Welcome to one of my more tangible images of hell - imagining standing wherever the heck this photographer was standing and looking up at a sky full of flapping, and probably pooping, bats. My mind conjures all sorts of sensations, like what the air must smell like, or maybe more to the point what it might feel like, taste like.
And I am totally creeping myself out.
(Note for bat lovers - If you missed Part One – I Like Bats, you might think I’m an indiscriminate bat basher. Nope. Go read Part One. I’ll wait right here …)
My fear of bats does not stem from ignorance, is an irrational fear, based on my OCD related concerns about catching diseases from animals. My head knows that not all bats have rabies. My gut however, has its own ideas. In my gut, I ‘know’ all bats have rabies (all squirrels do too, for that matter). I also ‘know’ that you don’t even have to touch a bat to get rabies, all you have to do is touch anything a bat as touched. This counts triple for bat poop. None of this is fact true (you can go to the Bat World rabies site to learn more). But the point isn’t what is or is not true about bats. The point is if you have OCD that centers on diseases, violation, and contamination, bats are damn scary and the truth is next to useless in changing how you feel.
In a previous post, The Big Three, I mentioned how I have three diseases with a special place in my heart, and rabies is one of them. I ‘know’ rabies is everywhere, along with all sorts of other super scary diseases. The Bat World site attempts to put my fears to rest, “A person living in the U.S. is more likely to catch polio, leprosy or the plague than to contract rabies from a bat.” Great. Just great. Let’s do some OCD math. If Rabies = Everywhere, and Plague > Rabies, then Plague = All over the freaking place.
I feel better now.
My personal bat odyssey happened two summers ago when my husband and I were coming home from vacation. At about 2 am we approached the front door, where I had hung one of my usual decorative seasonal wreaths of fake flowers. As I leaned in to unlock the door, something small and brownish hurtled out of the wreath and into my head. Thump. Then it flapped away.
I stood there for several seconds trying to get a grip on what had just happened. I had been hit in the head with a bat. No question. I’d never been within a dozen feet of one before, but it was pretty unmistakable. A sort of warmish softness. Not like a bird at all, I’ve held birds. This was more like a wing-ed mouse kinda thing.
Needless to say, I was completely freaked. My husband spent some time trying to help me by being rational (because God knows how well that usually works). I ‘clearly’ hadn’t been bitten. There was no indication the bat was ill at all. The chance that there was any transfer of disease-ridden-yuckies was vanishingly small. He even did a bunch of research on the internet to make it perfectly clear that I would be fine.
I didn’t work. I tried. I tried so hard. I really, really didn’t want to get rabies shots. I am terrified of needles, terrified of what’s in them. Getting a tetanus shot is like being injected with poison – panic attack is impossible to avoid. I spend a week after a tetanus shot wondering every minute if this or that pain is me dying. Nothing, nothing could be worth going through the rabies series.
Wrong. About thirty-six hours of torture, wondering what the hell I should do, turned out to be worse than the fear of the shots. I absolutely had to be certain I would not get rabies. If I didn’t get the shots I’d spend the next full year, every day, wondering if I was showing symptoms. And by then it would be far, far too late. The uncertainty was too much. My husband called up our primary care facility and told them what was happening; that the war between anxiety over rabies and anxiety over shots had been settled, and rabies won. We went to the clinic.
Then added insult to injury.
My normal doc wasn’t there and instead we had a temp. She spent about fifteen minutes trying to diagnose me herself, and make up her mind for me if I really needed the shots or not. I almost lost it. Really. Having already made this terrifying decision, I was being dragged back through it. Then Providence intervened in the form of the nice redheaded nurse at my clinic, who pushed open the door and said, “You can only get the shots at the emergency room in the hospital. I’ve already called them. They are all ready and waiting for you.”
I don’t understand why my normal doctor did not have the stuff. It was bad enough going to the clinic. The doctor’s office is about as scary as it gets, what with all the sick people and heaven knows what on the floor, and people who think that having blood work done is a walk in the park. But the emergency room? Not good. Not good at all.
But I was now determined. So we went to the ER. I was so bent out of shape that I could hardly breathe. My husband tracked down someone who would listen, and got them to come up with a dose of Ativan to keep me from looning completely. After that kicked in, the doc on duty came by and fortunately was both a nice guy and also informed. He said that there was occasionally some rabies in the county, that the shots were a nuisance but more than worth the peace of mind for someone like me. He said I had made a good decision. I love that man.
So one thing they don’t tell you is that the rabies shots are not the really painful part. Turns out that the rabies shots don’t confer immunity for about a month. Until then, you need something to beef up your immune system. Immunoglobulin. And those shots are given in proportion to the weight of the patient. I am not a small woman. I had seven of them. One in each arm, each leg, each butt cheek. Then back to the leg again cause we ran out of spots to stab. And they burn like F&%!S&#T. Hurt like M&#%$ING hell, in fact, each and every one of them. And it takes time, too. Get the shot, fill another hypo, do it again. Pick another spot to get stabbed. I was already in tears, and then ended up shaking like crazy as an encore. And of course pretty convinced I was going to die from whatever was in the shots, anyway. Then they finally got out the rabies shot, which I figured would be like getting your arm sawed off. Wasn’t though, it was a lot like a tetanus shot. Bit burny, but not like those immunoglobulin things that I’m assuming must have been invented by a certain Marquise.
Then they give you a form. This form is the schedule for the other five shots you have to get over the course of the next month. This about knocked me over. I thought I’d be getting them all at once, not coming back to the emergency room five more times that month. Pwned by the medical establishment. We went home and I contemplated my fate. A month. I was going to be a complete basket case. Might as well face it.
I did what I could to control the damage. I got some leave from work. Called certain people and told them my usual line, which is “I’m dealing with a flare up of a chronic illness.” Which is completely true and totally misleading, of course. My husband had to leave town, so I had to get myself to the emergency room a few times alone. Dealing with the contaminated, hacking, traumatized, crying and scared people one generally finds in the ER of a large hospital. Making sure I had my little form, and getting all the right signatures with each shot, then having them make a copy for their records. Dealing with a new nurse who had no idea what to do with the shot and was reading the directions off the box right there in front of me. One time they couldn’t find their copy of the form, so they figured mine was the most accurate. I am not heartened by a hospital that assumes my records are better than theirs.
And then I had some bad reactions to the shots. Headaches, bruising, muscle pain and nausea. This on top of the panic attacks they caused, and the anxiety from just going into the emergency room in the first place. I was messed up. Seriously.
But one after another I got the shots, and eventually my form was filled up. I got over the acute anxiety, and was able to go back to work for a while. Although I have no doubt that my subsequent decent into a year’s worth of terrible depression was assisted by this medical farce. For me anxiety always leads to depression. Stopping the anxiety is the key to breaking the cycle. So this little episode was contra-indicated in oh, so many ways. I try to remain upbeat about it all, and in fact, it’s hard not to joke about it now. I had always thought bats were cool in an angsty-goth way, and then I was given the opportunity to have a personal encounter with one.
And by the way, I hang the fluffy flowery wreaths on the inside of the door, now.
Your Hostess with Neuroses
Thursday, February 26, 2009
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