In January, I met with my close group of friends that I make it a point to travel somewhere with at least once a year. This year we chose Colombia. The itinerary was Medellin and Cartagena with Medellin being our first stop. I had been to Cartagena for my first time 6 months prior and loved it, and I was super excited for my first time to Medellin and couldn’t wait to enjoy a city that I had always wanted to visit.
Five of my friends were flying from the U.S., and another was flying from Canada, our final meeting point was Medelliín. Once everyone had arrived, we decided to walk around and get a bite to eat and check out the night scene in the neighborhood we were staying in, which is El Poblado. After a very unimpressive meal at Mondongos (our friend suggested it, she’s not allowed to pick the restaurants anymore) we hopped across the street to a bar that on the opposite corner. I introduced the group to death in a shot glass, aka aguardiente. Aguardiente literally means firewater in English so if you’ve never had it you can just imagine how awful it is. It tastes like licorice and will catch you totally off guard. We decided to call it an early night since the next day we had a tour scheduled for Guatape and El Peñol and needed to be out the door at 7 a.m.
The next morning, we drag ourselves out of the Airbnb and are greeted by our local guide who was going to show us around and let us know that it was going to be a busy day, but promised that he would make sure that we took advantage of the day and would see as much as possible. Little did he know that my accident-prone ass was going to throw a massive wrench in his plans. We arrive at what is considered the most beautiful town in Colombia, Guatapé, and I’m not going to lie, it’s gorgeous. It is an incredibly photographic town because of its bright colored houses and their hand-painted baseboards (zócalos) on the walls of the buildings. As we walked around and took photos on every street corner, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this little Colombian town. It looked and felt as what most people would imagine a small village in Colombia should look like, bright colors, cute souvenir shops, colonial-style churches, and they even had tuk-tuks to drive people around.
As we continued our tour around the town, the guide explained to us that this region of Colombia, (Antioquia) is known for COFFEE! You know, that lovely brown liquid that turns this non-morning person into a human being before 10 a.m. All I can say is thank God for whoever discovered coffee beans and thank you for Juan Valdez. He’s the real MVP. Our guide explained how the Colombian coffee is processed and exported all over the world and that it was the most significant contributor to the local economy. We bought some coffee from a local shop and then headed to our next destination, El Peñol.
La Piedra de El Peñol is probably one of the most photographed rocks in the world. It’s literally a rock surrounded by a dam that someone decided to conveniently build stairs on so that people who don’t rock climb (me) can be able to go to the top and enjoy a stunningly beautiful view. The fact that there are stairs to the top would make you assume that it is a breeze in the park, but there are 740 steps to the top, and those stairs were no joke. By the time I reached the top, I had thought I would have a butt better than Beyonce’s. (Let’s just say, I was disappointed.) We were able to enjoy the views from the top, and get a few group photos before it began to rain, and we decided it was time to walk back down and grab a bite to eat.
A full tummy and a few laughs later we head to the part of Guatapé that is a replica of the original town before the Colombian government decided to build a dam. While we are there, I decide that I’m going to pull out my drone that was my 30th birthday gift from my friend. Our tour guide said, “Just so you know the dogs around the plaza might try to grab your drone, so do it away from them.” I thought, “Well, why not try to get some views?” Anything for the gram, right? BIG MISTAKE! Next time someone says the word dogs and drones in the same sentence I’m just going to pack my drone right back in the box and walk away because what happened next is enough to make anyone never want to fly a drone again.
I get the drone in the air and start recording the plaza and the dam when the next thing I know 4 dogs between medium and large size come running towards our group barking aggressively. Naturally, everyone in my group starts freaking out, and I tell them to just crowd around me so I can bring the drone down and the dogs won’t get it. As I’m bringing the drone down the dogs, start barking even more aggressively so when it’s within arm’s length, I reach up and grab it. Not even a millisecond later a German Sheppard jumps up and sinks its teeth into my hand with the drone in it and pulls my entire arm down to the ground. My sister goes into protective sister mode and kicks the dog so it will release my hand. (Side note: My sister and I would never hurt an animal, but it wouldn’t let go, and that was the only way she knew how to get him off.) After the dog releases my hand, my sister snatches the drone and puts it under my brother-in-law’s shirt and then sees blood running down my hand and asks if I’m ok. I didn’t scream or cry during the whole ordeal, but I looked at my hand and then looked at our guide and said, “Do you think I could wash my hand?” I honestly was in such a state of shock that I had no idea what happened.
A few of the local shop owners came over to make sure I was ok, and they offered to let me clean my hand in their shop. I walked to their shops, and these sweet Colombian ladies gave me a brand-new bar of soap and helped me wash my hand because at this point I was shaking from the adrenaline and they told me to take a seat near the sink, and they helped me clean my hand. Another one of the ladies brought me a chocolate bar because they said I was pale and they were worried that I was going to faint. They bandaged my hand for me and told me to buy some alcohol from the pharmacy and to make sure to keep it clean.
