This is not a story of moving from poverty to wealth but rather a time of pre-rabies vaccinated to post. At the time of this article we are post COVID lock downs so the word vaccination often has a way of getting under a man’s skin. Vaccine refusal is at a high and we are worried about being tracked by implanted chips (though we happily carry our cell phone tracking device everywhere). Vaccine refusal is not really a choice for this risk. If you are bitten by a rabid animal and refuse this vaccine, you are most certainly requesting death as only a few people have ever survived after exhibiting symptoms (...and only survived after receiving a vaccine).
For those of us that made it through the 1980s horror movie generation you may recall Cujo, the rabid dog attacking his family. During this time we heard about the vaccines taken in the stomach if you were bitten by a rabid animal. Visions of being strapped to a gurney with numerous shots in the stomach while squealing in pain was an integral part of my 80s upbringing. Fast forward to my twenties and flashbacks were coming.
Fast forward to my mid twenties and hunting camp was getting fancy. For many years we were in an old military tent with a wood burning, barrel stove. It worked, but could get soggy during rain or snow. And maybe we accidentally set the canvas tent on fire once. Over many years, we worked on building a log cabin in the woods. We were finally at the point where we could warm it with wood heat and camp. We did not have running water or electricity, so we still used the outhouse but this made for grand sleeping accommodations in comparison.
At the end of a long day’s hunt we would sit at the table and eat warm chili while trash talking one another and playing a few rounds of euchre (a midwest staple). Hunting camp involves some delirium. You roll into a habit of staying up too late and waking up super early to make it out to your spot in the blackness of early morning. Rinse and repeat with some tracking and celebrating in between.
On one such sleep deprived night two nights before opening day of rifle season (Nov., 13th, 2011) we went to bed exhausted, our heads full of anticipation for the morning hunt. We were all sleeping soundly, between the snores and flatulence from the chili. In the darkness a terrifying scream awakens us. The glow of the fire shows a silhouette of the old man thrashing the air and wailing. We stare in confusion, until he screams “BAT!” Our response at this point is to hide under covers of course. He was already attacked, so clearly this was the time to save ourselves.
While peeking out from our sheets we see the old man in his undies, a broom handle in his hands, now flailing wildly in the air. I am sure that he feels like Babe Ruth but he resembles more a t-ball hitter. Trying feverously to smack a bat that has taken off on its erratic path within the cabin. Out of breath, cold from the dying fire, and defeated from the stealth moves of the bat, the old man finally sits. Apparently, the bat grabbed his face in the middle of the night. He had grabbed the bat and thrown him off his face. The bat was now hiding somewhere in the cabin. At this point, we were all done sleeping as the excitement of a visiting bat had created more adrenaline than our daily pot of coffee.
The interesting part of all of this was that we had just heard a story not two nights prior by a crotchety old taxidermist, Mr. Brown, who had a bat in his house that had attacked him and his wife. They happened to capture this bat and it did have rabies. The local curmudgeon had told a story of a vicious series of shots that left him writhing in pain and screaming in agony until he passed out from it. His words, "either they hurt like hell or I'm a complete 'wimp." To which my husband promptly replied, 'could be both.' We decided at this point that this must be the path for the old man. We were free as we had remained hidden under the blankets post attack, but his fate was already determined.
The old man at this point became more irritable with us as we poked, prodded, and imagined the agonizing pain that he’d soon be in. He was feeling fatigued from his Luke Skywalker impersonated light saber battle and complained of a headache. He was slightly aggressive as we laughed about his impending shot series. At this point, we read the symptoms of rabies and decided that he now meets so many: fear, fatigue, headaches, aggression, irritability. This only created greater laughter in us and more irritability in him.
When the morning sun finally rose and the Michigan Health Department was finally staffed we called for some clarity. Our glee quickly turned to sadness. Bats apparently, have such tiny teeth and claws that you can become scratched or even bitten without ever knowing. They also love to chew on and place these claws in their mouths which can spread rabies from their saliva if they are positive with the virus. Given the fact that there had been reported rabies cases in the area recently, and the fact that the bat could have landed on anyone of us during the night, we soon realized that everyone who slept at the cabin that fateful night would all need the series of rabies shots!
Rabies shots, and the day before opening day. The upshot of paying over 17k per person for rabies inoculations (look it up, it's ridiculous), and receiving seven, eight, or nine shots (depending on your body weight) is that with a booster you're pretty set for life. You prolly won't die of hydrophobia or the other, much worse, symptoms of rabies.
Good luck and happy hunting,
Dr. Jennifer Hiller
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