A Puppie, Rabies, and the Seven Thousand Dollar Shot
It was National Dog Rescue Day. We didn’t know that when we saw the small, adolescent pup wandering the parkway for the second time that day. Earlier, we thought: someone will know what to do with the guy. But now it is evening and the dog is still wandering dangerously close to the road.
We pull to the side with our emergency blinkers flashing. While I cautiously approach to look for a collar and number to call the owner. It has no collar. It keeps a distance, with its tail wedged tightly between its legs and a warbling, guttural warning reverberating deep in its throat. “Why” becomes clear: it has an inch square wound in its foreleg.
And that’s where we would have called animal control…had we had cell service. Instead, another couple pulls next to us to ask if we need help. We tell them that we are fine but checking on the dog. While they attempt to give the pup some food and water, I continue to look for a cell signal. Instead, I find a vet. She pulls to the side when I ask if she could call for help. The frightened dog is puddle of releif in her hands. We are ready to leave the rest to her, but she explains that she can’t take it in her car. Each looks at the other…who then? And while I looked for some lunch meat to give the dog, the vet loads the pup into our camper and takes off.
But what seams like just another day in vet land isnt that simple for us. We don’t have a dog. We don’t have any a collar or leash to handle a dog. There are tons of exposed wires, shards of aluminum, and equipment loose in the camper. And so, we try to transfer the pup into a large cardboard box. But it grows more and more anxious. A car is approaching as it attempts to escape by running into the road. As Chris attempts to restrain it, the frightened pup lashes out.
And suddenly, this isn’t about saving a dog. It is about saving my husband. I wrap my blood splattered hands around the dogs mouth as Chris returns the dog to the camper and backs away. Chris presses a towel that I had pulled out for the dog to his face, to manage the blood flowing from his nose and cheek. All that blood means one thing to us: infection. We need that dog under observation to make sure the dog hadn’t just transferred rabies to Chris.
We are launched into a spiral of what to do next? Do we hand off the dog? Do we rush to a hospital? Until we have cell service, all we can do is drive. Chris grips the steering wheel while I profane every cell tower, satellite, and radio technology that can’t seem to connect me with the answers we are desperately seeking. As soon as I find a signal, we settle on the police station where Chris can wash the wounds with soap and water while I wait for animal control to pick up the dog.
Why not just go to the ER? Anyone who has made a visit there may have an idea: it is insanely expensive. While we would use it if we were experiencing an emergency we aren’t entirely sure that this is one. You see, we can’t get a strait answer about what to do next. There is a rabies shot available, but do we need it? Animal control is evasive: we can seek medical attention if we want. The urgent care physician is emphatic: we must get treatment NOW. The Emergency room RN is nonchalant: we can wait. And round and round we go.
And why all the questions? Why don’t we just bite the bullet and get the shot? Because this isn’t some $5 flu shot. People who have unquestioningly followed medical advice and gotten the shot without asking questions have been burdened with up to $40 thousand of medical bills.* On average, this four shot regimen has cost individuals TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. Some of that is the cost of the shot itself. A lot of that is the variable and unpredictable codes and fees associated with administering the shot. In the course of attempting to shop around for options, one thing became clear, the ER is the only game in town for the primary shot. We could go to other locations for the three follow up shots. But the first one was only available at the ER and with that comes all the additional fees that are particular to an ER visit.
And this would not, necessarily, be a big deal. If we had a remotely decent insurance. But after years of getting dumped from assorted insurance plans, we have settled at the bottom, with a plan so paltry that it covers little other than an annual checkup with a $7,500 deductible. So, instead of a hundred-or-so dollars this might cost someone else, we would be maxing out our deductible with one, single shot.
We have the money, but it is money that we have been saving for tires, batteries, and solar panels. So, yes, we could do it.
Even so, the stakes are high as they can possibly be. Only 1 person have ever lived through rabies. For them, surviving doesn’t mean cure. She suffers a rabies related mental disorder and continues living through palliative measures. To stand a fighting chance, the vaccine has to be administered BEFORE rabies reaches the brain. And what that means in practice is hard to nail down.
This is not going to be how I loose Chris. As we do with any challenge we encounter, we begin to obsessively search. What we find is frightening and contradictory. Our challenge is that our case is rare: most literature focuses on what to do if you are bit by your neighbors dog. In such a case, you have knowledge of the dogs history: there is a rabies shot that pet dogs are supposed to have. You should have a fair degree of certainty. In this case, you are probably fine. The second case tends to be that you have been bit by a wild animal and have nothing to go on aside from the fact that you have been bit. In this case, better safe than sorry is the rule and victims are advised to immediately get the vaccine. But what about us? We don’t know the animal’s history but we do have the dog. It’s under observation. It looks fine but if something happens we will be the first to know.
Finally, we get a doctor on the phone. We explain our case: can we wait and see? He checks to confirm: yes. Keep tabs on the dog. If there is any concern, get to the hospital immediately.
Do you know how long the observation period is for diagnosing rabies in a dog? Ten days. Ten days of looking into each others eyes and fervently telling each other that things will be OK. Ten days of fighting off panic attacks and watching the scabs form. Ten days of calling the shelter to check on Trace, the dogs temporary name. Ten days of trying to maintain normalcy while the back of my brains is screaming: “how can you pretend that this things are normal when these could be your last days together?”
And that was 10 days ago. Trace was let out of quarantine today. We are planning to visit him one last time before he finds his family. I have waited to share this until now because….for lack of a better word, this has just been too raw to share. But now, while the fear and anxiety are still come immediately to mind, the relief and joy is something I want to express from the mountain tops. We are safe. We are healthy. And I’m pretty sure both of us will be getting the much for affordable three part prophylactic rabies shot in the near future.
*Granted, that was an extreme case. But there is not cheap example.
Sounds like you made the right call (regarding the shot). Good for you both for holding medical recommendations to the highest scrutiny. I hope Chris heals nicely!