The month of April of 2010 was a rough one. I was laid off after giving over a month's notice at my job (my husband and I are moving back to Arizona in May), so I decided to volunteer at an animal shelter. Actually, I hadn't planned on volunteering. I've been caring for a stray cat, Jinny, since winter; and she happened to get pregnant. I originally contacted several shelters to see if they could take her and her babies once they were born and old enough. Every shelter was full, of course. Since I had been laid off and had over a month's worth of time to spare, I figured it would be good to volunteer at one of the shelters. It would get me out of the house and help with my panic attacks, be great for a reference and I'd have an "in" for Jinny and her babies. Plus, it was a no kill shelter.
I started at the shelter 4/2/2010. I was there four to five times a week. I got to know the kitties pretty well. I came to love them, since I worked with the same ones day in, day out. Monday, May 17th we had four new arrivals, since we had a few empty cages: two kittens, one cat under a year and another 5 year old cat.
Wednesday, 4/21st, was my first day back since the arrival of new kitties. I was excited to play with the new arrivals! I went ahead and cleaned three cat cages before letting the new cat out, Van. Van was meowing, expressing how badly he wanted out of his cage. I felt bad for him; he really wanted attention, so I decided to clean his cage next and let him out to play. As soon as I let him out, he was rubbing up against my leg, meowing, loving up against me. I pet him once or twice while I was working on cleaning his cage. Next thing I know, I was standing up and he comes over, stands up on his back feet, stretching his front paws up to my knees for me to pet him. I reach down to pet him and the next thing I know he's biting my arm. Hard! As he's biting my arm, near my wrist, I realize he wasn't letting go. I started to freak out, imagining him clamping down on the veins in my wrist. "I'm going to bleed to death when he lets go!" I feared.
As fast as this all happened, my life was flashing before my eyes because I had no idea why this cat was biting me so hard - and I had no idea why he wouldn't let go. I screamed as loud as I could, but Van bites down harder. I feel my left arm go numb and then my thumb and index finger begin to tingle. Now I'm in shock, I believe. The animal shelter is located inside PetSmart (PetSmart is legally separate from the shelter and simply allowing animals to be adopted at their store). If one has been to a PetSmart, the cat room is usually a small room with glass and soundproof. I know this because when I screamed, the customers outside didn't even look over at me.
At some point, Van lets go and runs underneath the cages. I immediately go to the manager's office and tell them I've been bitten by a cat. They instruct me to call the shelter and report what has happened, while suggesting I go to the ER. My arm begins to bleed pretty badly and I've got four holes in my arm the sizes of erasers, as well as scratches from where he apparently reached around when he was clamping down on my arm. My arm is still numb and tingling, so of course I begin crying hysterically. A PetSmart employee tells me that he probably hit a nerve and I need to go to the ER. I call the shelter to let them know what happened. While I'm on the phone, the manager cleans my arm up and wraps it so I am able to rush to the doctor.
I call my doctor, but they can not get me in until the end of the day. My arm is in intense pain. The shelter approves me to go to a Walgreens walk-in clinic. By approve, I mean cleared for insurance purposes. As a volunteer, I will be treated as a workman's comp case. Walgreens instructed me that my wound was beyond their expertise and referred me to an urgent care. Urgent care then referred me to the ER, since I needed X-rays and had possible nerve damage. I called my doctor to cancel my appointment and to let them know I needed to go to the ER.
So I end up at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, which I should have known NOT to go to, but it was the closest hospital. I was scared beyond belief, could not use my left arm or hand (it was swollen and I couldn't move my fingers) and could barely drive. I used to work at Fort Sanders. The surgical techs from 2005-2006 were the most incompetent group of people. That is another story. However, like I said, I was in pain, I could barely drive, I was bleeding and I knew some of the well trusted pathologists there. If I had to, I'd give them a call.
