It’s a pretty wild panic that rises up inside of you, the first time you are forced to examine your fears around mortality and the fragility of life.
I was bitten by a dog 2 weeks ago. Walking down a rural road in Koh Phangon, Thailand.
I had no knowledge of rabies, or any protocols for handling its potential, particularly within in a developing country. (Apparently I should have gone and followed the dog, found the owner, and taken the dog to a vet to get tested).
Ironically, at the time I was having a heated conversation with a man I had been in a romantic partnership for a while, discussing my upset feelings about a whole slew of deceptions he had been perpetuating in the field between us.
It had been clear for some time that we were not aligned, but my stubborn loyal nature kept hanging on, trying to fix things. The heart wants what it wants, even when the expiration point is long past overdue and red flags and logic abound.
He was on the phone when it happened, and his lack of concern for my wellbeing was somewhat stunning. He was cold and detached. His response to me getting bitten by a dog was to remark “the dog bit you because you were yelling at me.”
I had just discovered that he had cheated, so, admittedly, my voice had been raised with emotion. But of course, my metaphorical interpretation was the opposite: “This is the universe telling me that this man just keeps behaving like a dog, and he will just keep on biting me if I keep giving my loyal heart to him. This is a sign i seriously need to let go. Now.”
We were both right. And neither metaphor mattered.
My deeper concern was why he couldn’t drop out of our argument for long enough to be humanely worried for my health or well-being, upon hearing that a dog had just bitten me, in the middle of Thailand. And, of course, the fact that I had just been bitten by a freaking dog.
(If there ever were a way to tell that someone probably doesn’t really, actually have the capacity to deeply, genuinely care about you, that’s probably a solid one). The red flags of his sociopath tendencies had been waving in my face for months, but this was the first time one of them had bonked me directly on the head).
Shock quickly took over my nervous system, at the startling jolt of the bite. Once I realized what had happened and turned around, the dog had run off. I was on my way to go catch a ferry off the island, and was walking down a deserted road with no one in sight. So I had no options. I kept walking, searching for a pharmacy where I could at least proceed hydrogen peroxide or Iodine to clean my wound.
I was not so keen to get the rabies shot, having heard of horror stories about its side effects. Later that afternoon, I researched. I asked around. I posted a query on the local facebook page describing the incident and the location.
I got an email from a woman who had been bitten in front of the same house (by likely the same dog), a week prior.
She had gone and talked to the owner, and the owner said the dog had been given its rabies shot 3 months before. The girl had therefore decided not to get the vaccine either.
She sent me a picture of the dog. I was 82.4% sure it was the same dog. We verified mutual locations. I felt comforted. And yet I was still 17.6% unsure if it was the same dog.
On top of that, the consensus I kept getting from all my research online was that there hadn’t been a case of rabies reported on Koh Phangon in 20 years. (Because hey, everything on the internet is always fact…right?)
I did find one website that said even if you are bitten by a dog with rabies, there is only a 15% likelihood of contracting it. And that the likelihood occurs more if you are bitten in the upper body, or near the head. I was bitten on the leg.
Rabies has a 100% fatality rate apparently, once it sets in, so this was kind of a big decision.
Lots of people were pressuring me to just get the shots and not play russian roulette with my life. Hmm. I took my data, checked in with myself, and chose not to get the shots. The wound had barely broken the skin, so I just cleaned it, dealt with the bruises, and moved on.
It has been interesting to note, however, the power of fear, paranoia, and anxiety, to invade the mind and poison it despite rational thought.
And it is also interesting to note how very passionately we cling to our precious human lives in the face of even the smallest threat that they might be taken away.
Much of my adult life, I’ve had a subtle on-again-off-again relationship with this painful sense that sometimes I just kind of want to escape this world… don’t feel I fit in or belong here on this planet.
I never ever ever wanted to end my life, but on days when i just felt so frustrated at my sense that i was wasting my life, (or not accomplishing anything helpful) … there would be lingering sighing thoughts of “someday this will all be over,” or “sometimes i just wish i didn’t exist” (As if eternal consciousness could simply unexist itself)
But boy, does it put it all into perspective when there is even the tiniest possibility that your precious human life might be in danger. Suddenly your existence is the single most valuable gift there is.
Fast forward to 2 weeks past the bite.
I’m feeling great. I’ve forgotten all about it. I move into a new cottage on a new island, (Samui), and the moment i walk in, there is the strong chemical smell. It sends me into sneezing fits (an allergic reaction to the smell?)
A headache pops up out of no where. And stays for 3 days. Not just any little annoying headache. A truly paralyzing, brain numbing, can’t-do-anything-except-lay-in-bed-and-press-on-your-forehead kind of headache.
