Kitty Incident – Rabies

We’re leaving for Palau first thing tomorrow morning, and I know I should be packing up right now and attending to several chores, but yesterday was such a long, eventful, expensive, and painful day that I cannot let it pass unwritten.

On the way home from the mall yesterday afternoon, as I was walking toward my apartment, I noticed a group of local boys from the subdivision gathered around two animals. As I came closer, I found that they had tied one of the stray village cats to a tree by her neck, and were in the process of having one of their leashed dogs — a very large Pug — attack her. The cat was dirty and bloody, panicking but unable to do anything but gag and rasp at the line strangling her. The boys were laughing.

You know that I love cats. I know that cat, and I take care of her. She’s a friendly white cross-breed stray without a tail, so pretty and gentle and cuddly and trusting that it breaks your heart. And to see her like that, never having hurt anyone, being cruelly tortured by a bunch of insecure teenagers with too much time and a mean dog on their hands, it made my blood boil.

So I approached, yelling, “What the heck are you doing?! Don’t you know I take care of her?!” The boys (about eight, I think) backed off and started pointing fingers at each other. “He did it! He caught it! It’s his fault!” Then they ran off.

A few stayed behind, saying they could help me out, it was the other boys’ fault anyway, they had just been told to catch her. I waved off their idiotic supplications as I checked on the cat, saying, “These cats never hurt anyone, and it’s bad enough that they live a hard life as strays. You can’t just torture them for fun!” (This was all in Tagalog. I’m translating everything for your benefit. Especially since my Tagalog sucks.)

The cat was growling and panting and rasping. She hissed as I touched her, but I continued to try, very gingerly, to untie the noose around her neck. That was idiotic of me. Stupid, stupid. I should have waited till she had calmed down.

I really, really should have waited.

Still panicked and strangled, unaware that I was the good guy, she began to fight rather savagely, and sank her teeth into my left thumb and my right ring finger. That second wound hurt, REALLY hurt, and she must have bitten practically down to the bone before I managed to wrench my hand free.

Ouch. OUCH.

Finally, blood oozing from both cuts, I managed to untie both lines around her neck, successfully fending off additional teeth and claws. She huddled there, panting and bloody, eyeing any person who came near with suspicion and hate. That cut me to the bone, even more painfully than the bite in my finger. This was one of the friendliest cats in the neighborhood, and now she was paranoid and hateful, all because of some stupid, thoughtless teenagers.

As I walked back to my apartment, nursing my punctured hands, Shaine, a little girl from a neighboring unit, accompanied me. According to her, those boys constantly torture the village cats, strangling them, setting dogs on them, kicking and maiming them, even burning helpless kittens for fun. This was particularly troubling, because Thomas and Foxe haven’t turned up at my unit for two nights already.

Nothing I could do about it now. I dropped off my stuff at my unit, wrapped the much-bigger wound on my ring finger in an alcohol-drenched hanky (OW! OW, OW, OW!), and went off in search of a doctor’s clinic in the area.

To my extreme annoyance, I discovered that almost every clinic in Sucat is dental. Finally, I gave up looking for a nearby doctor and took a jeep to Parañaque Medical, where I went straight to the Emergency Room. Fortunately there were no emergencies ongoing, and they quickly dressed the wound. But if I’d been bitten by a stray, said the nurse, I seriously needed an anti-rabies and an anti-tetanus shot, and there’s only one place with the equipment and medication for it: The Department of Health Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), Filinvest, Alabang.

I boarded a taxi and headed there, thinking it would take about an hour to get the shots, pay up, and head home. I was dead wrong.

Apparently, the RITM is where every dog / cat / rat/ hamster / rabbit / snake / human-bite victim in Manila has to go for their shots. The lobby was crowded with people from every location and every social stratum in Manila. There were screaming and crying children, old grandmothers, exasperated parents, and more, nursing bandaged bite wounds on their hands and legs and faces. I had to sign a form, take a number, and wait to be called.

And wait.

And wait.

I could see why it was such a long wait: just a handful of doctors and nurses handling every bite case in Manila! They were working feverishly, tending to comatose babies, screaming toddlers, ranting parents, and dozens of other people, all at once.

About two hours later, they called me. It was almost six. The nurse looked at the bites, then injected something into my left arm intradermally (to test if I had an allergic reaction), and told me to come back in twenty minutes. Intradermal injections hurt.

After twenty minutes, no swelling, no itching. They told me to sit down and wait again.

