If you have any doubts, go to the emergency room. Don't worry about embarrassment -- it's better to be embarrassed than dead.
-- Richard Stein
'Wow, look at all of them! There's so many," I said in awe. Jenny folded her small green towel in half and set it on the ground. "Let's sit here," she said. I folded my white towel in the same fashion and sat next to my younger sister in the damp grass beneath a handful of trees, the leaves of which filtered the sunlight to create a warm dappled glow around us.
I opened the can of unsalted cashews and, like kittens reacting to the sound of a can opener, dozens of squirrels began descending from the trees and making their way toward us.
"There are so many! And they're coming so close! I feel like...Sleeping Beauty," I said, and began to hum a tune from the old Disney film.
"I don't like it when they come up behind me," said Jenny, shooing away a squirrel that had been sniffing at her back.
"Look at this one. He looks like the Godfather." Jenny and I snapped pictures of the fat squirrel to the left of my foot. "He's just so cute and pudgy! I love how they hold their food with both of their little hands like that."
"I'm feeling uncomfortable, Barb," Jenny said with a hint of hysteria. There were easily 20 squirrels in front of us.
"I don't know why you're worried, Jen. They're here for the nuts. Besides, aren't they fun to look at? The closer they come, the better our pictures will be. This one's about to take the nut off my shoe." I paused in conversation to get a shot of the furry Don Corleone collecting the cashew.
"They're coming too close, it's freaky," said Jenny.
"Don't be a scaredy-cat. It's cool. Don't you do this all the time?" This was the first time I accompanied Jenny on her walk to Balboa Park to feed the squirrels -- she goes every weekend. "Man, I just can't get over how cute and cuddly this big one looks. I want to touch it."
The Godfather squirrel was fearless; he sat on his haunches and munched on a nut as I snapped pictures less than a foot away. It would be a lie for me to say, "I don't know what came over me next." I know exactly what came over me and, as is sometimes the case, my hands were much faster than my brain. I grabbed a cashew and held it out.
The next few moments were a blur, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock -- the adorable furball took two steps toward my hand and then it must have jumped up and onto me, because suddenly I was on my feet, trying to shake it off. My left middle finger was in its mouth and its claws were clutching tightly to my forearm as I shook, shook, shook, and then it came loose and hit the ground running faster than a squirrel that fat should be able to run. Blood was flowing freely from the tooth-deep slice through the middle of my fingertip and, shaking, I snatched up the white towel and wrapped it around my wound. Throughout the quick ordeal, I was vaguely aware of Jenny's and my combined screams.
"Holy shit!" I shouted.
"Are you okay?" Jenny was laughing, but it was her nervous laugh. She was just as scared as I was. Being bitten by a wild, potentially disease-ridden rodent didn't worry me until I realized how much of my skin the little beast's teeth had broken into. "Shoo! Shoo!" Jenny stomped around to give us a wider berth, but the squirrels hardly seemed fazed, so we walked quickly away from the area.
My first thought was to call David -- if he thought it wasn't serious, I wouldn't worry. But if he did, I would panic. He did. "You should probably get to a hospital," he said.
"Will you come and get me?" I asked in a shaky voice. Before he could answer, I remembered the car keys in my purse, which meant David was without transportation.
I called the number on my insurance card to find out which urgent care I should go to. The man who answered asked, "What is it you need to be treated for?"
"I was bitten by a squirrel. I think I need to get a shot or something," I responded.
"Huh," he said, and then, in an amused tone, "that's never happened to me. Say, what does it feel like, to be bitten by a squirrel?"
"What do you think? I've been bitten, I'm bleeding, it fucking hurts!" Exasperated, I ended the call. A minute later, I got a hold of Nathan, my hero, who arrived within minutes to collect us and drop us off at the emergency room at Scripps Mercy Hospital.
As the sharp pain in my finger dulled to an uncomfortable throbbing sensation, I began to relax. Jenny, who hadn't stopped laughing since we got into Nathan's truck, kept me in good spirits as I waited for my name to be called.
"I told you," she said. "There was something off about that one. He was crazy in the eyes. They don't just sit there like that, that close to you, unless there's something wrong with them. You know, he could have taken your whole fingertip off."
"This isn't helping, Jen." "Sorry. Can I see your phone? I feel like I need to tell people. It's just so funny." I handed it over and listened as Jenny, through chortles, explained to my sisters and mother what had just happened to me. My head jerked up at the sound of my name, and I followed an attractive blonde woman through the door to triage. She had a weird smile on her face. As soon as she began speaking, I recognized her smile as that strained expression one gets when attempting to withhold laughter. She looked at the paper on her clipboard as she spoke.
"You were bitten by a squirrel?" She choked on the word "squirrel."
"Were you, uh, trying to feed it?" She was no longer able to control her smile; her lips curled up at the ends between each question.
"No, it just attacked me out of nowhere," I snapped sarcastically. "Okay, okay. I was trying to feed it."
"Squirrels are rodents, you know," she pointed out.
"Yeah, so I've heard." She looked at my finger, which had stopped bleeding, probably a result of the pressure I'd been exerting on it as I waited.
"A doctor will have to see you, I'm not sure what the protocol is in this situation. If at any time, however, you feel that your wounds are...[suppressed laughter] life threatening...[more suppressed laughter], then return to this window."
"Go on, let it out," I suggested. "It's okay, you can laugh."
"I'm sorry," she said, beginning to giggle. "It's just, you know, we usually get people here who are withdrawing from drugs or suffering from violent crimes. It's refreshing to treat someone who was trying to do something nice. And it's funny."
A young man in light blue scrubs led Jenny and me to the exam room. On the way, he turned to me and said, in that familiar, strained tone of voice, "Feeding squirrels today, eh?" I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm sorry, it's just, uh, well, it's pretty funny. Wait here and the doctor will be right with you." I could hear a muffled staccato laughter as he walked down the corridor.
Jenny and I waited in that little room for almost an hour, testing everything from the foot-pedal sink to the "are they or are they not locked" file cabinet drawers (they are not). The doctor, in dark blue scrubs, appeared in the doorway and said, "So, I hear you were feeding...Ha! Ha! Ha!" He was much freer with his laughter, and even finished up with a little "Ho, ho!" before he managed to speak the word "squirrels."
"Gee, I'm so happy I can be such a source of amusement for the emergency room staff today," I said in a snarky tone. He could read from my smile that there was some truth to my words -- what's a little squirrel bite if you can make a bunch of hardworking health-care professionals laugh for a day?
"Squirrels are rodents, you know," said the smiling doctor.
"Don't worry, you can't get rabies from them. But we're going to give you a tetanus shot and some antibiotics to ward off any infections." The doctor disappeared and another woman who was obviously informed as to my predicament came smiling into the room to give me my shot.
While she prepped the needle, the doctor popped his head in the door and said, "I just want you to know, I had a really hard time dictating that. I had to keep stopping the tape while I laughed."
"Thanks for letting me know," I said, but he was already off to see another patient, and then there was a needle in my arm. Jenny was laughing quietly as she scanned through her pictures. When she came across the picture of the chubby rodent that attacked me, she held it up for me to see. "He looks so cute and fluffy," I said. "Don't you just want to pet him?"