I never get headaches. Ever. I drink 4 litres of water a day. It was all very strange.
Suddenly, I can’t sleep. I am up all night blowing my nose, in throbbing brain pain. I am feeling dizzy. I am feeling achy. There are shivers running up and down my body. Suddenly I bolt upright in bed and research “signs of rabies infection,” and the first thing I see is “headache, dizziness, flu-like symptoms”
I pretty much lose my shit. I panic. I call my parents. I try to go to the hospital at 11:00 at night, but it’s raining and there are no cabs.
I am suddenly so aware that i am alone in a foreign country, and i am scared. And my life is so, so, so fucking precious to me. Meanwhile my brain feels like it is swollen inside of my skull and my thoughts are woozy.
I call my parents and my best friend back in the states, we decide I should go to bed and see how I feel in the morning.
Meanwhile, i have also read that another sign of an impending infection is that there will be an itching sensation near the place of the bite. Of course, I lay awake all night, imagining itches all over my legs, and pretty effectively losing my shit.
I pray. I breathe deeply. I eventually pass out.
In the morning, my head feels better. But I still feel off. At this point, the paranoia is probably worse than the symptoms.
I go to the hospital. The doctor looks at the wound. She assesses the data and agrees with me when I explain that i didn’t get the shot immediately because i read that they have rarely seen rabies in 20 years.
She says she thinks I am fine. But she does suggest that if I am worried about my swollen brain headache possibly being related to the scooter crash I had gotten a month prior, I could go see a brain specialist at the larger hospital and ask his opinion.
Being a thorough, self-protective mamabear to my inner child and body temple, I go. The second doctor says i have no brain injury from the crash… then suggests I get the rabies vaccine anyway, just preventatively, for “the next dog who bites me.”
(Um, I will be walking far far away from wild looking dogs from now on – a sad statement from the same girl who used to literally cross streets to pet every wild street dog in Greece when I was 20, naive and innocent)
Then he also casually mentions that at this point, two weeks after the bite, it’s probably too late for the vaccine to do me any good, even if I was infected. And oh yes, and ps, rabies can activate in your body anywhere up to a year or two after being bitten,… and there is no way to test for it. And once symptoms hit, you die within a week.
Wowsers. Holy shit. That’s a double dose of reality.
I watch as irrational waves of paranoia and anxiety sweep over me. I watch them rise. I watch them fall.
Deep in my core I don’t believe I have it. I know I don’t. But that tiny little fractional nugget of doubt – that little sucker is a pesky mosquito!
I watch myself become so so so passionately aware of how much i have yet to do in this world. How many missions I am working on that i have yet to accomplish. How freaking precious this gift of life is. And how on earth could i have ever taken it for granted, or wished for it to not exist? Even with all the suffering on this crazy planet?
I watch this strange sensation of deep paranoia rise up and I breathe into it, replacing it with trust, faith, and the knowing that my life is perfectly planned, and that i am not done here yet.
In these times of fear, and war, and rumors of war, where so much hopelessness can arise, and so many people can feel overwhelmed or scared, or want to escape this conflicted world … it was fascinating to experience such a visceral tangible experience of how utterly fragile and valuable every moment is.
Like it or not, i was shaken wide awake by this scare, and feel like i don’t want to waste another minute being afraid of life. Or not taking the chances i need to take. Or not facing my fears. Or not taking the actions I need to take to be the best version of myself I can be, to contribute to this world while I am still here.
I feel like for the next year or two, I will live with the blessing and the curse of being very very aware of every itch on my leg. And every headache. And every flu symptom. (Itches are usually invisible nuisances, barely on the radar, but now each one on my leg feels like a tingly explosional reminder of mortality’s fragility)
I will be very very aware that each day could be my last.
Which is always true. For all of us. All the time.
So I’m trying to take this scare as a gift. To ground me into gratitude for each day. To motivate me to accomplish my missions. To forgive those who have hurt me, and move on from situations that don’t being me joy.
To breathe deeply. To do my daily meditation. To do my chi gong. To ground even deeper into the invisible realm, (because we are all headed there anyway, and it is always Alive within us).
I also just found out that this is the year of the Dog! So I am also choosing to see it as an initiation into this powerful year …. an opportunity for transformation… leaving behind any old forms of self limitation that were blocking me from living my highest potential life.
Sometimes it takes a jolt to shake us out of a stupor of comfortable numbness. May we all live this precious freaking life with every freaking ounce of heart and determination we’ve got!
And run away from dogs on the street in Thailand. That too.