Interrupting Our Regularly Scheduled Program…

Moving out of chronological order for a moment, I had to write about my unfortunate experience leaving Jodhpur (a place I absolutely loved and will post about soon enough.)

I had a late morning flight to Delhi and with an extra couple hours to fill before departure, I decided to take a final walk around my picturesque neighborhood. The dogs in Jodhpur (more so than other places, it seems) create quite a ruckus every night, where from my hotel I could hear what sounded like territorial attacks upon one another… long episodes of loud, angry barks followed by the inevitable heart-wrenching yelps, whimpers and cries of defeat. Caution is always warranted with animals in this (or any foreign) country, and as much as the sweet ones tugged at my heart-strings to give affection, I have always steered very clear, even of them.

This morning, however, the unexpected happened and unprovoked, I got bit by an aggressive dog. I turned the corner onto a vacant lot-type of area, where a couple of dogs immediately perked up and started growling. This was clearly their territory and I was clearly intruding. I’ve actually been growled at before and, heeding their warning, have avoided any conflict… but today that was not the case. I immediately turned around and started walking away when I heard one of the dogs approach behind me and before I knew what happened, he bit me on the back of the calf/ankle area.

I turned and yelled at them and they briefly backed off, allowing me to quickly walk away, and it wasn’t until I got far enough away that I could stop and assess the damage. With adrenaline running high masking any pain, I wasn’t sure he had really injured me, until I looked down and saw all the blood… at which point I knew I was in trouble.

I doused the wound then and there with the hand sanitizer I had in my bag and then high-tailed it back to my hotel, where I promptly rinsed and cleaned it as best I could. The lovely people at he hotel offered to take me to the hospital but I had very little time before my flight and figured I had better deal with this in Delhi, which was my last stop and where I was flying home from.

The next 36 hours were a bit of a physical, emotional and logistical nightmare. I have to admit that after a month in India, I was a little worn out and dealing with a serious dog bite at this juncture has been scary, stressful and exhausting. The biggest concern is of course rabies, and it’s a safe assumption that the dog who bit me has it. The street dogs here are all sick looking, uncared for, eating and living in filth, and they carry all sorts of diseases, rabies included.

Upon landing in Delhi, I have a taxi take me and all my bags to the nearest private hospital, where I am able to get both a rabies and tetanus booster shot, and while the care there was adequate, as is the case no matter where you are or what you are doing in India, information is not forthcoming, even when you are specifically asking for it. Being alone, in a lot of pain and very rattled at the idea of contracting rabies, I do my best to get questions answered, but I end up back at my hotel realizing there were a few factors not addressed.

The biggest issue at hand was whether or not I’d had a rabies shot in the past, as that alters the course of treatment. With all the traveling I do, I assumed I had one before my travels last year, but I was able to get my immunization records emailed to me and there was no record of having it done. So… while I was able to get booster shots appropriate for having been previously immunized, I understood now that what I really needed was a shot of rabies-immunoglobulin, which is a targeted antibody for unvaccinated persons that will help the immune system fight the deadly virus while waiting for the booster shots to take effect.

The private hospital I went to yesterday did mention the possibility of needing this, but at the time it wasn’t deemed imperative since I thought I’d had the full immunizations prior. Regardless, they didn’t have that shot available because it’s very expensive, and since thousands of people die every year from dog bites, they only stock the antibody at the Government Hospital, which is where they referred me if I wanted it. And of course it’s hit or miss as to whether that hospital will actually have the antibody in stock because of all the bites they treat.

Despite the 12 hour time difference I was able to consult with my brother (who happens to be an infectious disease doctor) via online messenger, and we discern that because I don’t seem to have been previously immunized, it’s absolutely imperative I get the immunoglobulin shot… so at 6am, despite my reservations about public healthcare in India, I make my way to the Government Hospital.

I last about 15 minutes inside… making my way through tiny, filthy rooms filled with literally hundreds of bleeding, sick and injured people laying on the floor, on dirty stretchers etc, being ignored by virtually everyone despite my repeated attempts at trying to figure out the system. I even find and enter a room with a hand-scribbled sign on the door that says “dog bites” but despite my plea for help, they shoo me out and point to another room… a place, I assume, to somehow get in line (there is no “line” in a room packed to the gills,) but at this juncture I decide I have better chances of staying healthy with rabies than getting treatment here. The reality of this place was nothing short of tragic and frankly, pretty frightening.

Discouraged, I leave and decide to attempt another private hospital nearby, since I really need this shot… but unfortunately I get the same story as yesterday… they don’t keep immunoglobulin in stock, and they tell me to go to the place I just came from.

I have become a very strong woman and can roll with a lot of poor circumstance, but at this point, exhausted and in pain, knowing I wasn’t going to get the shot I needed, I pretty much lost all composure. Luckily, I was able to reach my brother via phone and he reassured me that as long as I seek medical attention the moment I get home, the treatment should be effective and I should be fine.

Meanwhile, no one at the initial hospital had mentioned antibiotics for the wound itself, which at this point wasn’t looking so good and had been lightly but steadily bleeding for the last 24 hours. My brother advised me to try and get some antibiotics right away, and at least that part was easy… pharmacies are everywhere, no prescription is needed and I was able to get a course of doxycycline for about $2, making me extremely grateful for small wins.

Travel in general, but my trip to an Indian public hospital in particular, makes me see with great clarity the abundant privilege I have now and have had for my entire life. While I have (understandably) complained about the sad state of our public healthcare system at home, this experience and subsequent shift in perspective suddenly fills me with extreme gratitude. Yes, I am upset and a little worried for my own health, but my heart aches deeply for the sick and infirm in countries like this. I will eventually get the treatment I need, but it’s safe to say that most of these people cannot say the same… and that fills me with deep sadness.

I had a busy 36 hours of things to see in Delhi as my final leg of the trip, but unfortunately I had to abandon all plans in lieu of seeking medical care and resting my painful leg. This has been a tragic end to an incredible month-long journey, but despite my exhaustion and the decline in my morale, I know this will in no way quell my overall adventurous spirit.

I leave for home very early tomorrow morning, and all I really want right now is to just get there safely and get the medical care I need. I am doing my best to remain positive though, and I am extremely grateful for all the people who have given me moral support across the wires. I know one day the pain and emotion will dissipate, and this will make a really great story.

Meanwhile, I do still have one final post on Jodhpur coming up, which despite how my time there ended, makes me very happy, as I loved that city very much. Stay tuned..