That time we all got the rabies vaccine

To try to get out of my blogging rut, I thought I would share more of my experiences and stories from everyday life. I usually think this type of blogging is boring to read, but it seems to be what most bloggers do, so why not.

Last summer when we lived in Colorado, my husband and I saw a bat flying around our house late one night after AJ was asleep. We chased it around for awhile until it disappeared, then KJ did what he always does: he googled the shit out of it. He read about how bats are the number one source of human rabies transmission in the U.S., how they can squeeze under doors and through tiny gaps a quarter of an inch wide, how they can bite people while sleeping without them ever knowing, and their teeth make such tiny puncture wounds that you could never know you’d been bitten. Rabies is nearly 100% fatal, has an incubation period of anywhere between a week and a year, and is 100% preventable if you get the vaccine before symptoms appear. We decided that we would all need to get vaccinated, unless we could capture the bat and have it tested for rabies.

We coaxed the bat out from its hiding place in a small gap in the bricks of our fireplace, and after many attempts KJ knocked it out of the air with a plastic box. It fell on the ground unconscious, and we threw the box over it and placed books on top so it wouldn’t escape. The next morning we called animal control, who came and collected the bat for rabies testing. I was relieved we had caught it and I felt confident it would test negative, as the vast majority of house bats do.

A day later, animal control called to say our whole family needed to get the rabies vaccine immediately. The bat tested positive. So the three of us drove 40 minutes to the nearest hospital emergency room, where we spent the next 6 hours. The doctor and nurse on duty had never given the rabies vaccine before, and they were concerned because I was 4 months pregnant with Buddy and they weren’t sure if it was safe during pregnancy.

(It is. Though it’s listed as a Category C drug for pregnancy, that’s only because there have been no trials on pregnant women, and not enough data from the small number of pregnant women who have been vaccinated. But it’s an inactivated vaccine so the risks are really no more than for any other vaccine. Plus, if the vaccine is given during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, the baby will be born with rabies immunity.)

The post-exposure rabies vaccine requires a lot of shots. The vaccine itself is given in a series of five shots at 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28 days after being exposed. With the first dose, you also have to get several shots of human rabies immune globulin, which helps confer immediate immunity while the vaccine takes time to build active immunity. The immune globulin dosage is based on body weight. In total that first day, KJ had 6 shots, I had 5, and AJ had 4.

KJ got his shots first; after the first five, he turned very pale and said his vision was going blurry and he felt like he was going to pass out. I thought he was having a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. It turns out he’s just scared of needles.

AJ was two and a half at the time, and she took it the easiest of all of us. Her ENFP personality really does have its advantages. I mean, she throws a crying fit if I give her dinner on the wrong color plate, but spending hours in a hospital getting shots is a big adventure to her. She has always loved going to the doctor; she loves having her temperature and blood pressure taken, trying to get her hands on medical equipment, being around new people and machines, exploring new places and charming the nurses into giving her stickers. She even likes getting shots. The small ouch of the needle is far overshadowed by all the other stuff.

After our day-0 shots, I tried to find a non-emergency clinic where we could get the rest of the series without having to spend hours in a waiting room. It turns out there aren’t any, so we traipsed back to the ER several times for the next month. It was a huge hassle and not a fun experience for anyone except AJ, but infinitely better than getting rabies. Vaccines are awesome.

By the way, soon after that we called a bat remediation expert to examine our house. He found evidence of multiple bats, and several entry points around the exterior of our 50-year-old house. He made sure the bats were gone, sealed the entry points, and we didn’t have any more pest problems except for that time we had a mountain lion in our front yard.

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