As I wrote in my last blog entry, my weekend’s planned excursions included a climb up the tallest statue of Jesus in the world (disappointing—turns out he’s closed on Sundays) and a hike in nearby Tunari national park. It also included an unplanned visit to the Clinica Belga Boliviana, the fanciest-sounding hospital in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I had learned the hard way that angry dogs really do bite you in the butt, just like countless cartoon mailmen. I told the clinic’s emergency room attendant that I’d been attacked by a wild dog in the woods and wanted a rabies shot. “Sure, take a seat,” he told me. I winced—talk about adding insult to injury.
After 30 minutes or so, a doctor called me in. I told her what had happened: I was hiking in a national park, minding my own business and enjoying my Saturday afternoon, when four dogs started barking at me then attacked me out of nowhere, one of them managing to rip out a small chunk of my bum. I expected to be applauded for having the good sense to go get my rabies shot immediately after having been bitten by a strange dog in the woods, but instead the doctor just clucked her tongue.
“You know, the best thing to do in these situations is to control the dog. Could you go find this dog?”
I was confused, not sure if she was actually asking me to go out alone in search of the potentially rabid dog, who was roaming free in a national park some 45 minutes away, probably gloating over the tiny piece of a gringa’s butt he had won earlier that day. I told her I really wasn’t comfortable capturing the dog and bringing him back to the clinic for observation. The doctor sighed again, and tried to convince me that this vaccine would be a hassle:
“It’s expensive… you’ll have to come back 5 times… you might get jaundice… you really don’t think you could find this dog?”
I was starting to feel kind of silly and spoiled. Why had my parents never taught me any useful skills, like animal trapping? Thirteen years of violin lessons weren’t doing me much good right now. But, as spoiled as I felt, I was determined to get my shots. After having written a report on rabies for Mrs. Cornwall’s 9th grade health class, I had definitively decided that I did not want to die from rabies.
After some poking and prodding, the on-duty doctor finally called the dog-bite-specialist-doctor at home. I caught some whispered snippets of their conversation:
“Hello, Doctor? So sorry to call you at home… foreign girl here… wild dog in the woods… told her to control it, but… doesn’t want to go find it…. I know… I know… Yes, OK, thank you doctor.”
She turned to me. “All right, show me the wound.”
Finally, I thought. I tried to moon the doctor as respectfully as possible and hopped onto the stretcher. Just as she started to clean up the bloody mess, a call went out over the PA system: the doctor was needed to attend to a patient arriving by ambulance. I was left, alone and exposed on a stretcher, for what felt like an eternity (but was probably 30 minutes). Various hospital personnel wandered in and out of the room, seemingly oblivious to my delicate situation as a half-naked, potentially rabid foreigner. Well, at least this will make a decent blog entry when it’s all over, I thought to myself. Not quite Jessica-getting-malaria-in-Nigeria-good, but decent.
Things turned out my way in the end—the good doctor returned, bandaged my bum, gave me my first of five rabies shots, and sent me on my way with just a slight limp and some holes in my pants (and my butt) to show for my afternoon adventure. Now I’m following the locals’ (and T.R.’s) advice to always use Big Stick Diplomacy. Not my favorite foreign policy in U.S. history, but it sure does the trick with Bolivian dogs.