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September 1, 2009

Bats? You always suspected she was

rabies

Photo credit: Baltimore Sun/Christopher T. Assaf

Yesterday in Garden Variety, I began to tell my tale of the bats.

Several dozen of them had taken up residence in the nooks and crannies of my house. My siding, my deck and my gardens were streaked with their calling cards -- guano.

It took several weeks and a lot of money to humanely "exclude" the bats from my house, where they had spooked my daughter with their nighttime scritching and scratching in the attic above her bedroom and on the roofline just outside her window.

But the bats had never found their way into the living area of the house.

Here is the rest of the story....

Flash forwards a couple of years and Jessie is out of college, employed and ready to move into a house with a bunch of her girlfriends. It had a pool and a deck with a grill ... but I digress.

One night, Jessie wakes and finds a bat in her room. Much shrieking later, a roommate's friend pretty much beats the bat to death with a broom, leaving not a whole lot of bat brain material to be tested for rabies by the Anne Arundel County Health Department.

The tests, we would learn to our dismay, would be inconclusive.

And Jessie could not say for certain whether she had been bitten....

Bats don't exactly have jaws of steel. Just little tiny teeth for snapping up mosquitoes in flight.

I would learn to my dismay that known cases of human rabies in the United States had been bat-related, and the victims could not say for certain whether they had been bitten.

I was in the middle of a Really Big News Story here at The Baltimore Sun when the call came from Jessie. The hysterical call. "Mom, what do you know about rabies? Do I have to get the shots?"

At this point, I knew nothing about the bat, the boyfriend or the broom. I didn't know what we were talking about. But I grabbed a few details and hung up.

I immediately "badged" my way to the top of the Maryland state Department of Health. It is one of the benefits of being a reporter. That, and I know Fran Phillips, the deputy director. Our kids played soccer together.

Anyway, the state's chief vet, Katherine Feldman, gave me a detailed course in bats and rabies. Jessie would have to get the shots, even if there was no proof that the bat was rabid or that it had bitten her.

"Rabies is 100 percent fatal if not treated," she said.

The decision was made.

I let Jessie know and went back to working on my Really Big News Story for The Sun. But I took a moment to say to no one in particular....

"How come I'm the one who gets the rabies phone call? How come the dad only gets the call when she wants a case of vitamin water from Sam's Club?"

Jessie went to the emergency room to have the shots. Four of them that first time, based on weight. She hand-carried the rest of the serum to her doctor for shots at 3, 7, 14 and 28 days.

She says they were not very painful (they are no longer administered in the stomach). She just felt a little sore and maybe a little queasy.

Coupla lessons here.

If you wake up with a bat in your room, try to catch it. Or at least don't beat it into pulp so the rabies test can be conclusive.

Assume you were bitten. There is no upside to assuming you were not. If the bat is rabid, get the shots. No discussion.

The shots aren't that bad, but they are hugely expensive.

And, finally, the mother always gets the rabies phone calls. It's what a mother does.

Posted by Susan Reimer at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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About Susan Reimer
Susan Reimer has spent 16 years writing about raising kids - among other topics - in her column for The Baltimore Sun. And every time son Joseph or daughter Jessie passed another milestone - driver's license, college, wedding or a move to a new military duty station - she has planted another garden. Now she will be writing about those gardens - and yours - here on Garden Variety.

Susan isn't an expert gardener, but she wasn't an expert mother, either. Both - the kids and the gardens - seem to be doing well in spite of her.

She lives in Annapolis with her husband, Gary Mihoces, who loves to cut his grass but has noticed that there seems to be less of it every time the kids pass another milestone.
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