In July of 2012, my husband and I were finishing up a week long trip in Malaysia. We had moved to Japan to teach English and were trying to take advantage of being so close to Asia to travel as much as possible.
Except for a few cockroaches on a bus next to my face and a pretty harrowing ride up some mountains, the trip had been exciting and uneventful. We decided to spend our last day in the country at the Batu Caves, one of the popular Hindu sites outside of India and home to tons of Macaque monkeys. We got there nice and early, but already the place was swarming with tourists and worshippers alike.
I had done a lot of research on the place before and knew not to touch or feed the monkeys and the signs everywhere confirmed that. We put everything that could be easily grabbed in our bags and headed up the stairs.
The caves were stunning and it was easy to see why this was considered a holy place. Unfortunately all good things have to end. My husband was finishing up some photos at the top of the caves and I started to make my way down.
There was a bigger monkey making some faces and I laughed at it, thinking how funny it looked. I turned my back and started to make my way down again when I heard a loud hiss behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and the monkey I had laughed at was there snarling at me with two smaller monkeys. All three of them leapt on me and started biting and scratching my legs. I went into shock and just sort of stood there for a minute before I started yelling at people to help me and tried to shake them off. Not a single person out of all those people tried to help me.
My husband finally heard me from where he was, but when he saw me the monkeys were already gone and he thought I had gone crazy screaming about monkeys. When he was saw my legs covered in blood, his Boy Scout training kicked in and he cleaned me up as fast he could to assess the damage. Thankfully, they had mostly gone after my shorts, but I had one bite right on my butt that was huge and swollen. The best way I can describe it is it felt like a fanged baseball had hit me.
We ended up at Kuala Lumpur medical clinic and the doctor actually smiled when I told her a monkey bit me. She gave me a shot of something, some iodine, and antibiotics that I never got the name of. After everything we read on the internet, I was fully expecting a rabies shot and I was sobbing because all I had ever heard about rabies shots were they gave them to you in the stomach. We also figured out what I had done wrong. Never ever smile at a monkey. I thought I was smiling, while the monkey thought I was challenging him. And when I turned my back to him I was basically saying “Screw you” in monkey body language. I feel like in a place with as many monkeys at the Batu Caves a “Do Not Smile At Monkeys” sign should be posted somewhere.
The next day we got back into Japan. I was running a fever when we touched down and I knew I wouldn’t even make it through the quarantine area I was so hot. Thank goodness I checked myself into quarantine because I wouldn’t have gotten the help I needed otherwise.
Japan does not have rabies and because of that fact, only two hospitals in the entire Osaka area carry the vaccine. A quarantine officer spoke English and helped arrange for me to go to the closest one and for an English speaking doctor to come in the Emergency Room.
Even with all this help, my terror was not over yet. The doctors didn’t think I could speak any Japanese so they were discussing amongst themselves how little they knew about the disease and were flipping through medical dictionaries to even remember what it was exactly. It was the first time they had ever given anyone the vaccine before and they were reading the dosage instructions right in front of me to figure out how to mix it. Rabies vaccines are 100% effective if given in the correct timeline and dosage, but I wasn’t feeling confident right then that they knew what they were doing.
At one point, the English speaking doctor says to me “We don’t know if the monkey that bit you had rabies. If it did and these vaccines don’t work you will die.” “You will die” isn’t something anyone wants to hear from a doctor and I spent a lot of the next few weeks crying and wondering what would happen. Obviously everything turned out alright in the end except for my new intense fear of monkeys and apes. Some good came out of it though. I can always start a story with “that one time when a monkey bit me in the butt.”
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