Monday, April 21, 2014

soapbox: bats & rabies & shots (oh, my!)

Pardon me while I turn this blog into a soapbox for a moment.

ahem

Rabies is one hundred percent deadly in humans once symptoms appear. This fact is key, and you should keep it in mind as I tell you the rest of this story.

The Adventure:

When I went to bed Friday night (Saturday morning, really), Sofia was already in my bed, so I pushed her over to make room for me, and then Buttercup and Jack stood on me until I made room for cats. All in all, a normal night.

I hadn't been asleep for long when I woke up to the sounds of thumping and chittering. Buttercup was hunting something underneath the old sewing machine table that I use as a nightstand, and I had no idea what it was, but it didn't sound like a mouse.  By the time I woke Sofia up and got her moving toward the door, Buttercup had chased whatever to the coat tree. When I followed her intense gaze upward, I saw a little brown bat hanging from my dress.

Even not very awake, I knew I wanted to isolate the bat, so I got Sofia to her room and closed the girls' bedroom doors. Then, I crawled back into my room, got both cats out, closed the door. So far, so good.

I sat down in the hall to wake up and think:
Fact: my bedroom door doesn't latch closed (we never got to the doorknob installation part of that remodel)
Fact: bats can fly through spaces as narrow as half an inch (like the gap around my door)
Fact: Buttercup was pretty determined to get back in
Fact: bats are challenging for cats to kill because they can wrap themselves in the leather armor of their wings

Buttercup's been fully vaccinated, so it was tempting to let her have at, but she's not actually very good at killing things. (Hunting and maiming, yes; killing, not so much.)

I peeked in and saw the unmistakable shape of bat swooping near the ceiling.

New plan: I woke the kids up, and took them and the cats downstairs and closed the stairs door. Then I army-crawled across my room to open the window that doesn't have a screen, grabbed my blanket, crawled back out, and went to sleep downstairs on the couch.

That open window was a critical tactical error, friends. Critical.

When I talked about this adventure online, a field scientist friend pointed out that I should have caught the bat and turned it over to appropriate authorities for testing, and that since I hadn't, I should probably consider rabies prophylaxis for Sofia and for me. I was skeptical, so I did some research.

The nurse on call at my doctor's office on Saturday morning said no shots unless I could find bites or scratches on myself or Sofia, but she couldn't really tell me what to look for. I looked but couldn't find anything suspicious.

But then I read The Washington Post's article about a woman who had an experience very similar to mine and opted for the rabies prophylaxis series despite the lack of visible wound. The CDC guidelines suggest the shot sequence even if there is no apparent wound when a bat is found in a room where someone has been asleep.

I went to bed Saturday night resolved to make a decision on Monday when animal control and the doctor's office would be open.

And it happened again. 

Same time of night, same thumping and chittering in the corner. I made sure the kids' bedroom doors were closed, got the cats downstairs, and closed my latchless bedroom door, hoping to trap the bat so I could have it tested this time.

The county animal control voicemail message directed me to call county dispatch after hours, but county dispatch was no help and little comfort. The officer I spoke to said that animal control won't come out "for just a bat," and he didn't know who would test it for rabies if I caught it. He suggested an exterminator and a local vet. I thought, Um, thanks a lot. Don't you know that rabies is nearly always fatal in humans?

So I called my sister (who lives next door and works second shift and was still awake).  My awesome sister and brother-in-law and I thoroughly and carefully checked the room for a roosting bat, but saw no signs. I slept on the couch, and we checked the room again during the day Sunday, but still found nothing.

Today I called the county health department whose rabies expert said that Sofia and I were definitely candidates for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis and then helped me make arrangements with the local emergency room to get the shots. Three cheers for Julie at the health department. She is awesome!

Dear heaven, the shots! Though, it's not as bad as it used to be (many injections through the abdominal wall), it's still a lot of painful (and expensive) pricks. The standard of care is now immunoglobulin at the wound site on day 0 and vaccine in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 21. Since we had no apparent wounds, Sofia and I got the immunoglobulin in the glutes. Being small, Sofia got one on each side. At 155 lbs., I got two on each side. Immunoglobulin is thick, and there is a lot of it.

The Lesson:

It is highly unlikely that bats will bite humans without provocation. It is highly unlikely that bats actually have rabies (less than 1% of the population in general, 6% of those tested in Michigan). The bat (or bats) that were in my bedroom probably live in my attic and were trying to find their way out, having just woken up from hibernation. There is a strong impulse to live and let live; nevertheless, as the CDC notes,
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.
There is no possibility to wait and see.

Unless you are one hundred percent sure that no one was bitten or one hundred percent sure that the bat does not have rabies, get the shots. Someone who was asleep can not be one hundred percent sure. It is possible to not notice being bitten during sleep, and the bites look like small cuts that could be mistaken for other things.

The first people I talked to, my family doctor's nurse and the county dispatcher, did not see this situation as critical at all. These two people made me think perhaps I was overreacting. However, once I spoke to people who were knowledgeable about rabies and the CDC guidelines, Julie at the health department and the ER nurse and nurse practitioner, the tenor of the conversation shifted to one of urgency. Shots. Definitely. Today.

Even people who work with and respect bats agree that bats found in rooms where people are sleeping should be caught, euthanized, and tested for rabies. I'm frustrated that the health care worker and the first responder I spoke to first did not know this information. They should know.

We should all know, because when you're woken from a sound sleep at two A.M. by a bat in the bedroom, you're operating on instinct, not on Google, and my instinct was to get the intruder as far away from my family as possible. When this happens again (as I'm sure it will), I'll know better.


