'Can't drink Coke': Man's three-year side effect after snake bite

·News and Video Producer
·7-min read

A NSW man was left unable to taste and smell for almost three years after being bitten by a venomous snake.

Even lemons lost their flavour after 30-year-old Patrick Quinn’s was struck twice on the hand by a red-bellied black snake, leaving him able to bite into the fruit without experiencing bitterness.

“They just tasted like cardboard,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

Patrick Quinn's left hand is bloodied. He holds the red-bellied black snake in his right hand.
Patrick Quinn was bitten twice on the hand when he tried to remove a snake from a dog kennel. Source: Supplied

Worst of all was that as Mr Quinn’s ability to experience flavour began to return, the taste of his favourite soft drink had changed, making it unpalatable.

“I don't drink Coke no more,” he said.

“I used to drink it a fair bit, but I can't explain it, it just tastes weird all together.

“Same with when you’d go for a nice steak sandwich or a burger or something like that, you’d think you’d know how it was going to taste, but you’d bite into it and it’d taste nothing like it.”

Loss of taste, smell common after black snake bites

Associate Professor Dr Bryan Fry, from The University of Queensland, has found losing a sense of taste and smell is a common occurrence after being bitten by Australian black snakes.

In the course of milking more than 30,000 snakes over 25 years, the venom researcher has been bitten 27 times, twice by black snakes.

“I had heard of the loss of sense of smell before it happened to me and I thought it was a bit of a myth,” he said.

Pictured is Patrick Quinn.
Mr Quinn was left without a sense of taste after he was bitten. Source: Supplied
A row of Coca Cola bottles.
After being bitten by a snake, Mr Quinn said Coca Cola became unpalatable. Source: Getty Images

“It turns out it’s true.

“I’m down to about a quarter of my sense of smell which means that delicate French cooking, which relies on aromatic flavours, is lost on me.

“I put chilli on everything. About the only think I don’t put it on is oats in the morning.”

Even stranger for Dr Fry is that his sense of smell changes from day to day, with him experiencing the scent of his wife’s perfume as attractive one day and resembling cleaning spray the next.

Theory about loss of smell phenomenon

Why people lose their sense of smell from black snake venom remains a mystery to researchers.

Unlike other snake bite victims, humans can live long enough after the event for “weird things to happen”, Dr Fry explains.

He describes black snake venom as being “powerfully toxic”, causing profound damage to muscles throughout the body.

As noses are highly vascularised and receive a lot of blood flow, Dr Fry theorises the venom could be physically damaging the nasal cavity, resulting in loss of smell.

Pictured left is Patrick Quinn's swollen hand and on the right is the NSW man holding up a fish.
Mr Quinn (pictured) said his hand swelled for days after he was bitten by a snake, but it has since returned to normal function. Source: Supplied

The real impact of snake bites, he explains, is on the survivors of snake bites, many of whom can continue to experience debilitating symptoms for years.

In India, where about a million people a year are bitten by snakes, only about 50 to 100,000 die, but about half of the survivors suffer from permanent effects, including destroyed kidneys and amputated limbs.

“The socio-economic cost is huge because of that,” Dr Fry said.

“In the case of the black snakes, we know that kidney damage is a permanent characteristic as well.

“There may be other aspects of permanent damage that just aren't as noticeable.”

Man’s back gives out after snake bite

Moments before Mr Quinn had his life changed forever by the snake bite, he had been relaxing with his mates after a busy week in which he had been working as an apprentice plant mechanic.

“It was Friday arvo and we’d finished work, and I was just sitting around the smoko hut having a few beers with the boys,” he said.

Within three months of being bitten, he was left no longer able to continue his apprenticeship, having wrecked his back while picking up a car battery.

The sudden back injury, he believes, likely occurred because of damage to his body from the snake bite, a theory Dr Fry says is entirely possible.

Despite three operations, Mr Quinn remains debilitated.

Life changing decision to move snake hiding in dog kennel

Retelling his story three years on, Mr Quinn feels no animosity for the snake, but would probably rethink how he handled the situation.

The bite occurred at his parents’ home in Carrathool, on the NSW Riverina, where his mum who he says is petrified of snakes, told him one was hiding in her dog Stewart’s kennel.

Frightened she might put a shovel through the reptile’s neck out of fear, Mr Quinn decided to relocate it himself.

Living on a property, hours from a snake catcher, he was determined to save the snake’s life and get it to a safe place.

A red-bellied black snake on some pebbles.
Associate Professor Dr Bryan Fry thought losing your sense of smell from a red-bellied black snake bite was a myth until it happened to him. Source: Getty Images

This snap decision would lead to excruciating pain and his mates calling him a “d***head” for his trouble.

“I couldn’t move the dog kennel because it was a big, heavy one, so I just reached in and grabbed it out,” he said.

“As it came out, I sort of might have been a bit too rough with it, I don’t know.

“Then it came back and grabbed me twice on the same hand.”

100km trip to closest hospital

Not feeling any soreness from the bite, Mr Quinn carried the snake 50 metres down to the river and released it.

The animal lover then showered and grabbed a beer out of the freezer, which he later decided not to drink, and his dad drove him 110km north-east to Griffith Hospital.

It was hours after being bitten that his eye-watering symptoms began.

“I was in hospital for the night and they took all my bloods,” he said.

“It was a dry bite, but (my hand) still swelled up like a balloon, and my wee was red and dark brown.

“It was darker as it went on, but I really wasn’t worried about it to be honest.”

Once home, the pain continued to travel across his body, with Mr Quinn describing the feeling as like being “hit by a truck”.

“It just wrecked me for a good three days,” he said.

“I was in bed, in that much pain, my whole nervous system was fighting the antivenin.”

‘That stinks’: Surprising moment smell disappears

Despite being able to deal with the pain, it was losing his sense of smell that was perhaps the most unnerving consequence for Mr Quinn.

“I didn’t really pick up on it until about two weeks later,” he said.

“Because we went away and we were walking around some swampy areas, in the mangroves, and my missus said ‘f*** that stinks’.

“I was like what? What stinks? I couldn’t smell it.”

Two photos of different types of chips.
Since the snake bite Mr Quinn can only enjoy salt and vinegar chips, and hates other flavours. Source: Getty Images

Three years on, Mr Quinn is now struggling to get used to experiencing taste again, as like with Coca Cola, many of the foods he once loved are nothing like he remembers.

“I mainly only eat chips, like salt and vinegar chips now, they’re the only chips I eat,” he said.

“I like the Kettle ones, salt and balsamic vinegar ones.

“I used to eat chicken, barbecue and all that, but they’re just a weird flavour in my mouth, I don’t like it.”

Lessons learned from snake bite

Continuing to suffer from the effects of the snake bite, Mr Quinn recommends others contact a snake catcher rather than try to move it themselves.

It is not uncommon for Australians to find snakes in their backyard and experts suggest people should remain calm and bring others, including pets, inside.

If the snake doesn’t naturally move away on its own, it should not be approached and an experienced snake catcher should be called.

Snakes are protected wildlife in all Australian states, playing an important role in ecosystems and it is an offence to harm them.

People who are bitten by a snake should call Triple-0 immediately and apply first aid.

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