbors who have helped cook meals and drive her two teenagers to sporting and school events.
And she was grateful that it wasn’t worse. She said if her daughter, who was ill that evening, had been with her, she could have been bitten.
“I’m still here and moving,” she said.