Bali Stories: Winnie Part 2

By now, my voice is more than familiar to the woman at the vet’s. I dial in of a morning, not really expecting an update – poor little Winnie’s head has been sent to a government lab, and the wheels of Indonesian bureaucracy rarely run rapidly, even when oiled.

‘Hello!’ I say. ‘It’s Theodora. Do you have any news about Winnie?’

‘Yes,’ she says. ‘The results are back and the vet will call you.’

‘But what are the results?’ I say, pulse pounding. Rabies is terrifying because it’s almost invariably fatal and it’s an unusually horrible way to die. Flashbacks of Winnie licking at my ankle, below the motorbike burn, and my hands go to my head and tug at my hair. ‘Is it rabies?’

‘Yes,’ she says.

Oh god. I double-check to see if it’s not a misunderstanding. ‘Is it rabies?’

‘Yes,’ she says.

‘So Winnie had rabies?’ I say.

‘Yes,’ she says.

Aaarrrrgggghhhhhhhhhh….. I text the neighbour, who is off the island, and Made, and go into panic mode. I’ll see the other neighbours later.

I arrive on campus, wide-eyed with neurosis. ‘I need to collect Zac,’ I say. ‘The puppy that bit him had rabies.’

I’ve been fairly lax about Zac’s rabies shot schedule, as in, I’d been meaning to take him down for his last shot after school rather than doing the shots at the same time of day in the textbook fashion. With a definite diagnosis of rabies, I figure he needs it on the nail.

I arrive on campus, wide-eyed with neurosis. ‘I need to collect Zac,’ I say. ‘The puppy that bit him had rabies.’

‘Oh dear,’ says the girl at the desk with, I feel, insufficient concern. I am expecting this to be at least an occurrence worthy of some remark. (I’ll later hear the story of a neighbour who was surprised on his lawn by a rabid dog that raced out of the hills and took a chunk out of his thigh before the banjar hunted it down and killed it.)

For now, and new to Bali, it feels extremely scary.

I pace, with the speed of fear, to the joglo building in the grassy campus where Zac is having an art lesson, and pull him out, despite his protests about missing an important ICT assessment. Back on the bike, we whizz down Sunset to Siloam, and get Zac his final shot.

Then I ask the doctor about my situation. He thinks I should probably just continue the course, but he agrees it’s difficult with a definite rabies diagnosis and a potential exposure so long before treatment started, and gives me the name of a tropical medicine specialist at Sanglah.

This time, I have a child, someone who’s unusually dependent on me, and it feels extremely different. I am absolutely definite that I do not want to die.

We head to ChaTime for passion fruit juice, interspersed with frantic texts and calls from Made. Then we stop on the way back for gyoza at a Japanese joint and a serious discussion. It occurs to me, you see, that there’s a definite possibility – though hardly a probability – that I might die within six months.

I remember the last time I thought I could die, in a Mali hospital. I was nineteen, and child-free, running a high fever, sharing a room with a woman dying of TB, and pumped full of anti-malaria drugs that I knew could cause liver failure when combined with the anti-malarials I was on.

That time, I remember thinking quite clearly, as I watched the flies hop on and off the IV drip that was pumping me full of toxins, ‘Well, there’s not a lot to be done about that. That’s a shame. Oh well…’

This time, I have a child, someone who’s unusually dependent on me as a single parent, and it feels extremely different. I am absolutely definite that I do not want to die, and the notion that I could be forced to abandon my child in this fashion seems utterly, utterly wrong.

On t’other hand – if I have rabies, there really ain’t a lot I can do other than request the Milwaukee Protocol, the only treatment that might just conceivably have a vague chance of working.

I raise the question with Zac of what he’d like to do should I, ya know, happen to pass away, and where and with whom he sees his future lying. He gives me his answer, we pay up and leave.

Still, as a friend observes on Facebook (my Facebook ban isn’t working too well today), it’s probably better to be the bearer of bad news than to look like the neurotic newbie.

And now to the neighbours. Oh god, the neighbours.

Still, as a friend observes on Facebook (my Facebook ban isn’t working too well today), it’s probably better to be the bearer of bad news than to look like the neurotic newbie who mistook a perfectly normal puppy condition which leaves the dog hallucinating then in coma for rabies and worried the entire neighbourhood. Let alone one who had every intention of having a perfectly innocent dog shot just because she had bitten the puppy a week before said perfectly normal puppy condition coincidentally occurred.

Neither set are around.

Made is frantic about her daughter. I try and reassure her. She has a family member who works as a nurse, and races off to see her.

