Chicago Daily Tribune, October 3, 1957.
[Author] Dr. Karl P. Schmidt, famed snake expert, made a detailed scientific record of the effect of the poison from a snakebite. He made the record while he was dying. What follows is his diary, a look into the mind of a doomed man, a scientist curious to the end.
Diary of my Own death
[Schmidt] : September 25, 1957.
"A 30-inch snake brought for identification into the Chicago Natural History Museum from the Lincoln Park Zoo proved to be uncommonly difficult to name. It was known to be an African snake, and with the characteristic head shape, oblique and keeled dorsal scales, and bright-colored pattern should have offered no difficulty. But no key for identification would make it a boomslang, for the anal plate was undivided. That it was, nevertheless, a boomslang, Dispholidus typus, was dramatically tested by its behavior. I was discussing the possibility of its being a boomslang when I took it without thinking of any precaution, and it promptly bit me on the fleshy lateral aspect of the first joint of the left thumb. The punctures bled freely, and I sucked them vigorously. The mouth was widely opened, and the bite was made with the rear fangs only. Only the right fang entered into its full length of about three millimetres"
"4:30 to 5:30 PM-- strong nausea, but without vomiting during trip to Homewood on suburban train.
5:30 to 6:30 PM-- strong chill and shaking, followed by fever of 101.7 degrees.
Bleeding of mucous membranes in the mouth began about 5:30, apparently mostly from gums.
8:30 PM-- ate two pieces of milk toast.
9:00 to 12:20 AM-- slept well.
Urination at 12:20 AM.
Mostly blood, but small in amount.
Took a glass of water at 4:30 AM, followed by violent nausea and vomiting, the contents of the stomachbeing the undigested supper.
Felt much better and slept until 6:30 AM."
Page 3, September 26.
"6:30 AM-- temperature 98.2.
Ate cereal and poached egg on toast, and applesauce, and coffee for breakfast. No urine with an ounce or so of blood about every three hours. Mouth and nose continuing to bleed, not excessively."
[Author]: September 26.
"1:30 PM-- after lunch, vomited and called wife.
Found in sweat, unable to talk or answer. Physician called. Resuscitation attempted and continuous until arrival at hospital."
3:00 PM-- pronounced dead from respiration paralysis.
Boomslang venom affects its prey rapidly.
For example, 0.0006 milligrams of the stuff can kill a bird in just a few minutes.Venoms like the boomslang's cause disseminated intravascular coagulation. That's when the body makes so many tiny blood clots that it runs out of its clotting ability,.causing the snake's victim to bleed to death. So a bird dies in just a few minutes.
Karl P. Schmidt, not being a bird, succumbed to the effects of boomslang venom in 24 hours. His eyes were bleeding, his lungs were bleeding, his kidneys were bleeding, his heart was bleeding, his brain was bleeding.
The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Schmidt was asked if he would see a doctor the morning after the snakebite, just hours before he died. To that he replied, no, that would upset the symptoms.
Was this a case of curiosity killing the scientist? News stories about Schmidt said he didn't believe the snake delivered a lethal dose of venom.
An expert herpetologist, Schmidt also knew that boomslang antivenom was only available in Africa..So in the end, what killed Karl P. Schmidt? The autopsy report said the underlying cause of death was venom poisoning from a snakebite.
But there might be another cause-- being a scientist. Maybe he underestimated the venom's effects, or maybe without access to boomslang antivenom, he accepted his death. Either way, instead of going to the hospital and seeking treatment, he wrote about it. And being a scientist, he saw potential for discovery with each note, even poached eggs and toast. At the edge of death, most of us would step back. But not Karl P. Schmidt.
He jumped into the unknown.