The Night the Bat Flew Into Our Room
Gina said, “There’s a bat flying around.”
I was sure she was wrong but when I looked I saw it, swooping like a swallow, back and forth, from wall to wall.
“Don’t look! Get under the covers.”
I didn’t know what time it was except that it was the hour of night at which, when you’re awakened suddenly, you’re not sure for a second where you are. I could hear the bat hitting the walls and ceiling. It was a warm muggy night, the first time, I think, that we had slept with a window open, even though we were supposed to get thunder and some rain. I hadn’t put the screens up yet.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. Get up, stay low to the floor, keep the quilt over us, and get out the door fast.”
Oh man, I thought. Can that possibly be the best thing to do?
“We’ll have to sleep downstairs.”
It was hot under the quilt. It had been only a minute or so since we took cover and already I was dripping sweat. We lay quietly and listened, hoping it would go out the way it came in. I was tempted to suggest that we just go back to sleep and leave it alone, figuring that a bat in a room in the middle of the night wanted less to do with me than I wanted with it. Or, since the door was one step from the bed, we could just get up and out of the room quickly, without worrying about staying low or keeping covered. But there was that tone of voice. Even if I had had a plan that might seem acceptable, I knew arguing wasn’t going to work.
I said, “OK, let’s go. Let’s get out of bed and out the door.”
“No! Are we sure that’s the best plan?”
We lay sweating. I reached my hand out from under the quilt and grabbed my eyeglasses from the bed table.
I said, “Let’s go.”
We slid off my side of the bed, quilt over us. I turned the doorknob and we were out into the hall. Our kids, who are 13 and 8, were asleep. Gina went to tell them not to go into our room. I put on my garden clogs and stepped out the second floor door, onto the deck, and then onto the first-story roof, from which I would be able to see into our room. Lightning lit the sky, but it was so far away there was no thunder. Our room has three double-hung windows facing south and a large picture window that does not open facing west. The middle of the double-hung windows was open.
I did not see the bat.
I reached in and pulled the curtain all the way open and then opened the other two windows, so the bat could get out, if it hadn’t already. I wondered what the neighbors would think should they make the mistake of looking over. I’m 52 years old. My only garment, if it can be called that, were garden clogs. I was peering into my own bedroom window.
But the bat wasn’t there.
We went downstairs. We have a pullout sofa but the only way it’s comfortable for sleeping is if the mattress is on the floor, so we opened it, lugged off the mattress, and carried it to the living room. Gina headed for the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
“Upstairs to get a quilt.”
“We have a quilt. We hid under it when we escaped.”
“I want to get a new one, just in case the one we were sleeping under has bat saliva or bat urine on it. You don’t want to sleep on that.”
That last part was certainly true. It was also true that this wasn’t the time for an argument about whether rational people should be worried about bat saliva on their quilt.
We decided that one of us needed to go back into the bedroom to find the bat. I volunteered. Gina said I needed to get covered up. She brought me a hat – a green felt crusher – and a pair of gloves, big heavy fireplace gloves. She also handed me a broom, to fight off the bat, I guess. The gloves were sooty and too bulky, so I asked her to bring me a pair of regular work gloves. She asked if I wanted to wear my yellow rain slicker. I declined in favor of a cotton bathrobe.
In the room, I checked behind the curtains, behind the shirts hanging on pegs, under the chair and ottoman and bed. I looked at the clock: 1:30. By this time I was thinking more or less coherently. Fifteen or so years ago I had learned a lot about rabies. Bats carry rabies, although for some reason rabies doesn’t tear through a bat population and kill off almost all of the individuals, as it does with raccoons, for example; instead it simmers, never going away, never exploding, and only a tiny fraction of a bat population has the virus at any time. If you think you’ve been bitten by a rabid bat, it’s important to catch the bat and save it for testing. Otherwise you’ll probably have to get rabies shots, just to be sure. I closed the windows.
In the past 10 or so years, two young girls died in our county of a strain of rabies – and I’m working from memory here – carried by silver-haired bats. Silver-haired bats live in our area but their habitat is the woods, and they are not known to frequent houses. Neither girl had reported being bitten by a bat. Neither family had reported a bat in their house. But both girls died of bat rabies. That led to the conclusion, if I remember correctly, that it was possible to be bitten by a bat without knowing it. And that, in turn, led to the conclusion that if you woke up in a room with a bat, you had to assume, for the sake of safety – because rabies is fatal, once you show symptoms there’s no treatment, and death by rabies is universally considered one of the worst ways to die – that you were bitten, that the bat was rabid, and that you needed to get rabies shots.
But did that make sense? Rabid animals behave bizarrely. A bat flying around our room at 1:30 in the morning wasn’t necessarily behaving bizarrely; maybe it was merely disoriented and trying to find its way back out the window that we stupidly left open. The only part of my body that had been exposed was my head. Was I to believe that with all the other things it had to concern itself with, the bat had honed in on my head and bitten me and that I didn’t know it?
We agreed that we’d call the health department and our doctors in the morning.
I’d like to report that I had a nightmarish sleep, disturbed by dreams of winged mammals attacking me and my family in the dark. But the truth is, I slept great. At 9:55 I called the medical group and at 10 a.m., Dr. Hasapis, who was on duty on Saturday morning, called back.
I could almost hear him sigh when I told him that we had woken up in the middle of the night to find a bat in our room. He told me what I already knew about the seriousness of rabies (extremely) and about the likelihood that we had been bitten (not much). You need to get rabies shots, he concluded.
I called the health department’s 24-hour hotline and left a message. A fellow called back quickly and told me I’d hear from a doctor or nurse. The nurse, whose name was Jennifer, called. I told her the story and I told her the conclusion – that we needed to start the rabies shots.
“Not necessarily,” she said. “You have six or seven days to decide if you need the shots.”
“But it says on your website to start treatment immediately.”
“That’s if you know you’ve been bitten,” she said.
She asked about the bat. I told her that we hadn’t seen it since we left the room.
“Did it get out of the room and into another part of the house?”
I told her we were sure it hadn’t. She asked if we searched the room for it. Yes, although there were probably places where it could hide – we have closets and built-in shelves without doors. Check them, she said. Check the curtains. Check under the furniture. Check behind the books. Check in your shoes. She told me that a woman had once reported a bat in her baby’s room and later found the bat in a disposable baby bottle. If you find it, Jennifer said, try to capture it in something, a coffee can maybe, and then cover it and put it in the freezer to preserve it.
We cleared out all the shelves and closets. I emptied a bookshelf. We looked under a blanket chest and under the bed. We don’t keep many shoes in our room, but we looked in whatever was there.
Jennifer called back to double check that we hadn’t actually been bitten. A few minutes later she called again to double check that our children had not been in the room with the bat. I assured in both cases.
“We can decide what to do on Tuesday,” Jennifer said.
We did not find the bat but we thought it might still be hiding and we figured that, bats being crepuscular and nocturnal, if it was still in the room, it would emerge at dusk. In the twilight and then again in the dark we went out onto the deck and onto the roof and looked in the windows. The room was empty and silent. On Saturday night we slept in the living room again.
By now, our clothes are back in place, as are our books. The mattress is about to go back onto the sofa. We’ll decide what to do on Tuesday.