I’m standing in front of a security guard at Stanford Hospital Emergency Room waiting to go through their metal detector. I’m sweating. It’s 10pm. I’m holding a 50-pound mostly-asleep 5-year old dressed in his PJs and Minion-themed crocs in my arms, along with two iPads, two sweatshirts and an R2-D2 water bottle.
The security guard tells me it may take a few minutes as he checks in the woman in front of me. I give him my “really?” look…and that “really” is as much directed to myself..
How in the world, really, did I end up standing here on a Monday night?
The day started great. Alex was so excited to go on a play date at an indoor play place with his best friend from school, Matty (name changed). Matty’s mom and I like to go to this place because it’s clean and our younger kids can play at the same time.
About an hour into our play date, I’m with my little guy Ryan in the café. Ryan basically associates every place he goes with what snacks he can eat. This particular place is all about Pirates Booty, fruit snacks and apple juice. He also eats most of my cookie. We are sitting in the café while Alex and Matty play in the next room.
“BAT, BAT, BAT.” I look up and Alex and Matty come running into the café flapping their wings yelling.
Here’s where you have to know my 5-year old, likes to pretend he’s a bird with “creature power” — a falcon or eagle or hawk. So I assume the boys are playing a made-up bird game, and say “cool guys”, barely looking up. That was my first mistake. Within seconds, I hear a commotion in the other room, I realize that they meant a “bat” like in those flying rats that come out at night and Ozzy Ozbourne likes to munch on. A real bat. And many of the kids are chasing the bat around the place. No one stops them. Mistake #2.
I quickly go into the other room and am greeted by a young employee who appears to have trapped the bat between a cup and a piece of paper and is in the process of carrying it outside. I ask her what she’s going to do with the bat and she says, “let it go outside.” I nod and smile. Mistake #3.
There is a buzz at the place as the parents start talking about the bat. How in the world did a bat get into the building during the day? One mom says she has no idea why parents would let their kids chase the bat because they can have rabies. I respond that I didn’t even know my son was chasing an actual bat, I thought he was playing a game. And seriously, why would I ever think that I real bat was flying around the place – it’s a clean, well-taken-care-of place. With the bat now gone, everyone goes back to doing what they were doing and beyond a fun story, no one gives it a second thought. No evacuation. No call to animal control. Nothing. Mistake #4.
Flash forward to 8:30pm that night. Alex has finally fallen sleep after countless Star Wars games, and I’m a free man. Ryan has already been asleep for an hour or so. I look at my phone and see that Matty’s mom has sent me a text that says “call me.” Oh fucking crap. I start to panic. Did Alex and Matty get into a fight I don’t know about? Did I offend her with one of my not really funny jokes or comments. The bat never crosses my mind.
I call her back and she tells me that there was a girl at the place today named Lola (name changed) who was hit on the leg by the bat. She told her mom that Matty’s friend (that would be Alex) also touched the bat. Lola was on her way to get rabies shots and Matty’s mom wanted to tell me just in case Alex actually did touch the bat… I should consider getting shots for him too. We scramble and call our urgent care, actually get a nurse on the phone at 9:30pm who reads straight from her CDC handbook that if there’s even a slight chance Alex touched the bat we should take him for shots immediately. We debate for a minute whether we can just go in the morning, but then decide we would never forgive ourselves if it turns out that we should have gone immediately and we waited instead (by the way, turns out you actually have about 14 days to start the shots). And that’s how I ended up in the Stanford ER on a nice Monday night.
For around 90 minutes Alex and I sit in the ER watching and talking about Star Wars. At one point while I’m talking to the doctor, I see my little man in his PJs dancing around the ER pretending he’s having a light saber fight. Right moves, wrong place.
Three ER nurses walk up to us with three serious looking needles. It’s good that they finally arrive because I can’t imagine Alex has any questions about Star Wars left in the tank. Not your garden-variety flu shot either, these fuckers are going to hurt. Alex still doesn’t really understand what happened and says he didn’t touch the bat. But, as the doctor told us, the shots hurt and are inconvenient, but while only 50 people have gotten rabies in the U.S. since 1990 (that they know of), it’s universally fatal. I told him I work in biotech and I understand “risk/reward” pretty well, and that we wouldn’t have come this far if we weren’t going to get the shots.
As they prepare the shots, wiping Alex’s arm and both legs with some cold numbing solution, I see Alex’s fear grow. I ask one of the nurses “how do parents with kids undergoing serious treatment like chemotherapy do this? “ She replies, “they don’t.” I immediately regret asking the question.
It typical Alex fashion, he pretend limps out of the hospital telling the doctor that he’ll have to walk rather than run this time out of the ER.
This was just step 1. Alex had to go back for additional shots on Day 3, Day 7 and Day 14, which was just this past Monday. He had been waking up every day this past week asking, “Do I have to get shots today?” I’m finally able to say no.
There’s so much more to this story…. Our calls to the play place to tell them how we feel about their complete mismanagement before and after the incident. Their half-hearted apology and apathy, including not even having the decency to call and check up on Alex or Lola. They didn’t even call and alert all the parents with kids that were at their establishment that day.
But as I stood with the nurses in the ER as they got ready to stab my son multiple times with medicine, the thought that came to my head is what would people that didn’t believe in vaccines do in this instance. Would they just risk their child getting a fatal disease? Parents do it all the time to avoid vaccines for whooping cough or measles. It never crossed our minds not to give Alex the shots once we had no real way of knowing whether he touched or been bitten by the bat.
And yes, I understand the risk of side effects for any medicine, even a vaccine around for many decades. The risks are small, but they aren’t zero. I also understand the risk of death. I understand that we live in a free world where everyone can choose to do what they want, even if that choice may ultimately affect my kids. What doesn’t have risk to your body? Do you eat? Do you drive? Do you use a cellphone? Play sports? Drink alcohol? The risks might be small (though likely higher than that of a simple vaccine), but they aren’t zero. Nothing has a risk of zero.
Why don’t people trust the data? Do they not trust big institutions like the government, but then get their gas and electricity from PG&E? The logic isn’t logical to me.
Is this type of thinking what gives us Donald Trump as the Republican front runner for President?
And by the way, the play place…well, they packed up their toys and went home. Last week, we received an email that they sold their establishment to the private elementary school next door. I hope they don’t have night classes.