Dr. _______ was super nice, but apparently a cat bite wasn't considered an emergency to him. I had an X-ray, which came back fine, given a tetnis shot and sent on my way. No one asked me about rabies, no one cleaned my wounds (well, eventually someone did), no one gave me an antibiotic, animal control didn't contact me and no one contacted the animal shelter to discuss a workman's comp case. One girl (I don't think I'd call her a nurse) put a splint on me, since the doctor mentioned nerve damage. He wanted to keep my fingers straight so the nerve could at least heal. But before placing the splint, she did not even clean my arm. The ONLY respectable person out of that entire place was the nurse that checked me out. She answered my questions, she made that "girl" come back and clean my arm properly and she, at least, showed some compassion. The doctor told me to come back if signs of infection appeared. Signs of infection had already appeared! Redness, swelling, joint stiffness, fluid under the wounds.... and not to mention it was a horrible cat bite that went into my nerves and muscle tissue!
After leaving the ER, I called the shelter to let them know I left the cat room a mess. I was told that no one else could make it back there to clean up. I hadn't even given the cats water after cleaning three of their cages. So what do I do? I go back to PetSmart, one handed, to clean up the mess that was left. If someone would have told me that PetSmart would have helped me out, I would have gone home and rested. I was hungry, had a headache from crying, tired. I was still a bit scared because the ER hadn't given me an antibiotic. Go figure, though. I signed a paper that all doctors were privately contracted with the hospital and would get bills from the doctor, the hospital, x-ray and something else. Of course they wanted me to come back. Anyway, I talked to the shelter and they didn't feel comfortable with the ER not giving me an antibiotic and told me to call my doctor.
Back at PetSmart, I called my doctor to see if I could come in the next day for a checkup of my arm. Long story short, some of the phone people at Interfaith are assholes. They are so rude. Not all of them, but a few are ALWAYS rude and don't listen. I wish I remembered her name, but she said "Your appointment wasn't canceled. You have an appointment at 5:30pm."
"No, my appointment was at 3:30pm today and I canceled it. Are you sure?" I asked her. This wasn't the first time they have told me the wrong thing, so I wanted to be sure.
"Today is Wednesday the 21st. Your appointment is at 5:30pm!"
I go home, let the dog out that I'm fostering, and head back over to my doctor's office. What happens? I get there and they tell me I do not have an appointment! I explain what happened and told them I called at 2:30pm and the lady who answered told me my appointment was at 5:30pm. Then I look over and the bitch is talking shit about me, saying that wasn't what happened.
"EXCUSE ME?!!!", I shout at her. Then I start crying to the guy up front, explaining it all over again and ask him to just make me an appointment for the next day. He whispered to me that he'd get me in.
I finally see the doctor and, of course, she puts me on an antibiotic. She couldn't believe the ER doctor didn't give me an antibiotic. The next day, a red streak started tracking up my arm. I couldn't get a clear shot of it. The redness increased the next day and the fluid under the bites were so painful. I couldn't move my wrist or my fingers for about three days. Within 48 hours, the red streak disappeared.
By Friday, the 23rd, my arm began to pus. I had a major panic attack at the doctor with my second checkup. My heart rate jumped up to 142. I feared the antibiotic or the infection was causing my increased heart rate, but the doctor reassured me that it was simply the stress of it all.
A week and a half later, it's healed pretty well. The doctor said she wasn't sure how long I'd have nerve damage, but hopefully it will heal. The bite that hit a nerve, if touched, still sends a tingle/shock down my thumb and into my finger. And if I use my arm a certain way, it's painful.
Volunteering is a wonderful thing to do. It's rewarding and it's so incredible to help others, but if doing so, please make sure, before hand, the injury policy. The shelter is suppose to pay my medical bills, but it could take weeks to do so. They have been great, so far. But I'll relax once I know my bills are paid (I received the bills and it totals $1000). As far as the cat, they isolate it for 2 weeks and then are putting it back out for adoption.
Still a fan of cats, though. Just not that one.
EDIT // 6-17-2010: Animal Works continues to avoid phone calls from their own insurance regarding my Workman's Comp case, causing my claim to be denied. A safety policy needs to be implemented regarding bites, should this ever happen again to another worker.