Do the lights in this room seem brighter than usual? I almost asked that question at work today, but I stopped myself just in time. We were all sitting around the conference table, chatting or checking email on our laptops while waiting for the last few stragglers to come in before the meeting started. It was just like any other day, with one difference — the lights were really uncomfortably bright. So I wanted to know if they were bothering anyone else and, more importantly, whether we could turn them down.
But then it hit me — increased sensitivity to light is a symptom of rabies. And if I knew that particular bit of obscure medical trivia, then at least half my colleagues probably knew it too. I could just imagine the chain of events that my seemingly innocent question would set off: no one would say anything, but the people sitting closest to me would edge away ever so slightly. Others would quietly do web searches and then make subtle attempts to steer the discussion towards questions that could be used to confirm a rabies diagnosis (“Committing to add all those features in such a short time frame would be a huge mistake that would come back and bite us in the end. Is that a good metaphor? I’ve never been bitten by an animal, so I don’t really know what it’s like. Can someone describe it?”), and I’d just sit there quietly, feeling uncomfortable. If pressed for an answer, I’d attempt to change the subject (“Are you sure that’s a metaphor and not a simile?”), but I probably wouldn’t succeed (because only takes about 30 seconds to google “simile vs metaphor” and determine that yes, in fact, it is a metaphor. Sometimes I hate the Internet). Eventually, the questions would die down, but the wariness would remain, and within a few days HR would send the inevitable memo “reminding” everyone of the company’s strict no-biting policy.
It took me a while to figure out how I got rabies. At first I thought it was because of that time I was bitten by a dog — but I was about 8 years old then, and the dog that bit me was current on its vaccinations. Maybe the particular dose of rabies vaccine that this dog got was defective, and instead of granting immunity, it just extended the incubation period.
That seemed a little far-fetched. My next theory was that I got it from my cats. They don’t bite, but they do always seem to want to share my water glass. But then, how did the cats get rabies? They’re indoor kitties, and I don’t generally let other animals into the house, so I guess they would have had to have been bitten by a rabid burglar. Does it count as burglary if they break into your house and bite your cats, but don’t steal anything? To be honest, this whole scenario seems pretty unlikely.
After dismissing my first two theories, I began to question whether I even had rabies, so I turned to the Internet for answers. After doing a little research, I finally got my answer: I do have rabies, and I got it from a bat. According to my county’s Department of Public Health, bats are responsible for most cases of rabies in humans in the US. I don’t actually remember ever having been bitten by a bat, but according to that same public health page, bat bites “often go unnoticed by the victim”, so the fact that I don’t remember it happening probably means that it did.
But enough about me — what about you? Are you being bitten by a rabid bat right now, as you’re reading this? Are you sure?