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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bats in the belfry

The first time we saw a bat in the house (I’m talking the mammal variety, not the sports variety) was in June 2002. I woke up about 3 a.m. for no particular reason. It must have been a moonlit night, because, although there were no lights on in the house, I could just make out something in the corner of the room.
"Carol!" I whispered insistently. "There’s a bat in the room!" I pointed to the general direction of the critter’s location. She replied, "OK." O.K.? "Leave it alone and it’ll leave us alone." Carol grew up in a very small, nearly rural, area, and that was the credo: leave animals alone and it will generally reciprocate.
Well, swell, but how do I sleep now, knowing that there’s a beast only a few yards away?
About ten minutes later, the bat suddenly swooped down towards us. We put the covers over our heads, ran out of the room, and closed the door behind us.
I went onto the computer and came to the site of the Monroe County Health Department in Rochester. The site says: "If it is certain the bat did not have contact with a person or pet, the bat can be allowed to leave through an open window."
Well, we weren’t exposed, so that’s good.
We went to sleep in the guest room, with the door closed, after thorough examination of the corners.
The next morning (oh, two hours later), I ran into our bedroom, opened the window, ran out, and closed the door. A while later, I opened the door and didn’t see the bat. But my wife wanted to be sure, so she called a bat removal guy. He came over in a few hours, checked around, and didn’t find a bat. But he was obliged to contact the Albany County Health Department and tell them about possible rabies exposure. Since we were asleep when the bat arrived, there was no way to KNOW that we were not exposed, and since the bat had escaped, the creature couldn’t be tested. Two people in Albany County died of rabies from bats in the previous 5 or 6 years. That meant one thing:
Carol was planning to go to Ukraine for a week of teaching within the week. The bat guy said, "Oh, you’re not going ANYWHERE," which was greatly disappointing to her.
The good news about rabies shots is that they no longer shoot long needles into your stomach.
The bad news about rabies shots is that they still use long needles, and they leave them in until all of the serum is out. Worse, the heavier you are, the more needles you get.
So, we go to the county health department to get these shots. I got four of them. First, two nurses gave me simultaneous shots in the front of of my thighs. Involuntarily, I started humming as the needles s-l-o-w-l-y discharged the serum. Then, two shots in the back of my thighs. Pain. Humming.
Then, we needed booster shots the 3rd, 7th, 14th, and 28th days after. These are traditional shots in the arm. The head of the Health Department wrote a letter explaining to whomever that Carol would be carrying serum halfway across the world. Would the airlines be OK with Carol carrying a needle in her carry-on luggage?
Her flights were from Albany to Toronto, then Toronto to Vienna on Air Canada, then Vienna to Dnipropetrovs'k on the Austrian line. (Yes, she had to fly west to go east.) We called Air Canada to tell them the situation, but we never got the assurances we were really seeking.
On the third day, we had arranged to have our then-neighbor, who was a doctor coming home from Albany Medical Center’s night shift, to give Carol her first booster shot. Her second dosage was in a bag filled with dry ice in her carry-on bag.
No problems in Canada or Austria.
When she gets to Ukraine, the Customs personnel want to know EVERYTHING she’s carrying in, including her wedding ring, and its value. Apparently, they don’t want a lot of wealth entering and not leaving the country, or for much wealth to leave the country. When Carol declared about her medicine, though, the guy said, "Never mind," because it would be too much of a hassle to deal with, and he failed to write it down.
So, the tour people arranged for a Ukrainian doctor to get her shot on the 7th day, and she was home for the last two boosters. Of course, I got all of my boosters at the Health department in Albany.
I was telling this story to a friend of mine, about thinking I was not exposed when health officials would determine that I might have been, when I was interrupted. "Oh, yeah, my sister went through the Same Thing." Boy, I wish I had known that before!

In June of 2003, I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. On the first floor of our house, the chimney is in the center, adjacent to the living room and dining room. I look down and see a bat flying round and round our chimney. I go back to bed, with the door closed. Carol is awake, and I tell her what I saw. I don’t know if either of us went back to sleep.
In the morning, we called the bat removal guy, who looked for the animal, and FOUND it in the window on the landing between the first and second floor. He took it to be tested, and it was negative for rabies.

In June of 2004, Carol was coming downstairs from the first floor to the basement with a load of laundry in her arms when a bat decided to fly up the stairs. She nearly was face to face with the creature. I don’t know that we ever found that beast.

Next month, batproofing is supposed to begin, patching very small holes under the roof where bats can squeeze in. One can’t do it TOO early, lest the bats get stuck in the house all winter, and we get to see them again next spring.


Anonymous said...

why would you have to get rabies shots when you were not even bitten? we are exposed to rabbits and squirrels in the woods but we do not get rabie shots, I thought if your were bit that is the only time to get rabie shots.

Roger Owen Green said...

The procedure, at least here, is that if you don't know whether you've been bitten (and it is possible, I'm told, that one can be bitten without knowing it), and if you can't test the animal, then the procedure is to get the shots.