A Snake-Smitten Florida Vet Doesn't Take His Patients Lightly

updated 09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/1986 01:00AM

Dr. Elliott Jacobson thought he'd seen it all. In nine years as a wildlife medical specialist with the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville, Jacobson had removed two golf balls from a snake's stomach, a triple-hooked fishing line from a crocodile's belly and roughly 200 nails, screws and bolts from an ostrich's guts. Now he was facing a case with an even stranger twist: a four-foot pine snake who'd swallowed a pair of 15-watt light bulbs. "Since the golf balls," says Jacobson, 41, "this is probably the most interesting foreign-body ingestion I've ever had."

A New York City native who's owned snakes since he was 7, Jacobson tends to be passionate about cold-blooded patients, and the critical condition of this snake really roused him. Named G.E., the reptile had been found nearby in the yard of Carman Clark, 70, and his wife, Lynn, 69. The Clarks recognized that nonpoisonous G.E. was a member of a protected species and that, as Lynn says, "the poor feller would die." Indeed, Jacobson estimated that the bulbs—which G.E. had probably mistaken for chicken eggs—would crush the blood vessels of the stomach walls. G.E. soon would die either of the trauma or starvation.

The emergency surgery, in which the bulbs were squeezed out of a 2½ inch incision, lasted 45 minutes. The snake is recuperating nicely, resting on a heating pad and subsisting on a diet of soft foods and Gatorade. The stomach incision should heal by the first two weeks of September, at which time G.E. will return to the wilds, and Jacobson will go back to such mundane tasks as performing root canal operations on the herd of elephants at a local preserve.

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