Monkey Scratch: My $4000 Mistake
If you’re here because you’ve just been scratched or bitten by a monkey, skip the first few sections until you get to “What to Do.” For everyone else reading this, may you benefit from my mistakes.
A visual exercise for you…
Imagine, your alarm goes off at 4am and you’re excited! You get ready, jump into a tuk tuk with newly made friends and make your way to Angkor Wat, often called the “8th Wonder of the World!”
5:30am hits and you’re treated with a beautiful sunrise. Here’s a few pictures to help your imagination along…
As the light fills the sky, you decide to head inside to explore the beauty of the ancient temple.
But wait! You hear a shriek!
It’s a happy shriek and you see a girl running wildly with her camera. You look ahead of few spaces and you see it! There are two monkeys. Looking adorable and absolutely Insta-worthy in front of the temple’s entrance.
If you’re smart, you will pray for her and walk in the other direction.
I did not. Here is my story.
I had never seen a monkey before, only heard of their mischievousness and wondered why people seemed to hate the adorable creatures. I told my friends I wanted to get closer to see them (in retrospect, I should have listened to their clearly hesitant “sure”).
I stood what I thought was a safe distance away and pressed record. Then one came towards me. Wary of their tendency to steal from tourists, I quickly shoved my phone and my glasses into my purse. It came closer and closer. I slowly backed away, both tempted to pull out my camera and beginning to get nervous. I could hear my friends saying something to me, but before it could register, all hell broke loose.
All the sudden, I felt something grasp my leg. My friends screamed and starting running away. What they’d been shouting is that the monkey’s friend had come around behind me, had his mouth wide open, and was about to take a great big chunk out of my leg. Thankfully my instincts clicked in quickly and I started running too.
I stopped, started laughing and felt foolish. Then – another grab, and this time something sharp and stingy.
Cue three white girls screaming and running again.
Eventually, we ran far enough away that the monkeys didn’t follow. I looked down to survey the damage and saw blood coming out of a small wound in my calf. Grateful that one of my friends was a nurse, I handed over my tissues and a bandaid and got patched up. At the time, I thought I’d been bitten and was frantically googling if I was going to die immediately (this may be time to admit I’m prone to internal over exaggerating).
Once I found enough websites that told me I had 24 hours to get treated, I went on my merry way and had a great morning at Angkor Wat and the surrounding amazing temples. By 11am, we were all exhausted and beginning to sweat through our clothes, so we headed out. We dropped the girls off at the hostel, and then the driver took me to the hospital.
After a thorough wound cleansing, the doctor declared that it was just a scratch, but because there was blood drawn, I’d still need a rabies vaccination. That is where the fun started.
What to do if you’ve been scratched or bitten by a monkey.
As I mentioned above, if you’ve been scratched or bitten by a monkey, you should seek treatment as soon as possible. If you haven’t been pre-vaccinated, they say to get treatment within 24 hours. If you’re lucky and you have, then you have 48 hours. Those with pre-treatment only need two shots and no immunoglobin.
Immediately clean the wound, washing it with bottled water and soap or an antiseptic. Thoroughly clean for 15 minutes (this helps prevent herpes B).
When you get to the hospital, they will clean the wound again and then you’ll need the following treatment:
1. Rabies Vaccination: a series of 4-5 shots over one month. Depending on your situation, you’ll be given either a 2(day 1) -1 (day 7) -1 (day 21) or a 1 (day 1) -1 (day 3) -1 (day 7)-1 (day 14) – 1 (day 30) schedule.
I was given the first schedule because I didn’t want to get the immunoglobin until my insurance okayed it, and getting two shots at once is supposed to speed up your immune response. It also meant fewer hospital visits overall, so I was ok with that! These will be approximately $40 CDN per shot, plus the doctor’s fee for each visit.
2. Antibiotics: the most common one prescribed for animal bites is Augmentin. I had to take mine twice daily over 5 days. Fair warning, it’s known to cause heartburn and diarrhea (sorry for TMI).
3. Immunoglobin: this is where it gets tricky. This stuff is expensive and not every hospital or clinic will have it. There are two kinds: equine and human. Equine is the first option, and more clinics have access to this. As it’s from an animal, the equine version requires an arm test first to ensure you won’t react badly. You will be injected with a small dose of the medicine on one forearm and a small amount of saline on the other. If you’re not allergic, you’ll be good to go.
However, if you are allergic (like me), then you have to get the human kind, which is 3-4 times more expensive and only major hospitals will have it. Thankfully, my insurance had sent me to Bangkok to get these shots and they had it. They will inject the liquid around the wound first, and then the leftover liquid gets injected into your glutes. In my case, these injections alone cost over $3000 CDN. The dosage is given based on weight, so if you’re lighter than me then it won’t be as expensive, but it will still hurt the wallet. I ended up spending two days playing go-for between the hospital and my insurance so that I wouldn’t have to pay for it. Worth it for me not to have to pay interest on my visa!
4. Herpes B Treatment: macaque monkeys can be carriers for Herpes B Virus. It’s important to mention this to your doctors and show articles online if need be. Both doctors I talked to here told me it wasn’t something to be worried about, but the CDC disagrees. Although it’s extremely rare for humans to contract it, there is a 70% fatality rate if you do. As my mother taught me – better safe than sorry! You’ll be given two different pills for this to take daily for two weeks.
So to fellow naive travellers out there ~ beware the monkeys!
They may look cute from afar, but they can be evil, sadistic bast@rds!
And the worst part about this whole thing? I didn’t even get a good picture or video of the monkeys! I was also hoping that someone might have videotaped it from afar and it would go viral. I spent an hour searching on Instagram as I waited at the hospital but to no avail. Too bad, as I’m pretty sure it was hilarious to watch the three of us run like lunatics!
The best photo we got was me being doctored up by Nurse Steph!
Do you have a monkey story of your own?
Please, help me spread the word!