The Bat, the Knee, the Bicycle, and Dick, the Doctor
Imagine, if you will, an evening in the fall. Here in the Pacific Northwest the weather is cool but pleasant, and it’s dark at five.
The Mathematician is in the habit of going to a local brew pub to meet a friend, every Wednesday evening. They drink beer and play darts. On this particular Wednesday evening, the Mathematician decides to ride his bike into town rather than driving. This is so he can drink more beer, of course. He is not only logical, but responsible.
He takes off on his bike, headed for what is called the interurban bike trail, which runs parallel to Chuckanut Drive. It leads from out here in the county all the way into town, and rarely has anything to do with a road where cars have to be considered. Generally very safe, if a little spooky at night. Imagine a trail through the woods, overhung with trees.
Ten o’clock. I am sewing, with my feet up and the dogs draped across my legs. I hear the garage opening: the Mathematician home from the Wednesday night outing. He comes in, and stands next to my chair. The fiddly bit of sewing in my hands prevents me from looking up.
–Have a nice time?
–Mmmmm, well. I’ve had better.
I look up and see that his pant leg is bloody from the knee down to the shoe. Really bloody. I leap out of the chair, dogs flying, and into action, and as a part of that, ask a lot of questions of the what – where – how variety.
He is very calm, in spite of the fact that his knee — visible once I have stripped him down to his skivvies — is swollen to twice its normal size. He hit a pothole on the way home. He managed to get home, so the knee isn’t broken, but it sure looks bad.
I am peering and prodding and dabbing.
–I think we have to go to the emergency room. Or at least I have to call the doctor.
–(nonchalantly) oh, and something else: I got bit by a bat on the head.
I sit down while he tells the story. Riding along the interurban, minding his own business, a bat landed on his head and bit him. Or scratched him. Hard to tell the difference. Blood was let, in any case. I consider searching his scalp for the evidence, and decide this is beyond my expertise. And, a question has occurred to me.
–You weren’t wearing your helmet.
–So that’s when you fell off the bike?
–Oh, no. The bat bit me on the way to town. I hit the pothole on the way back.
–Hold on. Let me see if I understand. On the way to town, while riding your bike — without a helmet– you got bit by a bat on the head. And you went on to drink beer and play darts.
–Yes, that’s right.
–Okay. And on the way home you hit a pothole and did this to your knee.
–Yes, right again. But I was wearing my helmet on the way home.
–In case the bat was lying in wait, hoping for another chomp?
–Yes, I suppose so.
–You decided to go ahead into town for beer and darts while bat-saliva and blood was dripping from your scalp?
–Seemed reasonable at the time.
Fast forward to me on the phone with the emergency room nurse:
–…it’s very swollen, but it doesn’t seem to hurt him much.
–It could probably wait until tomorrow morning, if you call your doctor first thing. I didn’t tell you this, by the way, because we’re not allowed to make any kind of diagnosis on the phone.
— So while you’re not telling me things, I should mention that he also got bit by a bat on the head.[pause]
–Maybe you better start from the beginning.
…. and then he came home.
–Wait. Let me get this straight. He got bit by a bat on the head …
…and went on to the brew pub to meet his friend for beer and darts.
–He does know that bats are often rabid?
–He figured it could wait until tomorrow. I suppose he’s a little jaded. He’s had the rabies series before.
–A feral cat scratched him.
–On the arm.
–No, I mean, where was he?
–Huh. When was this?
–A long time ago. When he was a kid.
–And they gave him the rabies series in Greece?
–They gave him the rabies series, but not in Greece, in England.
–How did England get into the story?
–So he’s visiting here? Maybe he should go home for the rabies series this time too.
–No, he lives here. He’s been here since 1984.
–Okay, so listen. He’s out drinking beer, do you think maybe he imagined the bat?
–No, he didn’t imagine the bat. The bat bite was before the beer. The knee was after the beer, but he didn’t imagine that either, because I’m looking at the knee.
–Have you looked at the bite?
–This is the strangest phone call I’ve had in a while.
–Imagine how I feel.
When I got off the phone with a plan (to call our doctor first thing in the morning about the knee and the bat and the bite on the head), the Mathematician was deeply asleep with his swollen knee up on a pillow. The beer, I think, or all the excitement.
The next morning we called the doctor’s office and spoke to Sue, Meg and Dick’s nurse. The conversation with the emergency room nurse pretty much repeated itself, after which the Mathematician went in to be seen.
Dick let the blood out of his knee and looked at his scalp, and Sue looked at his scalp, and then they called the Health Department and the Health Department wanted to see him, and they all looked at his scalp, and then he was sent to the emergency room, more looking at the scalp.
Finally they gave him the first round of rabies shots, and he had to go in every week for four or five more rounds of shots, I forget now, because to tell the truth, I really didn’t want to know.