My dog, Oliver, got into a fight with a raccoon this week. In the process of trying to free him from a tangle of ivy and thorns and angry raccoon, I got a bunch of cuts on my hands. After talking to a doctor, I became concerned of possible rabies contamination. And since rabies, once symptomatic, equals horrifying and undignified death, I decided to just get the post-exposure prophylaxis.
“I hope you can appreciate,” I said to the doctor, who was very kind and had reassuring eyebrows, “that I don’t want to die. I’m going to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop next week.”
He said that he understood. I did not explain to him that my cultural understanding of rabies came from watching “Old Yeller” repeatedly as a child–I was was some might call a “glutton for punishment”–and of obsessive readings and re-readings of García Márquez’s “Of Love and Other Demons”. Hence, not only did I not want to die, I also didn’t want to be shot by a crying boy, exorcised by the Catholic Church, or be the love object of a smitten priest. I also didn’t want rabies to be some kind of extended metaphor for my free spirit. I’ll take my free spirit and be alive, thank you very much.
So they ordered the medicine from a nearby hospital, and I sat in the emergency room for hours, flanked by my kind and supportive friends. Once the medicine arrived (delivered, I like to imagine, by Hermes, protector of harlots, wings on his shoes), then began to arduous process of injecting approximately sixty bajillion liters of liquid into my body.
This was an exceptionally painful process, during which I swore loudly and made singsongy ow, ow, ow, ows. My friend Tali was present in the room, and gently rubbed my ankle while asking me distracting questions, including ones about Iowa.
“Who’s going to be teaching you in Iowa?” she asked.
I gritted my teeth as the doctor slide the needle into the thick pad of muscle beneath my pinky and said the first name I thought of. “Ethan Canin,” I sort-of growled.
The doctor looked up. “Ethan Canin?” he said. “I love Ethan Canin. I just read his book The Palace Thief. He’s going to be your instructor?”
I looked over at him–blue-gloved hand depressing the plunger into my palm, concentration unbroken by this literary revelation, the blonde nurse puzzling over the sheer number of bottles of liquid (“These all have to go into her?” she’d asked incredulously) on the metal tray, Tali comfortingly rubbing my ankle–and felt a sudden urge to laugh hysterically. And then I shrieked in pain.
“One of them,” I gasped.
At least there were no smitten priests around.
All is well, now. I have to go in and get more injections, of course, but nothing as bad or extensive as the set that I got yesterday. And I’ve had only mild side effects. Oh, and I’m not going to die. And, best of all, one of my fellow cohort members, Bennett, made me this:
So all’s well that ends well. I can tell that, like other traumatic episodes in my life that show up frequently in my prose (see: ocean, near-drowning), rabies is going to probably make an appearance.
Iowa, here I come.