Published: November 7th 2011October 31st 2011
Dengue Mosquito and Miss. Bee
There's something about humid climates that compels you to stay cool and unmoving much like a reptile that's found shade on a hot summer's day.
One such day in Kuala Lumpur, three of us were lazing about and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey
, which two of us had never seen. When we reached the end credits, my friend said, "I feel that WTF feeling you get after a David Lynch movie." I laughed in agreement and felt chills run up my spine, literally.
As I prepared for bed, I realized those chills weren't just a reaction to the movie. I felt odd. Not quite sick, but uncomfortable as the chills persisted. Am I getting the flu
? I wondered.
In the middle of that Sunday night, I woke up with a hot fever and the chills spread into a tingling sensation along the entirety of my back. Over the next three days, my fever raged and food tasted unpleasantly metallic. I tried vegetables, yogurt, fries, burgers and resorted to unhealthy food desperate for a taste, ANY taste besides metal.
Instead of me entertaining our friend, Rosette, visiting us for a much-deserved vacation, she went out of her way
to take care of me--feeding me vitamins and healthy foods. She washed the dishes and humored me with ice-cream to satisfy my cravings, not for sugar, but, like I said, taste
. Even water--reliably bland and pure--sat like a toxic metal coat on my tongue.
On Tuesday, my fever subsided, and everyone looked relieved to see the numbers dip below 38 °C (100.4 °F). My boyfriend asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but I said no, figuring the worst was over and not wanting to waste money.
But, by the sixth day, the metallic taste was so unbearable my weight was dropping. The tingling sensation persisted along my spine and random joints ached in my body. Is this the flu? Is it swine flu? Crap
. Sleep deprivation increased my hypochondriacal thoughts. I tried to take a nap, unsuccessfully, and sat back up feeling weary then lay back down with eyes open, and simply broke down.
I texted my boyfriend, "I think I need 2 go 2 hospital."
He arrived and said, "Let's go see what's going on, okay?" Taking my arm, he helped me shuffle outside.
The taxi jerked through the uneven streets
of Kuala Lumpur, and the slightest bump or brake shot raw nerves across down my back. "It's okay. It's okay," my boyfriend said as I sobbed into my jacket.
There's comfort giving a name to the unknown. At the same time, the comfort was countered by the fear of having contracted a tropical disease I knew little about.
"Your blood platelets are falling and currently 93," the doctor explained. A healthy person has a level of 150-450 (150,000-450,000, but the thousand is dropped in speech).They quickly hooked me up to a rehydration IV and entered me into a private room.
Prince Court Hospital
Prince Court is by far one of the fanciest hospitals I've ever visited. It serves as the medical center for local royalty (my boyfriend saw the Sultan's third(?) wife during a visit to the PC dentist's office) and it is marketed as a tourist hospital, which is why the entrance can be confused for a hotel. Instead of antiseptic white walls, the entrance has a concierge desk, tall bamboo trees, colorful paintings are on every wall and large sculptures stand in the main halls generating a warmer ambiance.
Surprising Locals with Our Costumes
gentleman entered my room with a thick menu and asked, "Would you like to order your meals?" I answered his questions, "For the main menu? Side dish? And for dessert?" Banana Cream with Crumbled Custard? Holy cow.
I worried about the dollar (or ringgit) signs, but confess that the top-notch care was reassuring in a foreign country. I didn't worry about unsanitary conditions like dirty needles because everything was pristine. I wished a couple nurses came with subtitles, but their actions reassured me that they knew what they were doing.
My room's tall windows looked out onto a lush green park and new buildings, green mountains covered with thick white clouds in the distance, and an overall cleaner KL than I've come to know. The cold air-conditioning combined with the view of green mountains reminded me of Colorado. That's when homesickness kicked in. I resisted the strong urge to call my parents because, with an ocean between us, worrying them wouldn't help.
Waiting on Dengue
The nurses woke me around 5 a.m. to draw blood. With each visit they asked, "Any irregular bleeding? When was your last period? No bleeding from your gums? Rashes? Let us know if any of these things occur." A few hours later they announced my falling blood platelet level: 67. Each time I brushed my teeth, I was scared my gums might start bleeding.
