By CATHY DYSON The Free Lance-Star
It was the snakebite story shared around the world.
Or so it felt to Rachel Myrick, who was bitten by a poisonous snake more than 4½ years ago in the lobby of a restaurant in Spotsylvania County. The “crazy story”, as she called it, was shared by news outlets and digital media around the world.
At the time, it was one of the most viewed posts on all of Facebook.
But few people know the horror Myrick endured as a result of meeting Copperhead, says her fiancé, Michael Clem. He was with her on September 12, 2017, when a snake about 8 inches long bit her twice on the toes and once on the side of her left foot as she entered LongHorn Steakhouse in Southpoint II in Massaponax.
Either the stings or the antivenom given to treat them – or perhaps the combination – plunged Myrick into a condition known as complex regional pain syndrome. The condition is severely disabling and causes pain that is often far greater than the initial injury, according to the Stanford Medicine website.
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For Myrick, 40, all aspects of life have changed. The real estate agent, runner and “RoboMom” as Clem called her, once on the go and successful, spends most of her days in bed or in a wheelchair. She can walk on crutches, maybe an hour a day until pain and exhaustion overwhelm her.
The slightest touch to his skin, even from a breeze, can be debilitating.
“You feel like your skin is sunburned, and then you take sand or shards of glass, depending on how bad my moment is, and just rub it on top,” she said. “I’m in the worst pain of my entire life, times 10.”
The website of the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, which provides support and education, details the condition that many refer to as “suicide disease.”
“I try not to use that term,” said Jim Broatch, executive vice president and director of the Connecticut-based association.
But the reality is that the McGill Pain Index ranks it as the most painful chronic pain – worse than non-terminal cancer, childbirth and amputation of a toe or finger, he said. -he declares.
“We’re talking about relentless pain, 24/7,” Broatch said. “Some people die by suicide, and some people dump it every day. It’s not something you would wish on your worst enemy.
Adding to the the pain for Myrick and his longtime partner, Clem, who live in Spotsylvania, are financial worries. Together they were making about $300,000 a year before the snakebite, but she can’t work anymore and he’s afraid he’ll leave her too long because she needs help with almost every aspect of daily life.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for someone who is “incredibly uncomfortable being a burden,” Myrick said. She regularly describes the time in her life before she was “bitten,” when as a single mother of two, she coached her daughter’s cheerleading squad and cheered on her son at hockey games. baseball.
When the Spotsylvania Parks and Recreation Department decided to honor a football or cheerleading coach who best exemplified the spirit of the game, sportsmanship and quality of teaching, Myrick received the inaugural award. in 2015, said Recreation Manager Brian Barnes.
“She was dedicated, enthusiastic and expressed an unwavering positive attitude that was contagious,” he said in an email.
This was in addition to Myrick’s work schedule, which often spanned six or seven days a week, and running. Once she flew to Colorado for a 10k run and to visit a relative. She raced – a mile above sea level, and didn’t have her best time – but then she hiked in the Rockies the next day and came home.
“That was my speed back then, it was consistent. It was awesome,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. You go from that person to someone who can’t take care of their own needs. You can’t do anything.
There were frustrations getting insurance approval for treatments, side effects from the powerful painkillers she was prescribed and, finally, the inherent stress of a legal battle. She decided to sue LongHorn’s owner, Rare Hospitality International, for $25 million in damages. Rare Hospitality’s parent company is Darden Restaurants, which operates more than 1,800 locations nationwide.
Initially, Myrick was not interested in a lawsuit – even though the people around her, from those who cared for her during the six days she spent in hospital after the snakebite in friends and colleagues – suggested that he continue.
“I didn’t feel like I was wronged,” she said in a recent interview. “I didn’t have the slightest animosity towards anyone, but maybe the snake wasn’t really my friend.”
She viewed the incident as “just the wild and crazy circumstances of life,” she said.
But when her story became so widely publicized, people started posting about other snake sightings, both at the restaurant and in the surrounding area, Myrick and Clem said. He has hired a private detective to complete the findings of his lawyer’s investigation, but the claims on social media have not been verified.
At this point, the matter is in reserve, which means that even if the allegations are true, they are not enough to establish a valid cause of action. Next month, a judge in Spotsylvania County Civil Court will determine whether the case will proceed.
The deal is complicated and complex, just like the disease from which Myrick suffers. Documents filed by Myrick’s attorney at Spotsylvania Circuit Court allege the restaurant and other defendants failed to address a potential snake problem due to habitat, including a nearby retention pond and rocks rock around the front of the building.
The restaurant’s lawyers argued that even if Myrick could prove the ‘snake in question’ had ventured into LongHorn – and may not have been brought in by another customer – the business was not not responsible, according to documents filed with the case.
“The Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled that there can be no claim against a landowner for trespassing by wild animals,” according to documents filed by Rare Hospitality. Defendants were unaware of “a single case in Virginia where a court held a landowner liable for damage caused by a wild animal” that was not in his possession.
At one point, the case entered the realm of the Eastern District of Virginia and Judge M. Hannah Lauck cited a “glimmer of hope” for Myrick. The judge said the intricacies of the wildlife doctrine “are far from settled and do not categorically prohibit Myrick’s claims.”
However, Lauck ruled that the federal court lacked jurisdiction and sent him back to county court.
Myrick and Clem spent nearly three hours in an interview trying to describe the decline in her health and the timeline of the procedures she tried. He estimates she saw about 100 doctors, specialists and neurosurgeons in more than 250 appointments. Their medical bills exceeded $1 million, she said, and that doesn’t include co-payments for prescriptions and over-the-counter treatments.
Although CRPS often creates incredible pain in the affected limb or joint, it can also spread to other parts of the body. Myrick has it in his legs and feet, arms and hands and shoulders.
Her left leg is by far the worst limb because that’s where she was bitten. She wears a slipper three times larger on the affected foot as she cannot tolerate anything rubbing against her skin. Likewise, she usually wears her hair short or up to her shoulders because she has another hot spot on her back that cannot make contact.
“My whole life is dictated by this disease,” she said.
She tried four sympathetic nerve blocks in which a numbing drug is injected to interrupt pain signals sent to the brain. None worked. She had two spinal cord stimulators implanted in the hope that they will send low levels of electricity to the affected area to relieve pain.
She hasn’t felt much pain relief, but the devices have improved blood circulation in her feet, and she is grateful for that. However, the surgeries, which were supposed to be performed on an outpatient basis, caused a flare-up of pain and she was hospitalized for several weeks.
Likewise, the strong painkillers she was prescribed, including morphine and Dilaudid, as well as gabapentin to treat nerve pain, left her “numb and underwater”, she said. Clem gave an example of their impact.
“She couldn’t say the word cucumber,” he said.
“I could hold it and look at it, but my recall of the words was horrible,” Myrick said. “I couldn’t complete the sentences.”
Because the painkillers didn’t offer much relief — and caused side effects, including gastrointestinal issues — Myrick decided to wean herself off the drug. She wants to try two other treatments, including low-dose ketamine infusions, and has to stop painkillers to get them.
If they don’t work, she doesn’t know what options are left. If they work and remain available — as fewer clinics nationwide offer the infusions — she and Clem will have to pay up to $15,000 out of pocket for each treatment. And she may need several a year.
Rare Hospitality’s attorney offered a $100,000 settlement, Clem said, which they didn’t accept because they believe her long-term care will exceed that amount.
“We want treatments for her and we can’t afford them,” Clem said. “I’m doing everything I can to survive, but it won’t be long before we’re in trouble.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425