10.28.2010

The Human Pincushion; Or: Why Should I Pay Attention to Politics When I Can Play "Minecraft" Instead?

It's been an interesting month. I've been receiving post-exposure prophylaxis for rabies, which consists of multiple injections of both vaccine and immune globulin, after a close encounter with a bat roosting in a crack at Index. While several other people certainly saw the bat that day, I think I'm the only one unfortunate enough to have made accidental contact with it. At least, I'm pretty sure I did: with my hands stuffed in a crack millimeters away from a fairly unhappy bat, and with the conviction that I indeed felt something on my hand, I wasn't about to take the situation lightly. This is because I knew that bats carry rabies often enough to be of concern. I still wasn't sure if I was at risk, but I decided to at least find out who to call for information.

In the meantime, after relating my story to a few other people, I realized that I needed medical advice fairly urgently both because this was a possible exposure and because treatment, if advisable, must begin a.s.a.p. after a possible exposure. Now, my idea was fairly simple: call the consulting nurse to find out whether my incidental contact was actually of any concern. After all, I didn't feel an obvious bite and I didn't have any obvious bite marks. All that I recalled was contact with something in the crack and the extremely close (inches, in fact) proximity of a bat who was hissing with indignation at being disturbed. The answers to my question were myriad and contradictory. The first nurse asked if I was sure it hadn't been a snake. She told me to go to the ER, but didn't really evaluate my question (which was whether I needed to go in the first place). The nurse at my clinic told me that I should definitely be seen right away. The doctor at my clinic gave some useless and potentially harmful advice, but also maintained that I should be seen in an Emergency Room for a definitive answer and that no one in the setting of a neighborhood health clinic could really do anything in this situation. His advice was really that he had no advice to give.

Lesson learned, of course. At this point I did what I should have done in the first place and called Harborview. The nurse there was extremely knowledgeable and immediately concerned; she explained succinctly that bats often don't leave a bite mark at all, that I may not have felt the bite even if it happened, that this was sufficient grounds to contact the Department of Health to consult them about vaccine use and that I should get to the emergency room immediately to be evaluated. I had also found a puncture-like wound on my wrist after my doctor visit, which certainly reinforced my decision. Harborview is obviously top notch and their emergency room is correspondingly busy: bring a good book if you ever go there in any capacity other than as an unconscious trauma patient. Eventually, I was seen by the nurse; she contacted the Department of Health and related my story; after clarifying that I did indeed have potentially suspicious wounds on my hand (which I did), they gave the go-ahead for the vaccination.

From everything I've read and heard since, I made the right decision. Most or all of the human rabies cases in the United States over the last twenty years have been bat-related. A further unsettling statistic is that of those twenty-odd victims of the disease, many couldn't recall any contact whatsoever with a bat. In line with this fact, I was told by the nurse in the ER that if someone were to wake up and notice a bat nearby, they would be vaccinated in the absence of any obvious bite marks because of the potential for exposure and because of the grim prognosis for those who actually get rabies: a near 100% fatality rate. With that in mind, it makes sense to err on the side of caution especially in light of the fact that I had contact with the animal. Still, there is that part of me that wonders, after seven shots and at least one to go, what I would have done had I been uninsured, a little less informed, a little less concerned about things like this...

Not worth the time to doubt, I suppose. Meanwhile, a billing statement for an unspeakably high amount has arrived in the mail; thankfully it has yet to be processed by my insurance company. All I can say is this: if you ever have to go through this same process, make sure you have a trust fund or a stash of gold doubloons close at hand.

Oh, and get Minecraft: it's only 10 euros and it's the best damn computer game I've played in a long time. It will help you to ignore the ridiculous political spectacles that continue to lower the standards for everything and everyone in this country. Huzzah.

10.09.2010

Index Gothic

It's been nearly a month and a half since I re-injured my "weakest link": a collateral ligament in one of my fingers. Time off from climbing is good, although it might be better when not necessitated by injury. But then again, injury is good for reminding us that we are, after all, still made of flesh and bone despite our sometimes lofty intentions. A quandary, I say.

Anyway, this post isn't supposed to be about me; it's about Jeanna. She has been climbing brilliantly lately without me there at the crag to "encourage" (read: "berate") her. Take a look at the following image and see if you can guess which ultra-technical Index Lower Town Wall testpiece she just redpointed a week or two ago:

A flinty agriculturalist

Stern Farmer is the variation that leaves Japanese Gardens at a bolt about halfway up the initial widening jam/lieback crack. The difficulties begin in earnest whilst establishing oneself in a flared groove bereft of any feature save a snaking, shallow crack into which only the most chiseled fingertips might fit, and then only a centimeter at most. After squirming through the first eight feet using a bizarre combination of offwidthing and cuticle-castigating fingertip torquing, the crack opens tantalizingly for a few flared finger jams, only to slam cruelly shut through the rest of the crux, which follows the seam in a right-facing corner and culminates in a tenuous lunge to a large flat hold and the end of the main difficulties.

Given an ego-rending 5.12a in the Clint Cummins guide, the pitch often finds itself in the sights of unwary suitors who, fresh off an ascent of the neighboring Japanese Gardens, inspect the pitch while lowering to the ground and, barreling along on a wave of hubris, figure they'll 'give it a go'. Prodigious torment usually ensues, replete with numerous jarring ejections from the initial difficulties, copious grunting accompanied by the requisite florid language and feet paddling uselessly against the sparsely featured stone to the right of the corner. Blood smears are oft the spoil of the victorious groove, which wears them proudly to apprise other hapless crusaders of the likely consequences of their pursuit until the ubiquitous rains wash clean the battlefield.

A lead ascent of this Terry Lien and Tom Michael masterpiece (they were the first free ascentionists, to be precise) is actually somewhat a of rare occurrence without the use of etriers and a veritable phalanx of thin cams and widgets. Having free-climbed this pitch somewhat frequently, including a linkup through the easier but airy second pitch (formerly A2/3, now 5.12a; best done at 5.12d as one long pitch from the ground) I can attest to its rather elusive nature: with judicious employment of the proper techniques, the climb remains tenuous to the very end, with success dependent on a heightened attention to both foot placement and the frictional properties of climbing shoe rubber. For the record: the first pitch is at least 5.12b even by the rather austere grading standards present at Index.

Jeanna, of course, is a technical wizard on granite. After watching her float her way up the climb on toprope twice in a row one afternoon, I wondered aloud to her if she might, perhaps, consider ceasing her rather senseless belittlement of the pitch and rediscover a little challenge in leading it. The few minutes that she would spend racking up gear for the climb might actually have given some of the other climbers at the crag (including myself, at times) precious moments to assuage their bruised egos acquired by watching her trounce such difficult routes. Maybe, I thought, she would even have to earn victory via a couple of real falls onto gear! Although it was not to be that day, she would, after a few more imperious toprope laps, complete the climb summarily on what I believe was her second or third attempt at leading it. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to witness the moment because my focus these days is on my lack of funds and on the overabundance of good beer in Seattle and I only climb vicariously through 1980's and 90's era issues of Climbing and Rock & Ice.

For someone so aggravatingly self-effacing about her rather exceptional abilities as a climber, Jeanna sure is a bona fide badass and a leading candidate for 'the strongest and most capable climber I know who hasn't climbed a 5.13 at Index (yet)'. I think anyone who has climbed with her would have to concur.