Bats, Rabies Vaccines, and Frontline Heroes

Bartlomiej Skorupa

by Bart Skorupa

For many months, Haven had begun complaining about nightmares, seeing shadows in the dark.

One night at two in the morning she started screaming, “Tata! Tata!”

Wearily, I went up to her room thinking that once again, the four year old’s imagination had run amok. Per the usual, I found her terrified and pointing at shadows on the ceiling.

And as always, I said “Haven, it’s just the fan making shadows on the…” 

Then at that very moment, a bat flew right at me. A living manifestation of her nightmare came to life, swooping at my head. My daughter belted out a full-on horror movie scream and I threw a blanket on top of her for protection.

Until that moment, I never realized that I possessed formidable pillow ninja skills. Armed with my square unicorn pillow, I ninja-star threw it, killing the bat mid flight. With a dustpan, I threw the juvenile back into the woods.

I went back to my daughter’s bed and we both pretended to sleep until dawn.

As I later shared the story with co-workers and friends, someone asked me if our family needed a rabies shot. I was skeptical, thinking how rare it is to get rabies from a bat (nearly 99 percent of bats don’t have rabies and our bedroom invader flew well, and didn't appear hampered in the least). However, with more research, my wife and I learned that there is a 99 percent fatality rate if a human is infected with rabies.

With that frightening statistic, we delved into researching bats, rabies, and the rabies shot protocol, time commitment, and its potential side effects. I called my mom, who is a molecular biologist and with her Polish background, comes with healthy skepticism on these matters. We reasoned, we rationalized, we debated. We learned that while a bat in the house is okay, a bat in the bedroom is not okay because you might not know if you were bit while sleeping. 

Apparently, bat bites are little, don’t hurt, and disappear within 30 minutes. Our quickly growing knowledge brought a sentiment of you just don’t know, so be safe and not sorry.

Most of all, our concern centered about the potential of being exposed to COVID while at the hospital. Michigan is now seeing its highest number of COVID cases ever. However, nothing compels action like knowing that you have a 99 percent chance of death and that the cure is safe, effective, and with few side effects. We decided to pursue the rabies vaccine protocol, which included a total of four shots—the initial one, and one on days three, seven, and 14.

Yet what should have been a routine shot turned out to be a very non-routine situation. Few places carry the rabies vaccine since the initial dose is based on weight, age, and other factors. The emergency room was the only place where we could get the shot.

Our initial ER visit took four hours as the emergency room was overrun with COVID-positive patients. The nurses, EMTs, and doctors were all exhausted yet somehow continued to be cheerful in their work. Of course, I’m a bit biased since 4-year-olds do tend to get special attention. 

Over the coming weeks, our family of four all began the four shot protocol. Heather and Bay even started Thanksgiving Day in urgent care to get their third shot. It was a poignant moment that oddly found us grateful as we got to spend the morning with frontline heroes, working through the holiday to keep our community healthy and safe.

We were humbled by the experience, grateful to see the human side of science as we spent so much time with the hard-working people on healthcare’s brutal frontlines.

Thankfully, my daughter and I have had no side effects from the rabies vaccine other than some fatigue. While rabies has mostly been eradicated in the U.S., the same can’t be said for COVID which will likely continue to be endemic for years to come. It’s hard to believe that we are two years into the COVID pandemic and our hospitals are still overrun. The good news is that vaccinations are ticking up given the booster and pediatric expansion. But there is still so much more work that needs to be done.

As I shared this story, a friend name Olivia Khalili summarized my thoughts about this experience best: 

“It says something that you were able to view it through your lens as a social entrepreneur: to experience both gratitude for the heroism of healthcare workers, and also appreciation and renewed energy for Mobile Pathways’ work to improve outcomes for marginalized communities.”

She’s right. I am personally grateful for the healthcare workers who took care of me and my daughter, and here at Mobile Pathways, we are grateful for our vaccine equity coalition of local immigration nonprofits who are leveraging our platform to send accurate and culturally appropriate information about the vaccine. We are going to live with COVID for many years to come, only all of us working together can help ease the situation from pandemic to endemic.

And who knows? With perseverance, grit, and some luck, perhaps one day COVID will be as equally rare as rabies, and like any nightmare, becomes only a figment of our dark imagination.