Normally I’m no good at this telling people what’s happening as and when it’s happening. I’m always at least 2 countries and one month behind when it comes to posting on here, and normally that’s okay because it gives me extra time to think of witty one liners and irresistible titles you just can’t help but click. That’s clearly a joke – I write my posts in about 20 minutes tops, don’t even bother given them the once over and publish them in a snap.
What’s going on right now, though, needs to be recounted live to the masses. And by masses I mean the nice handful of you lot who read me on a regular basis.
My hypochondriac self is having an absolute ball right now. Those run-of-the-mill “I spend too much time in front of a screen” headaches I sometimes get can no longer be attributed to an early sign of Zika virus. The achy muscles I get the day after walking up a thousand flights of stairs is no longer Dengue Fever screaming in my face. I can no longer blame the days where I’m generally feeling a bit run down on a sudden but definite onset of Malaria.
Oh no. No, no, no
Because the big guy has arrived.
The dream to end all hypochondriac dreams.
The crème de la exotic disease crème.
The pièce de YOU WILL NOT RECOVER FROM THIS résistance.
The cherry on top of the That Will Never Happen to Me Cake.
Anyone who follows me on Instagram, y’all know where this is going…
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to inform you all that I have rabies.
Except I don’t. Or I don’t think I do. And I shouldn’t joke about it because rabies shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s really bloody serious, but if I don’t laugh about it I’ll probably cry. I’m almost certain that I don’t have rabies, but that almost is a little bigger than it was two days ago.
You see, yesterday I was bitten by a monkey.
Now I’m warning you all now that this tale, much like my potential kidnapping incident, may make you doubt my credibility as narrator of my own life. You may wish to call me a joker, or maybe even compulsive liar, but I hand on heart promise you as somebody who has fainted every single time bar one that they’ve received an injection in the past fifteen years or so, I would never willingly sacrifice my hip and arm as pin cushions for the sake of it.
Getting bitten by a monkey in Asia is one of those things all travellers and travellers’ friends and family and colleagues and neighbours joke about. Going to Thailand? Watch the monkeys don’t bite! Nepal? Make sure those monkeys don’t catch you! India? Don’t feed the monkeys! I’ve been known to make the odd monkey joke myself in the past. When you read health advice before travelling to India, it doesn’t really insist you get a rabies jab, nor does it try to persuade you against it. It sort of half-heartedly suggests you probably should if you’re going to be working with animals or staying in a particularly rural area for some time, and you should be fine if you stay away from animals but meh let’s forget to mention the fact that animals are EVERYWHERE in India. It’s impossible to get away from them!
And the funny thing is, exactly 5 years and four months ago I decided to pay £150 to get the preventative jabs prior to my trip to Peru, where I’d be volunteering in a jungle reserve. Very sensible. Good job 18-year old me. Luckily I wasn’t bitten by a bat, monkey, dog, jaguar or anything terrifying like that. I was bitten by a mother tapir protecting her baby tapir from the white witch cleaning out their enclosure, but the lodge doctor told me they pose no rabies risk. Anyway, this past July the preventative rabies jabs I got wore off.
I knew this before leaving the UK, but did I fancy forking out another £150 to get a booster of something that doesn’t actually immunise you from the disease anyway, just gives you an extra few hours to find a doctor and 2 less post-bite injections? No. I figured all my jungle and animal-related escapades would be done and dusted by July, after which I’d just be sunning it up in Mexico, LA and then back over to Asia.
Apparently, 23-year old Rhiannon isn’t as sensible as 18-year old Rhiannon and sort of forgot about the fact that Asia is 50% human, 50% wild monkeys and dogs. I just figured I’d stay away from wild animals, especially those that seem a bit off, and double especially those which are frothing at the mouth.
So how exactly did I get bitten?
Well, while on a little lonesome jaunt of Jaipur in Rajasthan, I decided to take my tuktuk driver slash friend’s advice and let him take me to one of the lesser known, further from town tourist sites, Galtaji Monkey Temple.
Yeah, I know, with a name like that I definitely set myself up for failure.
He said the drive there would be nice and we’d see lots of different sides to Jaipur away from the main centre, which we did. He said the temple is set in such a beautiful area unlike any other, which it is. He said the view from the top of the mountain behind the temple is spectacular, which it was. He also said the monkeys wouldn’t bite BUT THEY DID.