As I sat there and looked at the blood rushing from the hand the only thing I could think about was that there was a 100% chance that street dog wasn’t vaccinated. I asked our guide if it would be ok to stop by a clinic to get the rabies vaccine because no one wants rabies. Am I right? The guide says that it wouldn’t be a problem and that we could stop by a local pharmacy and see if they had it and if not then check the clinic. The pharmacy didn’t have the vaccine available, but they said that the clinic down the street did. We arrive at the clinic, and I say, “Hi, I’ve been bitten by a dog, and I need the rabies vaccine.” In Spanish of course and I make it a point to repeat that I’ve been bitten by a dog and need the rabies vaccine at least 3 times. My sister and I go into the back, and a nurse prepares the vaccine and gives me the injection and then hands me a vaccination card. My sister and I release a sigh of relief, and I think nothing more of it.
Later that night, my hand begins to swell, and I get a little concerned, but my friend who was traveling with us is a nurse, and she said it was typical of a wound of that type to swell and as long as I kept it clean it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. So, I do what any typically responsible 30-year-old would do after being bit by a dog in a third world country, I go out dancing and begin to drink the pain away by taking aguardiente shots. I mean the show must go on and not every day that I’m in Colombia with some of my closest friends.
Typical of any day after a night of drinking, I woke up filled with regrets or as most people would refer to it, hungover as fuck, and with a hand about twice it’s normal size. It was our last day in Medellín before flying to Cartagena so I didn’t want to waste the day by going to the hospital and I figured that it was just normal for my hand to swell seeing how it was in the mouth of a massive German Sheppard the day before. I brush off the clear indicators of infection and spend the day checking out Medellín with my friends.
The following day we fly to Cartagena, and by this point, it hurts to lift my hand up and down, so I keep it consistently raised to avoid the feeling of blood rushing down to my fingertips. I’m starting to low key freak out about my hand, but I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s trip with my injury. I tell my group of friends that I’m going to go to the beach with them, but once we got back to the city, I was going to head to the hospital and have my hand checked out. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I can 100% say that this was a stupid move. While at the beach, I tried to keep my hand out of the water because the old wive’s tale of ocean water being cleansing for wounds is not valid. There is a ton of bacteria in the water, which can cause an even worse infection. Of course, that would have been no bueno, so I was trying to avoid it at all costs. Well, as luck would have it, my ass gets swallowed by a wave, and my hand goes into the water. I make my way out of the water and ask one of the persons on the island if they had a first aid kit. A kind, elderly gentleman grabs some peroxide from the first aid kit, and before he puts any on my hand, he looks at it and says, “Girl, this is extremely infected. You need to go to the hospital.” Then he starts to squeeze on my hand near the puncture wounds. Green pus starts to shoot out of my hand like one of those cyst videos on YouTube. For a straight 5 minutes, it is a constant stream of discharge, and the man asks me if it hurt. I tried to act as if it was all good, but on the inside, I was crying. After what seemed like an eternity of the man squeezing my hand, he poured some peroxide on it, and I waited for the boat to take us back to the city.
Once I arrived in Cartagena, my sister and I headed to a local hospital. We waited for a few hours to be seen, and when a doctor finally was able to look at my hand, she diagnosed me with cellulitis. I convinced the doctor to prescribe me injectable antibiotics along with oral since one of my friends is a nurse I figured it would be better to inject antibiotics than just wait for the oral ones to run their course. Thank God, the doctor agreed to do so. Before she released me to go to the pharmacy, she asked to look at my vaccination card. After she opened it, she realized that I was not given the rabies vaccine, I had been given the tetanus vaccine. Up until this point, I hadn’t shed one tear after being bitten, but once I heard her say that I never received the rabies vaccine, a stream of tears flowed down my cheek. My sister asked me what was wrong, and I said, “I don’t want to die from rabies.” (I’m not mellow dramatic.) The doctor tells me that I have to go first thing to the local vaccination center and get two doses of the rabies vaccine and then follow up when I returned to Panamá. (Where I was living at the time.) The following day, I was able to get the actual rabies vaccine this time and finally released a sigh of relief.
It took a few days for my hand to finally start looking like it’s usual self, but the rabies vaccine drama wasn’t over. When I arrived in Panamá, I went to get the vaccine as I had been instructed to do so only to be told that a) Panamá didn’t have the vaccine in stock and b) The Pope was in town so they would not be vaccinating at all that week. What the Pope has to do with being able to vaccinate someone is still very unclear to me, but that’s life for you. I had to return to the U.S. for a certification class, so I decided to get the vaccine while I was back home. It turns out the rabies vaccine in the U.S. is the most expensive vaccine, and insurance doesn’t cover it. I had to pay $480 per injection and had to get 3 while I was visiting. In Colombia, I paid free.99 for each shot. All I can say is, “Viva Colombia!” and it’s cheap health care system.
Looking back on the whole situation, there are a few lessons to take away from it. The first, never fly a drone near a dog. JUST DON’T DO IT! Not worth the hassle. The second, I need to go to immediate care and get medicine whenever I get bitten by something. The third, double-check that the injection you receive is the correct one. Finally, dogs, drones, rabies, and Colombia just isn’t a fun mix.
P.S. I 100% would go back to Colombia tomorrow. It’s not Colombia’s fault that my dumb ass decided to fly my drone near a bunch of street dogs, plus I love Colombia.