Friday, November 26, 2004

Teenager survives rabies without vaccine- The Times of India

Hm. Intermittantly over the past year, I've been posting portions of a Balkans travelogue I wrote in late 2001. This rabies story reminded me of the following bit, wherein my friend Liz (a reader and sometime commenter on this blog) has a close brush with... Oh never mind, just read, enjoy, or ignore.

Right now I'm on a train on my way from Bucharest to Cluj, the main city in Transylvania. Due to intemperance the night before, I was hungover, and due to being hungover and late for my train, I wasn't able to eat a proper breakfast. I am therefore properly famished.

Anyway there were six people in the compartment, one young smart looking guy, another young smart looking girl with big bones who was Westernized to the point of reading the "Financial Times" though she was obviously Romanian, a quiet lady with headphones and a silk scarf to me left, and two older ladies. For four hours, hardly anybody said anything. I closed my eyes and slept a few times and tried not to think about the waves of hunger that would surely sweep over me before the eight hour trip to Cluj was over.

Finally about midway through the trip I said to the FT girl, "Where are you going?" She said Sigisoara and I said Cluj and she threw up her hands in dismay amid exclamations of grief that I would be stuck on this disgusting train for so long. She was clearly impatient with Romania, as only a returning native could be. A year and a half earlier she married a Dutch journalist and emigrated. At one point one of the older ladies had a panic attack, which manifested itself in her talking in a very high pitched voice. The other old lady helped her over to the next car where she lay down for a bit. The three of us young people (the third, the young man, also spoke English and, like me, was going to Cluj) talked about the differences between Transylvanians and people from Bucharest. The each have mutual inferiority complexes, said the young man; the people from Transylvania (in the north) are seen as slow and unsophisticated while the people from Bucharest (in the south) are seen as arrogant and aloof.

We talked about living in a foreign land, as both the young woman and I did, and about the World Trade Center of course. I thought it's a real pity when, with all the losers and terrible people in the world, you run into some good people that you know you'd get along with and then they just disappear forever due to circumstances. Liz later told me these people were like tympani drums, which are necessary component a symphony even though they just pop in and out every so often.

My train ended up arriving about half an hour before Liz's train. She got off the train from Budapest with a huge purple backpack. It was huge. We called around and reached a private accommodation service that referred us to somebody with a private room who spoke French, as does Liz. Liz spoke with the Madame in their common vernacular, then contacted the car rental people that her friend Maggie had recommended. The car rental people picked us up at the train station and helped us find the private room with an address that sounded a lot like "mixed up barman". There were a lot of people helping us -- six people in two cars. They didn't seem at all put off by spending a lot of time helping us find the address. I commented that the Romanians sure seemed like a laid back people. The address by the way turned out to be "Mikszath Kolman 41". So we had our Dacia Combi and our accommodation with the Madame, who by the way was the owner of a large and apparently calm and friendly German shepherd.

My hunger was taking on spiritual proportions, so we settled in, washed up, and strolled into town on foot. We got pretty lost on the way into town and somewhere just past the Restaurant Shanghai found we were walking away, not toward, the center.

Liz with her rudimentary (but not a fraction as rudimentary as my) Romanian managed to get us to the restaurant Hubertus which the Madame had recommended. I had a typically Romanina dish -- mushroom soup and mamaliga (corn meal) with sourcream and cheese. Liz did too – pork and bean soup, and ham and brains (!) fried up a main course. And we drank a bottle of wine. The restaurant was fancy but not too expensive, in the 150 CZK ($3.50) per dish range. Neither of us could finish our meals, we were so stuffed.

We walked home and got lost again. Liz took pictures of things she found funny on the way home, like big concrete sewer pipes sitting in the middle of a residential road, and a small store built into the front of a villa. There were a lot of dogs in the neighborhood. One big house had about 18 of them and there were all barking at the same time as we walked by. Another dog managed to bypass his fence and approached me in a hostile way, barking like the Dickens. I was getting quite nervous until Liz screamed at him and he ran away. As you might know, I really don't like dogs.

Soon we realized we were lost again, and the only way to get back on track was either walk three blocks out of the way, or walk past the hostile dog again. The shame of walking three blocks out of the way to avoid a dog seemed too awful to bear, so we picked up large sticks to defend ourselves. Mine had a nail sticking out of the end of it, and I imagined the pain I would inflict on this poor beast if it tried to harm me in any way.

When we went back, the hostile dog was nowhere to be found, and we got home fine.

Next morning we packed our things to head off to Bistrita, a town about 100+ km away where Mr. Parker stayed the night in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula." Madame made us breakfast and I enjoyed thick white toast with butter and cheese in bed. On the way out the door, the calm and friendly German shepherd approached me and sniffed me. I allowed it. Then Liz petted the calm and friendly German shepherd on the way out. I heard a dog's growl and a human yelp and saw fangs and Liz running to the bathroom. In the bathroom sink Liz had her hand under the faucet and blood was coming out. Wow, I thought.

Liz lay on the bed breathing heavily as me and Madame took turns pressing on the wound, and we wrapped it in gauze and tape. It was deep. It hurt to look at it. Madame felt terrible, naturally. Madame got out some bee-sting ointment, and Liz started to ask me, in English, if that was a good thing to put on it, but before she could finish the sentence she was wincing in even more pain from the ointment. We wrapped it all up gauze. Liz, composure regained, instructed me to drive her to a hospital so she could get stitches. All I could think this entire time was: Imagine if it had been me. I’d have passed out immediately.

While we were there pressing on the wound, Liz said to Madama in French: “It’s a strange time to ask, but do you mind if we come back here on Monday to stay the night?” Madame almost started crying and hugged Liz.

We drove into town and managed to find the hospital after several tries. The "urgent procedure" room didn’t look all that clean at first. Liz lay down on the cot and put her hand out on the table. I was just in the middle of recounting the scene in the movie "Ronin" where Jean Reno digs the bullet out of Robert De Niro's gut when the nurse turned to me and asked (in English), “Please, could you wait outside?”

Liz was successfully stitched up at no cost. In the end, she said the nurse was very reassuring. The problem was, we didn’t know for sure whether the dog had had its rabies vaccination, and if it hadn’t, we were faced with a rather grim choice. A rabies shot for human beings is about the most medieval procedure imaginable. As I understand it, it required three painful injections into the abdomen and an overnight stay in the hospital. If you do get it and don’t get the shot in 24 hours, however, you die. Moreover, if Liz died, I would be to blame. How I could explain that one away would be anybody’s guess.

At the train station, Liz called the Madame again, who once again was apologetic and said she wished she could have come with us to the hospital, but we’d run out so quickly. The dog was definitely vaccinated, she said, and she even had the little booklet to prove it. Phew.
I'll save the rest for another day. The rabies survival story made me think of that.


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