Heading into the temple area, there were a bunch of local people asking if I wanted to buy some monkey food.
“Are they mad?” I asked my buddy Shakeer (the driver/friend). “Taking food is just asking to be bitten.”
I turned down every offer with a polite “no thank you, I don’t want to be attacked”. The few people who understood English chuckled to themselves and tried to reassure me that the monkeys aren’t mean or violent, that they live in peace with humans, they won’t touch me if I don’t touch them. And believe me, I had no plan to touch them. Fully reassured that I would not become monkey dinner, I left Shakeer and headed through the gates, when I was almost immediately joined by a young man named Vikas. He told me that if I go alone I’ll be tricked into spending money on things I shouldn’t have to pay for, but if I go with him nobody will bother me. He said he’d also tell me all about the temple, take my pictures, and even bring along some free monkey food for me to feed the monkeys. I told him that I 100% do not want to feed the monkeys, and I would be fine going alone but thanks so much for the offer.
He said if I’m scared of the monkeys he should come with me and protect me.
Ever the stubborn “I can do this on my own” kind of person, I told him I wasn’t scared of the monkeys (because I wasn’t!) and didn’t need protection (lol, kinda did though).
About five minutes and 200 metres later I was rolling around on the floor, clutching my side in agony.
Have I ever mentioned that I’m a drama queen prone to exaggeration from time to time?
There was no rolling around and no agony.
For any avid Instagram followers, you might wanna skip the next few lines because it’s basically gonna be my Instagram captions word-for-word with a bit more of a flowery description.
There I was minding my own business, half sitting and half leaning on a wall, enjoying the view and watching the monkeys act like monkeys on one of the buildings. A giant pool of neon green water separated us so I was, by my own judgement, at a safe distance from any potential monkey business.
Then suddenly a monkey appeared from nowhere and took a running jump at me, clinging onto my side like I was its monkey mother.
And it bit me.
Until that point in my life I’d never had to think about removing a monkey from your person etiquette. When it’s dangling there a good 2 feet from the ground with its teeth well and truly sunk into you, what are you supposed to do? Charles Darwin taught me that monkeys are basically humans. Maybe this particular monkey won’t ever reach pancake flipping on a Sunday morning manhood, but his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchild might end up classmates with my own future relative. Maybe we’ll be in-laws one day, and what would you do if your in-law had clamped themselves onto your waist? Ask them politely to get off? Slowly and gently prise them away from you?
No. I’ll tell you what you do – you panic, don’t stop to think and slam that mo’fo to the ground.
No need to call the RSPCA, that didn’t actually happen. I pushed him off, and monkeys land on their feet so he’s absolutely fine.
Here’s a photo of the perpetrator to prove that he survived our little tussle:
He looks like he’s in a Time Out, like he’s sat there in the naughty corner thinking about the consequences of his actions and reflecting on why using teeth as a weapon is bad. A friend mentioned on my Instagram post that he looks remorseful, and he actually does. He also looks like he’s sulking, which is hilarious.
Whatever he’s feeling, whatever he’s thinking, I still don’t forgive him.
In my OH MY GOD I’VE GOT RABIES post-bite panic, I spent a good few hours Googling what happens next. Somewhere in amongst the archives of the Internet of Things, it said that 36% of the world’s rabies incidents happen in India. Which makes you wonder why the hell is it so hard to find a rabies injection?
I was in Jaipur at the time, a very popular tourist destination. I saw more Westerners there than the last 5 months put together. So with all that being said, you’d think monkey bites are a regular occurrence, given that tourists can be really stupid sometimes. Apparently not.
I asked the man at the hotel reception for advice on a clinic to go to. He sent to one within walking distance, which turned out to be a Dentist. They sent me across the road to a Diabetes Clinic who then sent me to a Vet, where I was told in no uncertain terms “rabies dogs be killed”. No jabs there then. I went to another dentist and then on to a local government hospital where they did have the resources and facilities to administer the injection but only treat holders of a certain insurance and certainly can’t treat foreigners no matter what has happened, not even if said foreigner offers to pay x10 the price of treatment. No worries though, the nice English-speaking lady sent me on again to a different government hospital – this one open for all. And open for all by default means a waiting list of 1000+ people. There are a lot of Indians in the world.
