Who will blink first?
“Wild Man” Phil Rakoci is one of the long-time tour leaders at the Arboretum. He handles critter of all kinds (like the centipede above), but specializes in snakes and lizards, and usually hauls a small menagerie of creatures along with him for his tours and other demonstrations. During the early morning Learn your Lizards tours at the Arboretum, he catches lizards and snakes that the group is lucky enough to find in the 1.25 mile walk around the Main Trail.
He is a consummate professional, and funny, too, bringing these creatures to life (as if they need any assistance) to school kids and adults alike. He might demonstrate how to properly handle a whiptail lizard without harming him, If he catches a bull snake, he’ll hold it firmly but gently, allowing people in the group to rub their fingers across its smooth scales.
He doesn’t pull rabbits out of his hat
Phil gives educational presentations to kids all over the state, sometimes bringing a half dozen or more critters with him in bags and boxes. The audience never has a clue about they’re going to see next. They only know that after he buries his arm elbow deep into one of these animal containers, he’s going to pull out something amazing.
It was during one of these times, just after finishing a lizard walk at the Arboretum, that he made a slight, but memorable, miscalculation.
About a year earlier, Lacey, our Director of Education, captured a centipede outside the Administration offices at the Visitor Center. “It was a beautiful chestnut redhead,” she remembers, and she was smitten enough by its robust seven-inch length and 20 pairs of yellow legs to keep it in a terrarium in her office for observational purposes. Because of its dietary preference for lizards and insects, she named it Cricket.
“It was lightning fast,” Lacey told us, “and would finish her kill to the bare bones within a few hours.” Even so, with months to observe this centipede just a few feet from her desk, she considered Cricket to have a generally mellow temperament.
More than just an ouchy
On a warm Saturday morning in the summer of 2014, Lacey brought Cricket (in its terrarium) outside for Phil to demonstrate to the visitors who attended the lizard walk that he was just finishing up. This was not the first centipede that Wild Man Phil had handled, but when he put his hand inside to grab Cricket, it was the first centipede to bite him.
“Ouch! Oh, this hurts,” he said, and looked down at the blood oozing from his right thumb where the bite had broken the skin. “This really hurts.” He kept his composure in front of the crowd and placed the centipede back in its container. Class dismissed, he drove home with pain welling up like nothing he had felt before. Here is a vivid and detailed description of his ordeal, in his own words.
“The bite was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. It was worse than my rattlesnake bite, broken ankle, scorpion sting, vasectomy, and broken/dislocated finger. By the time I got home Saturday morning after I left the Arboretum, I had been on the phone with my wife and my doctor a few times. I took a few different over the counter medications to help with the overbearing pain. My thumb, fingers, and hand were very swollen.
At one point, we discovered that I may have overdosed and my wife called my doctor who assured her that I would live but crash and sleep hard. Well, that didn’t happen. The pain was so great that after 2 Aleve, 2 Benadryl, 2 Ibuprofen, and 2 pain killers I had left over from a broken ankle incident, I could not fall asleep.
I was in pain, but feeling well enough to go to the Rattlers Conference Championship game that night. On the way to the game, some of the drugs wore off and I thought I was going to give birth to a baby alien out of my thumb. I was crying and writhing in the seat of the car. We decided to go to the emergency room for stronger medicine.
Pain and suffering that only a centipede can deliver
Once at the hospital I had to explain that, yes, I knew it was a centipede, and that, yes, I knew you shouldn’t touch them, and that it wasn’t just a quick bite, and so on and so forth. Finally, I was given some Oxycodone, or something like that, for the pain. We stopped and picked up more from the pharmacy.
“I was lucky that I was able to do my part to cheer on the Rattlers and they won a trip to the Arena Bowl. I remember riding the Metro Light Rail back to our car and woke up at 5:30 a.m. in my bed long enough for my wife to give me more painkillers that stopped the pain. My hand was swollen all day Sunday but stopped hurting by Sunday afternoon. I started to get discoloration in my thumb on Monday that lasted for two weeks. One spot is at the site of the bite and the other is at the base of my thumb nail.
My swelling was gone by Tuesday. I thought I was free and clear but the following Sunday I awoke with a secondary infection which made my thumb hot, hard, and itchy. I was on antibiotics for 14 days because of that.
Bottom line is… you don’t ever want to get bitten by a giant desert centipede. Ever. … EVER!”
Phil’s next Lizard Walk at the Arboretum is July 30 at 8am. Find out more about Wild Man Phil here: http://wildmanphil.com/