Adventures in Rabies and Tetanus in the 3rd World

The Dog Bite

In the spring of 1962, 11-year-old Gary was settled in with his family to their new home in Lima, Peru. As the boy made his way to the American Society's library to pick up a book, he encountered a few dogs congregated at the doorway. Having never met a dog he didn't love, Gary had no fear. At least he didn't until the largest dog, a German Shepherd lunged and bit him above his knee. Apparently the dog was protecting his bitches.

Running home, Gary told his mother who enlisted his father to drive around with Gary until they spotted the errant dog. Finding a policeman, Gary's father asked for help to trap the dog. Not my job, said the policeman, but an Animal Control officer was in the area.

The Animal Control officer jumped in the car to find the dog, who seeing the man took off like a shot. Apparently the two had met before, when the officer had given the dog its rabies shot. Rabies shot? Phew thought the young Gary.

Sharing the name and address of the dog's owner, Gary and his father went to meet her. She confirmed the dog was missing and agreed to drive around to find him. In minutes she spotted him. "Rin Tin, Rin Tin Tin!!"

With his tail wagging the dog happily jumped into the back seat of the car to lay his head over the front seat on the shoulder of his victim, Gary. Off went the group to a test center where the dog would be monitored for rabies for a set number of days.

When Rin Tin Tin was declared free and clear of rabies, Gary was declared free and clear from having the numerous painful rabies shots in his stomach.

 

Adventures in the Jungle

The Peruvian Amazon River. Cue the dark and threatening music that announces the strange beasties poking out from the sylvan canopy above and the even stranger beasties lying unseen within the muddy waters below.

Living in Lima, Peru, 14-year old Gary and his father Leo traveled down the Amazon River in 1964. In Pucallpa, Peru the father and son joined a group of Boy Scouts for a camping trip; afterward taking a small boat to Iquitos where Gary swam among the piranhas who nibbled his toes and fingers. All in all, a memorable bonding moment for the parent and adolescent.

It was on the night of the alligator hunt that Gary seriously cut his foot on a rusty part of the boat, leading Leo to question just exactly when was his youngest son's last tetanus shot?

The next day when the rest of the family arrived, Leo asked his older son's local girlfriend for a doctor recommendation. Thinking it over, she suggested one who wasn't exactly a certified doctor, but was a well-respected curandero, or shaman. Needs must, Gary and his father visited the curandero. 

The man readily confessed that he didn't have a medical degree, but added that he had adapted the best practices of modern medicine.

"I'm not going to cleanse your son's soul with the 'smoky room routine', or 'cut open a chicken to read its entrails'" said the self-taught medical man as he pulled out a needle and small jar of medication. "I'll just give your son a tetanus shot. So keep the wound clean until you get home and see your family doctor for a follow-up."

 

The Monkey Bite

Somewhere in a tourist hotel in Ecuador in 1987 there was a monkey in a large cage in the middle of the of the lobby. Why we were there, I don't remember. Why the monkey bit my elementary-school aged son, I don't remember. What I do remember is that the monkey bit my son and broke his skin, and the word rabies came up.

At the time the only place to get rabies shots was in Quito, as I knew after an acquaintance had close experience with a dead rabid bat. I'd grown up hearing repeatedly about rabies shots, in a tale told by my mother who'd endured them once a day for 21 days.

Rabies was nothing to shrug off, but the shots weren't something to undergo lightly. The hotel owner assured us the pet monkey had been vaccinated against rabies. Did I want to trust these strangers with my child's life? Did I want to put my small son through these shots, pointlessly?

Who to trust?

Given my husband's belief in the hoteliers veracity, I held my breath and believed the stranger who thankfully had spoken the truth.

 

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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