I have rabies. OK, I'm not actually sure I have rabies, but after an encounter with a local dog I am taking steps to make sure that it doesn't happen.
In my neighbourhood, a sleepy valley on the outskirts of Takoradi called Christian Hills, is a dirt road that goes between two major paved arteries that serve the region. As I walk to work each morning I pass by and greet my neighbors including, Lucy the seamstress, Mary and her family at the small provision store, the woman who sells beer and phone cards, Batik woman, Abu at Thanks Enterprise water sachet factory, the kids who call out "Obroni!" and wave and any other people heading to work. Another friend I meet almost everyday is Sparky, the dog belonging to the woman who sells me beer and phone cards.
Sparky is a friendly sort. A bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of energy, always bouncing around, puppy who always wants to play. As soon as I met him I knew I had a friend. The only problem with Sparky is that he doesn't know when to stop. He hasn't been trained not to jump up, not to get his dirty paws all over you, and most importantly, not to bite.
My neighbourhood is home to a few roving packs of local stray dogs. Former pets that have either run away, been kicked out or left behind. They generally keep their distance from people, and only are a nuisance when they howl, bark or fight at night. They look like a bunch of crazy personalities and I have tried to name a few of them to try and match those personalities. There's Rasta Dog, a big, furry, dirty, dread locked Old English Sheepdog; Stumpy, the dog who has lost his rear paw, possibly to a car; Limpy, the dog without his front paw, also probably car related; Crazy, a mutt with red eyes who barks if you come too close; Skinny, a super skinny little brown dog who lives on the hill near my house; Howly, a dog who howls at night; and Moms, a dog who has clearly had many litters of puppies. There are also a few no-name small, white, brown and yellow dogs who are quite small and hang out in the shade and keep to themselves.
Sparky roams free, although I've never seen him hanging out with the other dogs. Whenever I do see Sparky, I want to play with him. I pet him, he gets excited and starts jumping on me. I get annoyed and shoo him away. He follows me up and down the road whenever we meet. I think that means we are friends. However, all that changed one fateful evening.
While waiting for the woman who sells me beer and phone cards to bring me my bottles, with my back turned to Sparky, the dog jumped up and bit my hand. Not too hard, but enough to break the skin and leave two little red marks.
Jessie, my JHR collegue in Accra, has told me on a number of occasions not to touch any animals in Ghana, as they all have rabies. Joseph, a JHR employee also in Accra, told me cautionary tales of stupid 'obronis' who go up to any old stray dog as if they were their personal pets. My travel doctor in Hamilton in asking if I wanted the vaccine for rabies, told me it wasn't likely that I'd contract the disease, but that I need to avoid contact with animals. September 8th is World Rabies Day, and I get to learn all about the disease and exactly how many death occur worldwide (According to the WHO, 55, 000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year - a rate of one person per ten minutes) as I prepare a story for the newsroom. I agreed with all of them, but seeing Sparky, I just couldn't resist.
After the bite, I went to the woman who sells me beer and phone cards and asked if Sparky had received his rabies shot. She said yes, and I decided not to worry about it. A few days later I mention the bite to Jessie, doubts about whether Sparky was actually vaccinated floating around in my head, and she told me to get the shots. I tell her the chances are miniscule, and that I wasn't worried about rabies. A few days after that I mention it to my girlfriend, the public health doctor to be, and she after careful deliberation on my position, also told me to get the shots. I brush them off, confident that Sparky would never do such a thing to me.
A week passes and I still have the marks from the bite on my hand. I call my girlfriend and tell her of a cloud of paranoia forming in my head over the issue. She tells me that it's highly unlikely that I have rabies, but, still, I should get the shots. If only for my piece of mind.
Some more time passes, as I consider whether or not I am overreacting, if it's just a bit of paranoia. Sparky is my friend, I think. He's healthy and hasn't exhibited any signs of disease. I decide not to get the shots.
A little more time passes and I start receiving emails from home. It's clinical information on the potential incubation period of rabies. It can lay dormant for up to a year, and is fatal. A horrible fatal disease who's first sign of infection is the dreaded 'flu-like symptoms'.
I decide to get the shots.
I go to the doctor, an infectious disease specialist working at the local hospital, who I had the pleasure of interviewing for a previous news story. I walk right in and he writes me a prescription, and I'm out within 2 minutes. I head to the public health department who apparently have the vaccines. They do not. They call the pharmacy. The hospital is out of rabies vaccine. I'm told to go across town to another hospital. I go. The pharmacy there tells me that they don't give medications to patients, only to institutions. The process of institutional drug re-stocking is difficult and involves returns for proof of use. So I should try at the dispensary or go back to the original hospital and ask them to order the meds. I go to the dispensary and am told they don't have the vaccine. They can get it, but I need to see a doctor at that hospital, get another prescription and wait for the process to work itself out. Or, I can come back the next day with a cooler packed with ice and 20 Ghana cedes (about $20) and take the drugs myself. I am due to leave town for a trip to Volta region in the east of Ghana, and cannot come back.
I return to the original hospital a week later to see if they've restocked. The haven't. I get a letter from the original doctor instructing the pharmacy to release the drugs to me. I buy a small cooler and ice. I go back to the second hospital, but the dispensary is closed. I ask a nurse exiting the pharmacy if anyone is there, and she agrees to get me in the back door. I see the man in charge, who chastises me for not returning the next day. He says that he expects that kind of behaviour from black people, but not from me. He's joking, but clearly not happy. I laugh it off, as does the nurse. He takes my money, gets the vaccines, gives me a receipt and gives detailed instructions on when to take the doses. At the end of our interaction, I give him 5 cedes to show my appreciation. He laughs and puts the bill in his pocket.
I go back to the first hospital with cooler in hand, visiting the public health department, who tell me to go to the Injection Room at the other side of the hospital. The public health nurse tells me that the shots are given in the abdomen. I wince in pain. I get to the Injection room, and they are closing. The nurses are about to leave, but decide to help me out. The nurse gives me the option of the shoulder or the buttocks. I take the latter.
I limp home, cooler in hand, one dose down, 4 more to go, feeling like this whole thing is, and will continue to be, a huge pain in the ass. At least I won't have rabies. I hope.