By this point I resigned myself to the fact that I would inevitably develop all the symptoms that go hand in hand with rabies within the next year and won’t live to see a quarter of a century.
I had plans to move on to Ajmer the next day (today!) where coincidentally the English-speaking brother-in-law of a friend of mine works as a doctor, which you’d think would be absolutely ideal in such a situation as this. Except for the fact that he works for one of the big government hospitals in the area. The big, huge, busier than Glastonbury type hospital. The type of hospital my insurance would warn me against going to.
Here is where I should mention that Ajmer ain’t exactly big on a backpacker’s list of where to go. It’s most well-known for being a Muslim pilgrimage site. Nobody at my hotel speaks English, and I think I might be the first white female they’ve ever seen and/or had come stay.
The staff here are wonderful and helpful and lovely, but having to act out getting bitten by a monkey to a panel full of Indian men who followed up with rounds of applause and laughter is not a shining moment of my life. Especially as my impression of a monkey wasn’t even good enough for them to get it.
The receptionist called the owner who speaks English, but he couldn’t get past the beginning of my sentence “Yesterday I was bitten”.
“Yesterday? But madam, you arrived today!”
In the end I got a friend to call the hotel and explain the situation in Hindi, which led to more roars of laughter when they all finally twigged what they failed to guess during our impromptu game of charades. Then one of the staff members – the same one who earlier in the day got down on one knee and presented me with a roll of toilet paper like it was the Holy Grail – whisked me away on his motorbike in search of a doctor.
Have you ever seen a war film where they take the wounded soldiers to a haphazardly set up tent full of the injured and dying? Free State of Jones is a good (and recent!) example. Well, the first place my new buddy took me too was the same as that. The floors were covered in blood and dirt, there was an overwhelming smell of bleach and antiseptic (but not in a reassuring kind of way, more in a “we want to mask the smell of something dire” kind of way), the doctor greeted us with a syringe full of liquid poised and ready in his hand, and I’m pretty sure he had about three different kinds of curry in his beard. Not the kind of place you want to trust with your life.
Fortunately, they were fully booked for the next 2 hours, so we went to a second clinic which was much cleaner, smelt a lot fresher, but the only doctor available was an Infertility Specialist.
Heck, as long as they knew which end of the needle was which I didn’t care.
Nobody spoke English, but with a lot of pointing, miming and awful attempts at pronouncing the few random Hindi words I’d gotten from Google Translate before leaving the hotel, we all ended up on the same page.
And they stuck a needle in my hip.
A Tetanus booster, I believe.
It was the most comfortable injection I’ve ever had in my life! I didn’t even feel it going in, coming out or anything in between. The lady who administered it was absolutely delighted when I told her “No pain! My country, lots of pain!” I’d quite happily do it again. Good job lady.
Then the main doctor, the owner of the clinic came along and explained (in English – hallelujah!) that I need a course of 6 injections over the next 90 days, that he’ll give me a prescription and I can retrieve the medicine from any medicine store and bring it back where they’ll be happy to inject it into me. So off we toddled again, the hotel man and I, to get the medicine. We brought it back to the clinic and of course the pharmacist had given us the wrong kind. It was fine, though. The doctor amended the prescription and assured me that this one would do the trick too but the particular type meant I’d only need 5 doses instead of 6 (yessssss!).
Then he waved me off to sit behind a curtain where a grumpy orange-haired man was waiting for me.
I wanted to lie down flat, knowing this to be the only way to stop myself fainting, but he insisted that “arm means sit”. We had another lengthy round of charades until eventually with a huff he gave in and I got my own way.
Now here I am 36 hours, 2 vets, 1 dentist, 2 hospitals, and a million clinics later, well on my way to living a rabies-free life. Woohoo.
The cost of the Tetanus was 250 rupees and the cost of the Rabies 320 rupees plus 20 rupees for the doctor’s time, bringing my total bill so far to a massive £5.50. Seriously. Paying £50 a pop for the Rabies jab in the UK looks a bit silly now. What exactly am I paying for?
The moral of this monster of a story is: don’t bother staying away from monkeys because they sure as anything won’t stay away from you!