Tuesday, August 9, 2011

“Cat Scratch Fever”

            “Lizzy, let Penn in,” my mother directed as she shifted an overloaded bag of groceries onto her right hip and struggled to fit the house key into the back door.
            Penn, our Welsh Terrier, sat obediently at the gate, his little stub tail wagging eagerly in anticipation of entering the house. Penn, a typical Welshie, perked his head to the side in curiosity as his gaze shifted from me to Mom as she opened the back door. Carrying groceries, I elbowed the gate latch up, shifted to butt the gate out of the way, and followed Mom into the house, taking it for granted that our spunky terrier would follow on my heels. After all, we carried food!
            Feeling a whoosh of air around my legs, I spun around to witness a black and tan streak blur out of our yard and head for open spaces.
            “Peeeeeeennnnn! You come back here!” I yelled, dropping the groceries as I leapt down the back steps in pursuit of our dog.
            Now, Penn had a reputation in our neighborhood. A high energy dog, his devotion to my sister, brother and me made him extremely protective of us. My parents returned twice from evenings out to find our babysitter sitting on the back porch, us three kids playing in the kitchen within her sight, and the dog guarding the back door in ferocious dedication. Like most Welsh Terriers, Penn formed his own decisions and would never back down from perceived “danger.” For him, that meant he had to defend his kids at all costs.
            Freedom made him crazy with doggy glee, and he cut across the play area, running in circles around me as I tried to get him to jump into my arms. He’d dash full speed at me, make as if he would come into my embrace, and then veer off wickedly at the last second. Each time he made his circle, he widened the circumference of his loop until his orbit started zipping him into the back yards of our neighbors who didn’t have fences.
Suddenly, he broke from his circular rotation and made a dash to the opposite side of our field, and I pelted after him, my legs pumping like pistons. I’m not certain what happened next. Penn shot across one yard where neighbors had their cat staked out on a super long lead. I remember watching the cat spring straight up in the air, almost like a cartoon, with her fur bristling out and her snarling meow and menacing hiss bringing Penn to a full halt. At that point, I lunged for Penn, but he escaped my tackle attempt and continued on his mad dash. As I got to my feet, the hysterical cat started climbing onto me, digging her claws into my skin as she tried to get onto my shoulders. She dragged her lead with her, tangling my feet and legs. Before I knew it, I hit the ground again. Startled even more, the cat caught my right arm in a death grip and wouldn’t let go.
By this time, Penn sensed my pursuit of him had stopped and circled around in time to see me go down in a free fall with the cat attached to me. Terrier instinct took over, and he swooped in to defend me from the cat by grabbing the cat’s leg and pulling with all his strength. He’d pull and shake, pull and shake, trying to rip the cat free. And the cat’s claws dug deeper and deeper into my arm.
By this time, the entire neighborhood’s on alert! One woman, nine months pregnant, grabbed a broom and started beating Penn over the head, but he ignored each blow. Our next door neighbor, who played often with us and Penn, managed to pull the dog off the cat and haul him away while other kids and adults examined the pulp of my arm.
When my mother ran up, she found me sobbing uncontrollably as blood seeped through my sweater. Always calm in emergencies, she grabbed an offered towel from one neighbor, instructed my sister to get her purse and car keys, told the boy holding Penn to take him back to our yard, and carried me over to the car.
The emergency room staff, of course, knew me. I had enough visits to the ER that my parents worried the nurses would report them for abuse. My injuries, though, always had a bizarre tale attached to them that dovetailed with the physical evidence. Coming in with a clawed up arm and a story of my dog trying to rescue me probably topped the list. With efficiency, the nurses cleaned my ripped fingers and doused gallons of antibiotic scrub on the deep punctures the cat’s claws gouged into my arm. The doctor took a look at their handiwork, gave me another shot of penicillin for good measure, and sent us on our way.
Within a few days, the fever started. My arm throbbed constantly and overnight the wounds began oozing white puss. Another trip to the ER had the young doctor pouring over his medical books to diagnose Cat Scratch Disease. He changed my antibiotics, gave explicit instructions on how to care for my wounds, and sent us on our way. Every day, I’d head to the school nurse’s office to have my injury cleaned and new bandages placed on my arm. At first, the nurse would cringe and grimace at the seeping mess. Eventually, the antibiotics kicked in and the fever and infection went away.
I still carry the scars on my arm from my encounter with Cat Scratch Fever. Fortunately, I never attached any type of trauma or phobia to the participants in this event. I still love dogs and cats, and I don’t panic when I see pregnant women waving around brooms! I’ve never met another person who also contracted the disease, so as a child I enjoyed my notoriety that the disease afforded me. Finally, I survived the years of teasing from my family that I endured once Ted Nugent’s song hit the airwaves.   

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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