Eight years old, wiry and ponytailed, Precious Reynolds bounds from the elevator to the entrance of the pediatric intensive-care unit. She fidgets impatiently as she waits to be buzzed in, eager to return to the clinic where, by the ironclad expectations of 2,000 years of medicine, she should have died. It was nine months ago, here at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, California, that Precious survived a confirmed bout of rabies—a disease that for most of human history was considered to be fatal in 100 percent of cases.
Today, though, Precious is back just to visit. In the halls of the pediatric ward, where zoo animals cavort in backlit photos, doing their best to dispel the hospital pall, the nurses who treated Precious greet her with delight. She does not remember them at all. But she speaks shyly to each, listening as they recount to her, in turn, their roles in rescuing her. She grows more talkative when describing the life she has resumed back in Willow Creek, in the wilds of California’s Humboldt County. To get in shape for the peewee wrestling season, Precious has been running laps in the long driveway of the farm where she lives with her siblings and grandparents. She also has resumed her pursuit of “mutton bustin’,” a sport in which kids ride rodeo-style on the backs of frantic sheep for as long as they can; at a recent match, she took home the third-place purse of $23.