Advice for the Young | November 2008


If you’re young, I have a piece of advice:

Don’t become old.

Those of you with a long memory might recall that I wrote about getting old/turning 40 in September 2005. Well, it gets worse as time goes on. Let’s just say I started in Death Valley, and it all went downhill from there.

As soon as I hit 40, I felt as though I were a once-new car with an expired warranty. Everything started falling apart.

In July this year, I tried to climb back up the slippery slope of “seniorness,” only to stumble and slide back down. I went to Saint Augustine for the first time with my wife and visited the Fountain of Youth.

I drank the little cup of foul-smelling, sulfuric “Fountain of Youth” water they give you, which is supposed to make you young again. When I finished it, all I got was… a small, empty, foul-smelling plastic cup.

Then something happened that would lead to one of the biggest scares of my not-so-young life and my first ever panic attack.

Darned squirrels! Image by David Iliff. Click for copyright info.

Darned squirrels! Image by David Iliff. Click for copyright info.

I tried to get a squirrel to eat out of my hand.

The Fountain of Youth sells small handfuls of peanuts for a quarter you can feed the squirrels and peafowl in their garden.

I held my hand out, full of tempting peanuts, trying to coax a squirrel to take a nut. One of the squirrels approached me–slowly, tentatively. When it got to my hand, it gently bit my fingertip instead and ran away.

I suppose my fingertip looked like a peanut to the squirrel. But there was no blood; I didn’t even see broken skin, so I went about my business without seeking any medical help.

A couple of days after we got home, I looked up “squirrels” and “rabies” on the Internet, just to satisfy my curiosity. I did some cursory research and learned squirrels rarely carry rabies, and I learned what the symptoms of rabies are.

Five weeks after our trip, the school year started up and my wife–a teacher–went back to work.

Six weeks after our trip, my wife caught the flu–most likely from one of her students–and I started feeling flu-like symptoms myself.

Then I remembered “flu-like symptoms” are an early symptom of rabies–which usually appear after six weeks.

I went to my doctor to be checked out, just in case. She said I was okay. But her reassurances weren’t enough.

My wife–we learned shortly after our trip–was pregnant. I was very stressed out already because of work, our financial situation, etc. And it didn’t help that I happen to suffer from mild depression and anxiety.

Everything came together into a “perfect storm” of paranoia and anxiety. All kinds of negative thoughts raced through my mind: that I would leave my wife alone, that I would leave our baby alone, that I would die of rabies, which is described as a particularly horrible death.

All this lead up to my first ever series of panic attacks.

The first two came and went quickly, while I was at work. The third hit on my way home from work and I had my wife drive me to the emergency room.

After a long wait, I saw a doctor who said I was okay. He seemed up to speed on the issue of rabies in Florida and he noted that if I had indeed gotten rabies from the squirrel, I would’ve been dead already.

I decided to do some more in-depth research on squirrels and rabies. I learned a few key facts:

-There have been NO reported incidences of squirrels transmitting rabies to humans in the United States.
-The last known report of a rabid squirrel in the State of Florida was in 1961.

That’s not to say you can’t get rabies from a squirrel. But it was extremely unlikely my biter, which acted somewhat normally, was rabid.

The in-depth research helped calm me down. At least until my stress-induced gastrointestinal blowout a couple of weeks ago…

So the moral of this story is:

Don’t feed wild animals.

And don’t become old.