Before we even arrived, I knew we would be challenged in new ways traveling through India. I didn’t expect those challenges to start up on our second day there. Walking back from breakfast around 10 am, we passed through a side street to get back to the road that our hostel was on. Two dogs were napping there and we didn’t think too much of it, there are street dogs on almost every road in the city. As soon as we passed one though, our smell woke him up and he realized that we did not belong. Immediately he started barking and pursuing us, while the second dog which was in front of us also got up and began barking. Terrified, we began walking more quickly and trying to be as non-threatening as possible, but it was clear that something was about to happen. With the first dog still behind us, we tried to move past the second at the end of the road and he came up and gave me a big “warning” bite on my thigh. I managed to kick him away and we made it to the end of the street, quickly getting the fuck out of there while the dogs continued barking wildly. As soon as we got out of ear shot I checked my leg and saw that my pants were ripped and there was blood from the bite. Shit. I just potentially contracted Rabies in India.
Every day I go over this situation again in my mind, and overall I am just so thankful that it wasn’t so much worse. These dogs could have both latched on and not let go, they could have bit Jenny, they really could have torn us to bits. There were enough people around that I would like to think someone would have been able to come to our rescue, but who knows. If I saw tourists being attacked by street dogs would I try to intervene? That’s a risk I’m not sure that I would take, so how can I expect someone else to take it for me. Still, I was bit by an animal that lives on the unfortunately filthy streets of Delhi, and now I have to figure out how I am going to get proper medical attention.
We first checked by a local clinic near where we were staying. It was really one room, with one side open facing the street, and a huge crowd of sick people were all gathered outside, waiting their turn. We waited for about 20 minutes and saw no movement, so instead I stopped by a pharmacy, gathered some antibacterial cream and band aids, and trudged back to the hostel. I washed the wound with hot soap and water, applied the cream and put on a band aid. It was just a surface level bite, about as much blood as you would see from a few paper cuts, but it wasn’t the wound or potential infection that was really concerning me. I needed to find somewhere in Delhi that could give me a Rabies vaccination. After some googling, I found that the government hospitals in India provide free Rabies vaccines to anyone bit by an animal. Great! I’ll just ride a tuk-tuk to the nearest one and I’ll be good to go.
Word cannot describe the horror I felt once I arrived at the local government hospital. Everywhere around me I was surrounded by thousands and thousands of sick people, some that clearly needed immediate medical attention. Every room I walked through became the new winner of the “Most Unsanitary Place I’ve Ever Been” award. Blood and shit covered the ground in spots, the air smelled of vomit and hand sanitizer, and I was completely lost on where to go and how to ever find proper care in this place. After a half hour, I finally found someone who could direct me to the right building, and I saw that the line just to fill out forms to be eligible to be seen by a doctor was, no exaggeration, about 300 people long. I got the hell out of there, exhausted and emotional, and got on my phone hunting for a clinic for westerners, a doctor for tourists, anything I could try because anything would be better than this.
Finally, I found a clinic that specializes in Rabies and saw some favorable comments about it from other tourists who had gotten bitten by dogs (thanks Google reviews). It was an hour away and might not be open, but I was desperate and had to get out of this hospital. Thankfully, Delhi has Uber for any phone with an Indian sim and we had just gotten ours the night before, so I was able to plug in the clinic address and get dropped off an hour later. I was greeted by a very similar sight to the first clinic we had checked. Again, a huge crowd of people all waiting in line to be seen by the doctor. I resigned myself to waiting it out, but not even 5 minutes later the doctor said he could take me, clearly giving me preferential treatment since I was a tourist. I felt bad for everyone waiting, but at this point I just wanted my shots so I could put a hold on my panic.
I ended up having to get 8 shots that day, 6 shots of immunoglobulin, a tetanus shot, and the first of many Rabies vaccinations. 2 of the shots they had to put under the skin right below the bite, which hurt way more than the bite itself. Then they explained to me that I had to take more Rabies vaccinations and gave me all the days to take them, some weeks away. I would need to come in to the clinic on each vaccine day. Well, that isn’t going to work. We’re going to Udaipur in two days. Jaipur in six days. I’m traveling right now, I can’t be coming to a clinic in Delhi for these shots. Are you traveling with someone? Then you’ll have to take these with you, keep them cold, and have your girlfriend give you the shots. I have to keep vaccines cold for a month in India? Yep.
Finding a cooler in Delhi to keep my vaccines cold is a story that almost deserves its own blog post. But we did find one eventually, and I have been traveling around with it ever since. Jenny has been an excellent nurse, giving me the shots on all the necessary days. We finally got to the last shot and a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders, enough that I wanted to write this while it was still fresh in my mind. 20,000 people in India die from rabies each year, if you ever are in contact with dog saliva to broken skin make sure you seek treatment. It will not be an easy road, and I lucked out that I was in a major city with a variety of treatment options (even if some were horrid), but it could save your life.