A couple days before Thanksgiving, sharp pains began in my leg near the site of a healed dog bite wound incurred while I was hiking in Ecuador last June. Tingling sensations ran up and down my leg. I grew more and more apprehensive as I researched dog bites. In a few of the cases I found, the first sign of rabies began with these symptoms, and the disease then quickly progressed to the patient’s inevitable death.
An extreme dread flooded my body for the next forty-eight hours as I struggled with my mortality. There was a chance I had rabies, a small chance, but any possibility of a disease that carries a one hundred percent death rate within seven days is terrifying. I frantically researched. I asked friends to pray. I asked God to help me find the right doctor and for strength. I canceled a trip to Mexico and drove to the Medical University of South Carolina’s ER on Thanksgiving Eve where I told the story of the dog bite injury to many health care professionals.
On that June day, rays of sun pushed through the clouds and sparkled off the water. A hiking trail snaked around the crater left behind by an extinct volcano. A lake painted with shades of teal lay in the base’s empty space. Dark grey rain clouds threatened in the distance. Vistas of mountain valleys were seen in all directions, with wildflowers of blues, purples, whites, fuchsias, and yellows dotting the mountainside. Sheep slowly grazed on the rolling landscape of Ecuadorian Andes Mountains.
Hiking the five-hour trail of steep inclines and descents, three Ecuadorians and I were exploring the countryside, admiring the unique wildflowers that grew along the path. Halfway through the hike, I found myself walking alone. One of my companions had summited the slope and the other two were a hundred yards behind me. Out of nowhere, a dog appeared, growling and barking aggressively. My heart raced and my hands started to tremble. I took deep breaths. I spoke calmly, slowly walking sideways. Suddenly, he knocked me down and sank his teeth into my calf. I kicked his nose with my other foot and thankfully, he released me. My companions appeared and threw stones as he ran off. My body began to shake and tears ran down my cheek. After cleaning the wound the best we could, we continued on.
As we neared the end of the hike, a rainbow appeared overhead. I felt God’s presence and peace. Hours later, in Quito, Ecuador, where I was staying, I visited an ER. The local medical staff treated my wounds and prescribed an antibiotic. The doctors told me I didn’t need a rabies vaccine. I disagreed. I knew I needed the vaccine for my own piece of mind. Unfortunately, the urban hospital did not have any in stock.
The next morning, I traveled to a different ER. Through my translator, these doctors echoed the message of the previous night’s medical staff. I informed them that I wasn’t leaving until I was vaccinated. They relented and administered a vaccine.
I continued my journey, visiting two indigenous communities in the Andes Mountains and Amazon River Basin. I received a second dose on day nine, after returning to Quito. Back in my hometown of Charleston, S.C., I received the final two injections of the thirty-day prescribed vaccine protocol. The wound healed and all was well.
Still unaware that in the United States, the current protocol is for an injection of immune globulin to be given along side the first dose of the vaccine that I had received. This treatment would have boasted my immune system until I developed immunities. I did not know the importance of immune globulin until it was too late.
After being discharged on Thanksgiving Eve, I went home, still unsure of a diagnosis. While waiting to see if I developed more common rabies symptoms, I gave my life over to God, in a deeper way then ever before. If I were going to die, I must completely trust Him to take care of my children. I relinquished control and was covered with a peace and sense of total freedom. I have experienced the peace that passes all understanding before, but this was far better. An intense longing for heaven radiated from my heart. Without words, I remembered my true home. If there had been a doorway to heaven, I would have walked through it. At that moment, heaven’s pull was greater than my life here.
I am thankful to have lived through this experience. I continue to have periodic leg pain, but knowing that the time has passed for it to be the beginning of rabies is a relief. I will see a neurologist in January. There is a slime chance I will develop rabies since I didn’t receive the protocol that has one hundred percent success rate. I have learned to focus on my blessings and shift through my to-do-list and put family, friends, and outreach at the top.
Has this stopped my desire to travel? No, though I will evaluate each situation with greater care. I have learned how to deal with hostile animals and will carry a medical kit wherever I go. My sixteen-year-old daughter and I are traveling to Haiti in February with a medical mission team from Pawley’s Island. She will have the rabies vaccines before we go, knowing that you can’t always get what you need in third world countries.
Travel is a wonderful way to learn about the world, yourself, and God. Every time I go, I gain new knowledge, insight, and understanding. When I leave my comfort zone, I become more of who God wants me to be. I will go where He leads for His plans are perfect. In the New Year, may you experience His plan for your life as we walk in faith.
Vibrant Wild flowers