Yesterday afternoon, after finishing recording an engaging podcast episode with a triathlete who battled persistent depressive disorder, I decided to walk over to my local pharmacy, which is just at the end of my short street. The sun was warm and with the air temperature at nearly 80 degrees, I was thrilled to be getting some late afternoon sun in my shorts. In fact, I was consciously relishing in that fact and appreciating the lovely weather. Even though it’s a three-minute walk to the pharmacy, I plugged into my podcast list and started listening to an episode from a health show I enjoy about suggested strategies to defeat insomnia, a much-needed resource in my life. As I walked down my street, three angry Chihuahuas came barreling out of their unfenced yard, crossed the street to where I was walking, swarmed me, and started jumping and barking incessantly. One took a sharp bite at the base of my hamstring, piercing the skin with his tiny sharp teeth. While it wasn’t bleeding much thankfully (because I am traumatized to my own bleeding), it instantly swelled up into a greenish bruised welt. I burst into tears, partly because of pain, but mostly due to the shock and startle of the whole situation. The dogs had come out suddenly, unleashed and unattended, and not only do I hate being surprised, but their loud and aggressive yapping sent my auditory sensitivities into overdrive, skyrocketed my anxiety, and overwhelmed my emotional composure. I started yelling that one dog bit me through sobs.
Fortunately, my very kind neighbor witnessed the whole event and knows I’m in the spectrum. Her two sons are as well, so she has years of experience being a calming force. She drove over and hugged me, asked if I was okay, and offered to call my husband, who unfortunately was in a meeting. She stayed and talked to the owner because my selective mutism took over in full force and I kept walking down the street, the roadway now blurred through spilling tears. After a short walk to decompress, I wiped my eyes and my leg and walked into Walgreens, now adding Neosporin to my list. After I had regained some composure, I tried calling my mom because I still felt traumatized and worried about the correct medical course of action, hoping my Neosporin and some would cut it. She was busy, so I called my sister who kept me company for a bit on the phone while I tried to settle down and get ice on the painful, swollen welt. I started relaxing and trying to take my mind off the incident. Minutes later, my mom called and I burst back into tears as I recounted the story to her and she told me I needed to call urgent care to inquire if I needed to be evaluated. It was late in the day for me and I was distraught and exhausted and was willfully opposed to going to urgent care, one of the more traumatizing locations given my history. I also despise calling doctors and medical facilities, but I did so. They were unable to confirm that I would or would not need medical attention, which makes logical sense, but frustrated me back to tears. I called my PCP who had just left for the day as it was now 5:00 PM but the on-call provider asserted that I absolutely needed to go to urgent care, even if it wasn’t actively bleeding, since the bite punctured the skin, opening up the risk for the full gamut of potentially transmissible diseases from the dog’s saliva.
Now markedly anxious in addition to upset, I reluctantly got in the car and drove myself to urgent care. Adding the layer of driving through tear-filled eyes on top of my typical driving struggles was an unnerving complicating factor! I made it there, but upon checking in, I was just a helpless, embarrassingly mute patient, crying and pointing to my wound. The kind, but bewildered, receptionist asked me what I was there for and I just continued pointing, saying nothing. Perhaps owing to the fact that I’ve been there a few times already, a medical receptionist depositing a chart on the check-out desk recognized me and asked me to confirm my name. She directed the receptionist to my chart and then I started getting some words out, stringing together thoughts like “dog bite” and “frightened.” We managed to work together to fill out the animal bite incident report and contacted the local police who came to collect details. A complicating factor was that a medical facility is unable to release a patient who has suffered an animal bite without administering the first shot in the rabies series if there is no documented proof confirming the animal has an up-to-date rabies vaccination. The police officer came to gather the information about the dog and owner from me so he could go visit the house while I waited in urgent care to try and procure the necessary documentation.
While I waited, the nurse practitioner cleaned and dressed my wound, which was not gory or severe by any means (yet was still distressing and posed a significant health risk because it was bleeding) and administered a tetanus shot. Then she left me to lie on the loud, crinkly paper chair that wouldn’t even recline. I tried to curl up and get comfortable, loudly rustling the paper with every movement, much like that scene in Big Daddy where Adam Sandler coats the boy’s pee-soaked bed in newspaper, rather than changing the sheets, so he will go back to sleep. The boy keeps tossing and turning and you hear the crumpling of paper with every movement. I tried reading a book on my phone but I was too stressed, tearful, and uncomfortable to focus so I texted some friends to pass the time. I was very thankful for their companionship, even if virtual, because being alone in a cold urgent care room after a jarring event has enough parallels to my post-attack trauma that it apparently is unduly emotionally distressing, as evidenced by my continual weepiness there, even though I begged myself to grow to and toughen up. I was able to connect with Ben via phone a couple of times and he left work to come help me, yet we made that decision too late, after accounting for his lengthy commute, for his physical presence at the office to be a realistic possibility. Still, it was comforting to hear his reassuring voice.
The police officer was unable to obtain certification of the dog’s current rabies vaccination so it was determined that I would need to go to the ER to receive the first in the series of rabies shots. The dog turned out to be under the care of a man who seemed to convey that he was not its owner, so he lacked information about their vaccination status. The nurse practitioner wisely cautioned that it’s better to not play around with this stuff and to undergo the series if only as a precaution. I’ve made it abundantly evident how I hate medical stuff, not just because of the stress and hassle, but also because my wacky little body is so hyper-reactive to everything that I usually end up being in that 1% (or .001%!) of the population that ends up experiencing an adverse reaction, if not a severe anaphylactic cascade. That said, in the often-used wise words of my father when I was young “(rabies) is not something to fart around with!” It’s safer to take my chances with a series of shots than leaving a foot in the door of potentially contracting a lethal virus.
I was plagued with nightmares last night about rabid dogs and dogs attacking me while I was unable to scream. I think that’s one of the toughest parts about experiencing a “minor” incident when one has suffered a severe trauma. The individual becomes so vulnerable to grossly exaggerated fear responses and heightened emotional sensitivity. I feel like I’m constantly inching along gingerly on this wobbly tightrope of holding it together and being emotionally okay. Any little gust of wind or shove (from a minor or more upsetting incident) can completely throw my balance or even jostle me from the tightrope, plummeting me to the ground below. I think it will take years to rebuild mental fortitude strong enough to defend against reacting negatively to these such events; I was already a very anxious and sensitive person, and add the type of violent attack onto that pre-existing “weakened” state, and you have the formula for the incredibly highly reactive state that characterizes me now. I’m doing my best. I’m trying to be tough and advocating for myself and my needs, talking to doctors, public health officials, animal control personnel, and stranger neighbors today to try and work on the loose ends of this situation. Small steps, but steps nonetheless.