|MadSci Network: Zoology|
The simple answer is no, it can't. Snake venom contains numerous protein compounds called enzymes. It is these enzymes that are responsible for the symptoms one experiences when bitten by a snake. Snake venom is injected directly into the blood and is quickly circulated into the body. An old time remedy for snake bite used to be to cut an "X" over the area of the snakebite and "suck" out the venom. We now know that even vigorously trying to suck the venom out, has little to no impact whatsoever and in most cases causes more harm than good. (Nerves and muscles have inadvertently been damaged from the cuts.) So, even if the liver could have an effect, by the time you found some and placed it on the area, timewise it would have little effect. Now let's look at the liver. The primary job of the liver is to change the form of a substance in the body, called biotransformation. The liver changes a substance that is difficult for the body to handle into one that it can handle. Most often the liver changes substances from "fat-loving" or lipophilic, which means it can easily dissolve in fat to "water-loving" or hydrophilic which means it can easily dissolve in water. Substances that dissolve in water are handled much more easily in the body and can be excreted in the urine. We often think of the liver as the organ that "detoxifies" the body. However, sometimes the changes that the liver makes can be more harmful to the body, than less. To use a deer liver means it has to be removed from the body. Without the blood supply, the liver would cease to function, and the liver biotransforms chemicals which are carried into it by the blood supply. The liver doesn't "suck" anything. As to whether they did the right thing in The Yearling, literature often reflects the beliefs at the time. They thought they were doing the right thing. This belief was most likely based on experience. In many cases, someone who was treated with deer liver back then, more often lived than died. That was proof enough of the effectiveness of this "treatment". We now know that a high proportion of snake bites are actually dry bites. In other words, no venom, or very little venom is injected. Snakes use venom to disable their food. If a snake bites because it is startled and it ate not long ago or has not yet built up a store of venom to inject, no symptoms, other than the open wound will occur. That is why these old time "cures" were believed to work. We now know that the best equipment to carry in case of a snake bite is a set of car keys. No snake in North America kills instantly; old fashion remedies may cause more harm than good; and, if someone does experience severe symptoms from snakebite, hospitals are equipment with snake antivenom which can effectively treat snakebites.
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