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COMMENTARY: The Bat in My Living Room

When it comes to bats wedging their way into a home, I’ve  realized there are two types of people – those who take a broom and happily whoosh it out the door and those who battle it to the ground before sending its sorry carcass over the balcony railing.

I belong to the latter group.

The saga started just after 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 9. I’d just gotten home and settled into watching TV with a tuna fish sandwich from Panera (my latest obsession – don’t ask), when a winged creature appeared, frenetically flying in circles around the room. I was momentarily petrified and then terrified as I moved to find something to whack it with.

The closest thing to me was an aluminum T-square, the kind graphic artists use to create straight edges. The thing is about two feet long and three inches wide with a blue plastic T at the top. Holding onto the top, I swung it every which way, while the bat kept circling. At one point, I hit the bat to the ground only to see the wounded creature take off around the room again. I hit it a second time and it was done.

Bats are a protected species in Massachusetts and I learned the next day that I had a million options for ridding the bat besides killing it. Shine a light at the window and open the screen, said one friend. The light will attract the bat and the open screen will set it free. Throw a towel over it said another. Another said she used a butterfly net to capture the mammal and let it go.

That day I learned the unalterable consequences of panic. The bat’s invasion of my space rattled my center.

I once worked with a young reporter who would stop whatever he was doing, deadline or not, to carry a spider, ant or other insect outdoors. There would be no crushing of bugs when he was around.

From the Facebook discussion I generated about the bat, it turns out many of my friends are pacifists. “We selected some windows to leave wide open and the bat found its way out,” said one friend.

“My partner caught it in a fishing net and threw net and all out the third story window. The next morning I went down and untangled it from the net,” stated another.

The online discussion prompted a physician friend to message me privately.

“If there is any chance you slept in the house when the bat was there you may need to get rabies vaccine. Call your doctor,” she wrote.

I did and went to the Emergency Room that night. Turns out, the Lahey Clinic doctor wasn’t keen to start the series of rabies injections based on my story. The odds were good that I was not bitten by the bat, said the doctor.

There was some discussion of dissecting the bat’s brain to test for rabies.

“If you get it tested and it doesn’t have rabies, you’re home free,” the doctor said.

The injections would be an intense process, he warned, because the prophylactic option that was once an ordeal but is no longer, would not prevent rabies in a person who had already been exposed. Therefore, he said, I’d have to get a series of hemoglobin injections at the sight of the bite, as well as in two other locations on my body, over the course of a couple of weeks. The only problem, he said, is we have no idea if you were bitten or where.

“I’ll take my chances with rabies,” I said as I walked out of the E.R. with two band aids covering the cuts incurred by swinging the T-square.

The next day, the epidemiologist at the state Department of Public Health told me that the brain of a little brown bat – a Myotis lucifugus – is the size of a pencil eraser. If you smash the animal the brain tissue is often destroyed and there wouldn’t be enough matter left to test for rabies, she said.

My feral fear had led to the destruction of the very thing that could have calmed me.

Next time, I’m reaching for the broom.

Editor’s note: This story was revised on Aug. 12.