Again, I waited. The waiting was the most tedious, most excruciating part of the whole affair. More than the sharp ache in my pierced fingers, more than the prick of needles, I hated the waiting. At the very least, there was a splendid view of Laguna de Bay from the hill RITM is perched upon.

Finally, I was called again. I also hated how they called my full name in a loud voice over the sound system, and how everyone watched me like some sort of spectacle as I walked to the clinic.

A nurse interviewed me, getting the details of the bite and telling me just what I needed to do. I needed to get something called an “H-REG” shot directly into the wounds, along with “Verorab” anti-rabies vaccine in each deltoid and in the right buttock, plus a tetanus shot in the arm, and I needed to take antibiotics everyday, four times a day, for a week.

I also needed to pay about 19,000 pesos for it, straight up.

Just to put it in perspective for you Americans, that’s almost four hundred dollars. For a young middle-class Filipino male, that’s about a month’s wages. And then some. They could not administer any medication to any patient until the amount was fully paid.

And there was another problem: the vaccine needs a follow-up shot three days after the first one. By then, I would be in the waters of Palau, without access to a medical facility. Otherwise, if the cat had been infected, I would start showing rabies symptoms at least six days after the bite — while still in Palau. I felt like going mad and foaming at the mouth right there anyway.

The nurse told me that I was free to get the money and come back later or the next day for the rabies and tetanus shots, and also for the followup shots. Otherwise, she said in English, “Well, it’s your life.”

On the horizon, the moon was rising over the lake. It was blood-red.

After talking to Mom on the phone about the situation, I took a tricycle from RITM to Festival Mall nearby, where I mused over Jollibee Chickenjoy and Coke. I could afford the amount, thought it was a hefty fraction of my savings. What I could not afford was to miss the family trip to Palau for a follow-up rabies shot. I had committed, my diving gear was ready, my seat on the plane and room on the boat reserved. Mom had paid.

But I didn’t want to risk the chance that I was infected and that I could start showing symptoms in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. All this time, I was cursing the stupid little teenage boys who’d been torturing my poor cat. But truth to tell, it was more my fault than anyone else’s. Play the animal rights activist hero, expect to get bitten. Especially since I hadn’t waited for the cat to calm down. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

Finally, I decided that the solution was simple: buy the follow-up dosage of vaccine along to Palau, with a pair of syringes to apply it.

I withdrew the money from a machine and took a tricycle back to RITM, where, I was told to sit down and — you guessed it! — wait.

It was almost ten.

Finally, I was allowed to talk to the nurse (poor girl, she was SO busy with all those patients!), and she issued a prescription to pay at the cashier and bring to the pharmacy.

I made sure the huge mass of 500’s and 100’s was the right amount, forked over the cash, and went to the pharmacy. They gave me boxes of drugs, which I brought back to the nurse in the clinic. She sat me down by the open window. Of course, the Filipino usi habit is alive and well, and I had a little audience of bite-patients watching intently.

In quick succession, I was injected in each forearm with vaccine, once more in the left forearm with a tetanus shot, in the right buttock with yet more vaccine, and (OUCH) directly into the bite wounds with Aventis Pasteurized H-REG Rabies. The wounds swelled up and ached with a vengeance. They hurt more than the bite itself as the nurse covered them in gauze.

But at least the painful part was over. The nurse gave me another prescription for the take-home follow-up vaccine, along with two fresh, sterilized syringes to inject it. I bought these at the pharmacy, and on my way out, gave an encouraging word to the poor woman next in line who was about to be injected for multiple dog bites.

Just then, a taxi stopped in the driveway to drop off a poor old man with advanced signs of tetanus. As they were heaping him into a stretcher, I boarded the taxi (O fortuitous happenstance!), who was happy to take me home.

There’s the story. I have six needle holes in me, and am now poorer by nineteen thousand pesos and more than a little blood, sweat, and tears. But richer for the day’s experience, I suppose, and the never-to-be-forgotten lesson: WAIT TILL THE DAMN CAT CALMS DOWN.

P.S. Last night, after I had showered and fixed up, I found Tallis downstairs, (minus her kittens though), and I also found Pilar, a thin young ginger female who hangs around here, very sweet and affectionate. Both cats were unhurt, and I was happy to the point of tears to find them.

Well, that’s my adventure. With two syringes and a bottle of Verorab Vaccine in the fridge, gauze on my fingers and a dull intramuscular ache in my arms and my buttock, I must now stand and perform the thousands of chores that await me before I leave for Palau. I thank God for the adventure, annoying and expensive and tedious though it may have been, I still thank Him.