Friday, June 28, 2013

Random Thoughts: It Has TEETH: On Being Bitten

So we have a dog. An adorable, playful, most of the time great dog named Charlie. He's a bit quirky, as cocker spaniels are wont to be, but he's a good fit for the household. He does tricks and he's house-trained trained and he's kind of hilariawesome. Most of his quirks are a source of amusement.

This week, for the first time ever, I was bitten by a dog, and it was him. It was shocking and scary. There's this sense of betrayal, and anger, and sadness and a whole bunch of other complicated human emotions surrounding the aftermath of the bite. But he's not a person, he's a dog. (This point is important later, I swear.)

There have been dogs in the family since I was a child. I've been around dogs with issues, and I've even handled Charlie during some of his less than stellar moments. We've had him for three years and its a thing you deal with as a person with pets. He's gotten rough with play, but has never broken skin and most of the time he stops when I give him the right signals.

But this was different.

So, I suppose I should get into the story of what happened. Please note that the time of day at which this epic saga begins is 4:45pm.

He was outside on the lead, and I was with him. There was a damaged water pump on the ground, dredged from a small man-made pond in the backyard. It was there waiting to be fixed.

For a reason known only to Charlie and the Deities of Doggy Logic, the water pump completely freaked him out. He started barking at it and would not stop. I thought, "Okay, clearly this thing is bugging him. I shall put him inside, move the thing and then bring him back out. Issue resolved."

I unhooked the lead, grabbed his collar, and said, "Charlie, come on."

All pretty normal in the course of a day with the dog, except for the barking at the water pump.

And the teeth he sank into my hand.

Time slowed. It probably all happened within about three seconds, but something about things like this triggers the brain to perceive it differently. Probably it's some sort of survival instinct, like an automatic switch, that allows hyper-focus and decision making to happen in a very brief period. Certain details pop while others fade into obscurity. The brain only parses the immediately relevant information, excluding all else to enable decision and action. (There is work by Malcolm Gladwell that explores and unpacks research on this.)

There are three thoughts I remember distinctly about the few seconds in which the bite took place.


"The neighbor's kids are outside."


"I cannot let go of this dog."

My decision, basically, was to hold firm. He was off the lead and if I had let go while he was in that state of doggy panic things could have gone much worse very quickly. None of that was a conscious thought at the time, but somehow, I think my brain made the right connections. I don't really remember it being a struggle to restrain him, but it must have been, because the unbitten hand has all kinds of crazy bruising on it and the shoulder on that arm really hurts as I'm typing this.

When the dog let go, I watched blood pool rapidly in my palm and drip on the walk for about a half second before I called out to Mom, who, luckily was in the house. She was at the back door with a leash by the time I called out, having heard the dog make horrible, space-monster noises when he was doing the biting. It wasn't until she had a hold of him that I let go. He let go, too. (And what I mean is that he peed at our feet.)

My hand was numb and I dripped blood everywhere. Great big splatters of the stuff hit the outside sidewalk like paint. Here's where my recollection starts to get a little fuzzy, but I somehow ended up in the kitchen with the anti-bacterial soap and paper towels. I know this because there was a gruesome looking trail leading from the scene of the crime to the sink. My memory gets clear after I had clumsily wrapped my hand in half a roll of paper towels. Mom wrapped a more substantial dishtowel around that.

There was so much blood all over the place that I was sure that my hand would turn out to be mangled beyond recognition.

It wasn't until after I knew the dog was inside and Mom had snapped into hero mode that I lost my sh*t. There was a mad dash in search of my insurance card, which I could not find. Still totally freaked out, and not having seen the wound yet, we drove off to a place only three minutes away and thought, problem on it's way to being solved. I thought the card had to be floating around in the bottom of my purse somewhere.

So we reach the office, explain the situation, and Mom helps look for the cards by digging around in my purse while the staff snaps into action.

A nurse comes out to clean off my hand right away. I was surprised and relieved to finally see that I had a single, neat little puncture wound about the size of the nib of a pen. We are asked again for the health insurance, and it turns out they were truly not in my purse. But it's okay, the wound is not what I thought it was, we can spare the six minutes it will take to get the card and return because my continued existence on the planet is affirmed.

I single-handedly (see what I did there?) tear apart my bedroom until I find the insurance card, which is wedged underneath the sound board which my dad uses for music stuff and I use to record voice projects. I don't even know what made me look there.

I'm still numb, but shaky and nauseous as we return to the car and then, the nearby health facility. Proudly presenting my insurance card and braced for some uncomfortable prophylaxis against infection, we are told, apologetically, that they do not accept the insurance and therefore cannot treat me.

Can I get a collective *facepalm* everybody?

The kicker is that this facility is two doors down from my employer who provides this insurance.

*vitriolic rant deleted in favor of forward motion*

At least the intake nurses are extremely helpful and provide us with a phone number to the nearest place that DOES accept my insurance, which is roughly a half an hour away. Back to the car, hand a-throbbing, we drive.