And then my phone rings. It’s the vet.

But Winnie is (or rather, was) officially one of 30% of Bali dogs who bite a human, become neurologically sick, and do not have rabies.

‘Hi,’ I say. ‘Yes, they told me this morning.’

‘The sample has come back from the lab,’ she says. ‘It’s negative for rabies.’

‘NEGATIVE?!’ I say.

‘Negative,’ she says.

I am immediately infused with a rush of pure joie de vivre, sheer wonderment at being alive, rapidly followed by a crashing wave of toecurling embarrassment. Jesus! I need to tell Made! And the neighbours!

‘But what was it?’ I ask. ‘If it wasn’t rabies, what WAS it?’

She doesn’t know. It could be distemper, she says. A neural inflammation. Possibly from injury, possibly viral. But Winnie is (or rather, was) officially one of 30% of Bali dogs who bite a human, become neurologically sick, and do not have rabies – and some vanishingly small percentage of Bali dogs who are bitten by other Bali dogs, bite a human, become neurologically sick and do not have rabies.

And this morning’s ‘yes,’ ‘yes,’ ‘yes’? Just the South-East Asian standard response to any question you don’t entirely understand. And, yes, I did know that, normally.

They’re insistent that this shouldn’t put us off getting another dog. It’s a typical new-to-Bali not-a-dog-person error, apparently, and an unusually unfortunate set of circumstances.

Made is hugely, hugely relieved. The neighbours are so phenomenally nice about the whole saga that it would be wrong to suggest this embarrassing debacle contributes significantly to our decision to leave Seseh (although, boy oh boy, it’s no way to meet the neighbours). They’re insistent that this shouldn’t put us off getting another dog.

It’s a typical new-to-Bali not-a-dog-person error, apparently, and an unusually unfortunate set of circumstances.

But we’re not sure.

Now that the panic’s over, there’s time to mourn for Winnie, who was a sweet little thing, and quite possibly not all right from the beginning. There’s time for flashes of horror at the thought of her head cold-freighted in a box to a government lab. There’s time for sorrow for the lovely lady who over-contracted our villa and her daughter, who’d been hoping Winnie would join them in America.

And there’s time for work. Work, between rural internet and the obsessive-compulsive Googling of rabies, has been suffering.

Zac and I decide that it will be a while before we even think about getting another pet. We haven’t really done very well at it to date.

10 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Oh my god! This sounds like such a terrifying situation, and I’m so pleased for you that everything’s turned out ok. Can’t imagine how huge your relief must be!

  2. Lia Vandersantl says:

    Sheesh! What a nightmare! Thank Christ it worked out ok and you got your life back! As someone who is shit scared of Asian free range dogs, I’ve been waiting for Winnie Part 2 with bated breath. RIP poor Winnie though that’s a sad outcome, especially when you think of the life it could have had as a pampered pooch in America.

  3. Caroline Woodley says:

    I’m torn between wanting to congratulate you on getting back into good, gripping story-telling form, thank you for putting my own brief puppy-owning debacle (complete with illness and bitey behaviour) into perspective and offering to buy you a pint in honour of the poor departed decapitated Winnie. Email me your London plans, won’t you?!

    • Theodora says:

      Nice to hear from you – and thanks for the FB Tag! I will do just as soon as I have them…. xxxxx

  4. Rosita says:

    Oh, it was a so sad situation… Specially for me, because I’m a dog lover and a puppy-a-holic. I’m human “mother” of four dogs: one Yorkshire terrier, one female golden retriever, one male Kintamani and one female golden/Kintamani mix. I simply LOVE my dogs! They don’t use leash, are set free, never bitten anyone, don’t have rabies… My Akita is male, his name’s Teman (who’s mean “friend” in Indonesian), the yorkshire’s a female, her name’s Cleo. The Golden’s a female, her name’s Dulce (who’s mean “sweet” in Spanish), and the Golden/Kintamani cross is a female, her name’s Bali. She’s white with golden marks on her fluffy fur, a very big puppy. Now, she’s 4 months old, but I’m NOT selling she!!! Dogs AREN’T objects.

  5. Rosita says:

    PS: I don’t have an akita. It was an error of my computer corrector! I’m so embarrassed!

  6. Rosita says:

    Yes, they’re rare dogs nowadays. They’re Bali most precious jewel for me, as well. Have you saw a pure KBD (Kintamani Bali Dog) in your trip to Bali?

  7. Rosita says:

    Great! I have one white male (Teman) and one Kintamani/Golden mix (Bali). They’re good dogs. I’m living in Brazil. What was Winnie appearance?