Snakes do not have higher mental functionality. They cannot feel gratitude, sorrow, or the same myriad of emotions the same way we do. This is why psychopaths are said to have “reptilian brains” by some: because they are perceived as being incapable of feeling emotions (although this view is somewhat inaccurate, as psychopaths can still understand emotions quite well and occasionally feel them). A snake’s brain, however, is not remotely capable of feeling such emotions.
At best, a snake will feel irritated that you grabbed it (especially if its wild), threatened that a larger predator (who was likely stupid enough to cast a shadow over the animal, like a bird of prey would in the wild) grabbed it, and that it is being prevented from hunting. This will likely result in a bite, as snakes mainly bite when feeling threatened (the shadow thing, in particular, helps in that a lot).
Assuming the snake is not hostile, the best reaction you will get is the snake coiling around your arm, which it does in order to receive some body heat. It would do the same thing on top of a warm rock after having just swum.
Furthermore, the snake most likely isn’t “drowning.” The vast majority of snakes are perfectly capable of swimming. There is even a wide variety of sea snakes, the majority of which are venomous. Last thing you want to do is risk a bite from one of them.
In fact, of the two venomous snakes in my own home state of Massachusetts, one is endangered and inhabits a small amount of land outside of public access (timber rattlesnake) and the other (copperhead) is very common and active a lot in the water. While I was swimming, I actually came very close to grabbing a copperhead when I was younger because I thought it was drowning, but it raised its head and hissed loudly at me before I had a chance to even grab it, and swam off extremely fast.
A “drowning snake” is quite rare in the wild and if you happened upon one, it is most likely not drowning nor would it give a crap about you “saving” it.
By Albert Schmidt