Monday, April 14, 2014

girl power

Because it's spring, I had to prune the grapes. Because I've never pruned grapes, I called in reinforcements.

me: Rachel, can you help me prune the grapes?
Rachel: Sure! Kate, I've never pruned grapes. Do you know what to do?
me: I have no idea. I've never done it before, either. I'm going to ask You Tube. We'll figure it out. I believe in us.

Girl Power Day often starts like that. Sometimes one or the other of us has done the task of the day before, but even then we're not experts. So far we've refilled propane cylinders at the gas company, hauled mill ends from the Amish cabinetmaker, spread manure on the pastures at Bluebird, taken junk to the dump, pitched canvas tents, baked in the masonry oven, and pruned grapes.

Girl Power Days have taught me several lessons:

1. I can do almost anything if I educate myself and get the right support.
2. Just because I can do a thing doesn't mean that I have to like doing it or that I should commit to doing that thing all the time.
3. Sometimes the right support is just someone to make decisions with.

Because Adam and I had worked so hard to be interdependent, and because I had gotten so used to having a partner, it has been hard for me to remember what I'm capable of. It is the confidence generated on Girl Power Days that carries me through some of the physically and emotionally challenging tasks I undertake on my own.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

a glimpse of remembrance

Your favorite film, your favorite cake, your favorite way to eat lemon sorbet.



Happy birthday, my love. Godspeed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

a glimpse of transition



Yes, that is snow in the sand under my toes.

Yes, bare feet and a wool sweater are totally logical on the shores of Lake Michigan in April.


Yes, the sun was very bright. ;-)

Friday, March 28, 2014

flannel hope

It was Monday in Chicago in July, and I had a terrible headache. I had just picked Jill up from Midway, and we were at Costco shopping for the food we would be cooking for my sister's wedding that weekend. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at a display of flannel sheets. (cream with red snowflakes, they were cute)

me: Jill, I can have all the flannel sheets I want!
Jill: Kate?
me: Adam always complained when I put flannel sheets on the bed. He said they were like sleeping in Velcro. But he's not here to complain anymore, so I can have them all winter long. I love flannel sheets!
Jill: Silver lining! Are we buying some?
me: Um, no. Who buys flannel sheets in July? Let's go find the pork loin.

I've described marriage before as balancing on a tightrope in tandem, but I think it's also like trying to fit two people into a space that's very snug. Over time,  each spouse learns to wiggle and bend to make room for the other's knees and elbows. The rather surreal conversation above was the moment when I began to understand that I didn't have to bend to accommodate Adam's preferences anymore.

In the days following that conversation, my crazy family embraced more such realizations with me. Melissa bought me a fuzzy steering wheel cover, because I don't think having one compromises my control of the vehicle. Gwen and Sean gave me a silver owl, which I hung from the mirror in my car, because it doesn't actually compromise visibility, and I'm not worried about a ticket. Jill, Kathy, Tony, and my mom went a little crazy in the lighting section of the d.i.y. store, and the ceiling fixtures at Rambling Farmhouse now sport a variety of interesting and decorative chain pulls, because I should be able to turn fans and lights on and off without a step-stool in my own home, and I am short enough to walk under them, and not matching is its own beauty.

In truth, these objects are all kind of silly, and none of them were things that I had regretting giving up in service to marital harmony. After all, Adam had bent to accommodate my preferences, too, and you can bet that, were the tables turned, there would be towels on his bedroom floor, and he would be frying fish and chips in the kitchen, in bacon grease, without turning on the exhaust fan.

Suddenly finding myself alone on the tightrope was terrifying in part because I had gotten so used to sharing it with someone else, so accustomed to being attentive to and adjusting for my partner's movements. Bringing these silly objects into my life was a first step toward realizing that I could balance on my own again.

These small realizations led to bigger ones. I can look for a job anywhere, and then I can move wherever I find something. I don't have to own and care for land if I don't want to.

I get a second chance to decide what my life looks like.

The awful tragedy that ended the first amazing life I had built together with Adam does not diminish the possibility of a second beautiful life yet to be built.

I choose not to wallow.

I choose to hope.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

a glimpse of spring

As the snow blankets my  world again today, I remember this glimpse of spring just two days ago.




The earth is there, and we will see it again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

empty

Rambling Farmhouse is no longer home to any farm animals.

Rehoming the chickens is something I had been pondering for a while. I've been nervous about the challenges that accompany early spring every year. As the local raccoons, opossums, and foxes are having babies before the wild food supply is plentiful, they prey on the birds, so dispatching trapped predator becomes a daily chore. The sort of chore which I have little stomach for. Meanwhile this winter, our eggs have been selling well via the refrigerator at Bluebird Farm, so when Rachel asked if I might be willing to sell some of the chickens, I offered her the whole flock.

I know that leaving chicken husbandry was a good decision, but carrying that decision out was difficult nonetheless.  Chickens are stupid and dirty, but they are also beautiful and funny individuals, and nothing is better than eggs collected just that day. I won't miss arguing with the children about whose turn it is to do the chores, and I won't miss doing battle with Lucifer the Fiercest Rooster, but I will miss their noise and their popping up in unexpected places when I work outside.

This evening, we crated the chickens and took them to join the flock at Bluebird, where our good friend Henry will take excellent care of them. Then I came home, threw myself on the bed, and sobbed.

I wasn't really crying about the chickens.

Keeping chickens (and later turkeys and ducks) was Adam's project. At first, he had to work hard to convince me that this was a good idea, but once they were here, I enjoyed them at least as much as they pissed me off, usually more.  In getting rid of them, I am one step closer to being able to put Rambling Farmhouse on the market, one step closer to finding the life that belongs to me and not to us, one step further away from the vision that was my guide for so long.

Of all of the spaces I have cleaned out since Adam died, though, the chicken coop is the first one for which I don't have a new purpose. There it stands at the top of the sledding hill.

Empty.