We get lost.

We stop for directions.

We get lost again.

And then we find it. By this time, though, we are giggling, relieved to know that all will soon be Handled and Done.

Adrenalin and nervousness has me babbling like an idiot to the poor intake person with no choice but to endure my inane observations and rapid fire questions. "Do you get a lot of dog bites in here?" and "What happens now?" and "Have you ever been bitten by a dog?" As I am doing this she is clearly struggling to make out the information on the back of my insurance card which I believe is printed in a special font meant to convey secret messages to the Littles.

Mom and I plop ourselves down in front of the large screen television in the waiting room. There are maybe three people in there with us, so we figure it won't be a long wait.

We figured wrong.

The upside is that Mom finally watched a show I thought she would like. It took a visit to urgent care to convince her to view it. (I was right, by the way, she really liked it.)

So, like, there wasn't a lot of urgency in the urgent care waiting room. Except for the urgent reminder over the speaker system that, "It is now the designated quiet time. Wait  McWaitforever Hospital asks that you be quiet during this time." 

*redundancy not exaggerated*

*name totally fake*

*yes, I know you probably didn't need that last piece of clarification*

This announcement had the opposite of the desired effect on us.

We burst into tear-producing, squeal-yielding laughter, which was then made worse when they called the next urgent care patient's name for initial exam and the nurse (who really was awesome) asked the limping, pain-stricken person in the URGENT CARE WAITING ROOM, "How are you?" and then proceeded to ask the same question to the next four patients who were being examined in URGENT CARE.

What does one say to that? "Oh, I'm pretty sure one of my internal organs just imploded but I am AWESOME! And you?"

By the time they called my name, we had exhausted ourselves with inappropriate laughter.

Presented with the promise of receiving the care I so urgently needed, after waiting for about 3 hours, with renewed energy, I LEAPT off of the couch. I think this startled the nurse out of asking the usual "How are you?"

Unless she'd heard us joking about what a terrible question that is to ask a punctured person, such as myself.

I followed her back to the first examination room I was to visit, where they do the vitals sign thing. Therein, my right bicep was squeezed into submission by the blood-pressure machine. She was efficient and really nice and I was sent off to the second examination room where I waited some more.

I admit it, I played with the model heart in that room. Like a little kid.

Shut up. I know.

The nurse returned, cleaned my wound, which ripped open the barely congealed scab. She left and I waited for the doctor. That wait was long enough for me to read all of the literature in the room about drug trials for conditions that have nothing to do with me and then, of course, return to fiddling with the heart model, which actually kind of grossed me out.

The scab had begun to reform by the time the doctor rolled in. She started poking and prodding at the wound, which started the geyser again.

She left to figure out which drugs to prescribe.

There was not enough time to return to playing with the model heart, which both fascinated and repelled me. A different nurse arrived with a needle which she poked into my recently tenderized bicep. She left and was replaced by the first nurse who set upon my bite wound with the BETADINE SOAKED SCRUB BRUSH OF DOOM! It is basically a sponge soaked in betadine with a spiny side which debrides the wound, getting rid of flapping dead skin and making sure that antiseptic thoroughly disinfects.

This was probably the most painful part of the whole experience of being bitten. It is not what the dog did to me that hurt the worst, its all the necessary procedure that come after the dog bite. It's the aftermath.

By the time we returned home, it was 11:30pm.

Charlie knew that something was up. He kind of slunk around, looking at Mom and I hopefully. I was too tired to react to him at all by this time. The following morning I had a really long shift at Ye Olde Daye Job. So, there wasn't a lot of interaction with the canine in question.

But the distance from the dog and the incident gave me an opportunity to process what had happened.

I think I figured out where it really went wrong.

I forgot that Charlie is an animal in possession of teeth. Remember how I mentioned that he responds to my signals? Yeah. I kind of failed to respond to his. He's like a member of the family and as such I totally took it for granted that he would understand what I was doing by trying to take him away from the threatening thing. (Which would be the inert water pump.)

If I had removed the threatening thing first instead of approaching him while he was obviously distressed, the bite would probably not have happened.

Also, betrayal, anger, sadness and all those complicated human emotions that rode my psyche like a roller coaster on a cocktail of steroids and cocaine for about 24 hours?

Totally not his issue.

Because he's a dog. He's an animal with teeth, no matter how cuddly. And he did warn me with his behavior. The thing that's weird is that when it comes to folks outside of the household I'm pretty conscious of the fact that we have a moody dog.

The next time I was around long enough for an interaction, he was his usual, happy, ear-scratch mongering self. I'm the one who is a little bit different.

We still got him checked out at the vet, though. I'm happy to report that all signs point to normal and healthy for a cocker spaniel.

Sure, everybody was mad at him, but we still love him. How could you not?

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