On the upside, my appetite was improving. The hospital food was not only good, but really good! I felt like I was getting better, but this is the most dangerous phase during dengue. The dropping number of platelets reduces the blood's ability to clot. For individuals who are infected with a second strain of dengue, the chances of hemorrhaging or shock increase.
The scientific information online seems limited. I know two people who suffered dengue twice with different experiences. One experienced dengue the first time like a mild flu. The second time, he was admitted into the hospital unable to move or feed himself. The other girl suffered horribly the first time and, with the second strain, was sick only three days. There are even less accounts of getting dengue a third or fourth time.
Oh yes, and even the wi-fi connection at the hospital was decent, but looking up "Dengue" on Wikipedia wasn't the smartest thing to do. Morale was hard enough to hang onto, and when I had more blood drawn in the dark dawn of day, my imagination would get the better of me. I thought of dengue's alternative name "break-bone fever" whenever my joints ached. I looked at my rehydration IV and the fact that there was no cure when my platelets dropped to 52.
Laughter is the best medical support anybody in a hospital bed could ask for, and I looked forward to that precious morale boost whenever my boyfriend brought hours of TV shows and sat by my side. Rosette visited at random intervals with a heartwarming good-luck quartz and my favorite espresso. Most importantly, they both joked and poked humor at the dengue in the most politically incorrect and gratifying way. (Thanks so much!! The two of you made a huge difference!)
Still, my platelets continued to fall. When I dropped to 49, my blood was drawn in the evening, too, each time taking longer than the last. The nurses began changing the locations on my body that they drew the blood from, and I thought, Stop taking all my blood. I need that
! The doctor stopped the rehydration IV. "This should help you sleep better at night," he said. "But drink all the liquids--juice, water, or chocolate milk. Drink everything. And, try to get out of the room if you can," he suggested.
My boyfriend came to the hospital after work, and we walked around the fancy hospital. I felt feeble with my baby-steps, but it felt good walking beyond the bathroom. We agreed, tomorrow, the platelets will go up
That evening my skin itched as if covered in mosquito bites, which it wasn't, and when I scratched, my nails felt like sharp sandpaper leaving small blood-spots under the skin. The itching was a classic dengue symptom that meant I was getting better, but my platelets dropped lower to 43.
On the second-to-last day, the doctor came in to find me awake before his arrival. "Good, you're awake. Wow, you look like a different person! Well, your platelets are rising again, but we're keeping you one more day. If your platelets go up again, you're free to go home."
Home Sweet Home
My boyfriend and Rosette yelled at me to stop flapping about and rest on the couch. "Sit down! Let us help you!" Both of them noted that I had lost weight, and I joked, "Nothing like the dengue diet to get rid of those last few pounds." The experience was named "The Dengue Diet."
The good news is that I'm immune to the dengue strain I had and temporarily immune to the three other strains.
Here's some helpful information I gathered from the internet for questions that may arise after recovering from dengue: *
You can donate blood a month after you recover from dengue. *
For women, dengue can affect your menstruation. I found accounts of women missing their period for up to two months afterward. *
You can have after effects that commonly include exhaustion -- this seems to be the consensus among other people I spoke with about dengue. I recovered very quickly compared to some accounts, but had sudden and extreme exhaustion before my period to the extent that I was bedridden again. *
You get dengue from mosquitoes that have bitten another person with dengue. So, like we did at home, make sure you use repellent as there is no vaccine or cure for now. *
Stay hydrated with drinks like 100 Plus
in Malaysia (similar to Gatorade and electrolyte drinks). Plain water is good, too, but you don't want to overdo it as your body needs the salts, minerals, and other good stuff.
A Dengue Halloween
After sitting on a couch and hospital bed for two weeks, I was done lounging around. I couldn't come up with a more fitting, horrific idea than a dengue-ridden mosquito. Truth-be-told, nobody had a clue what I was (guesses ranged from "that chic from Black Swan" and "a black butterfly?"), but we had a great inside laugh as I drank a couple Bloody Mary's.
Delucca's handed out free beer and yummy chocolate cake to its guests. After which we checked out Pinchos, one of the few places packed with great costumes, but I couldn't handle the wave of bodies knocking my wings from both directions. We escaped the mob onto the street where, as Rosette summed up accurately, it was like having your "fifteen minutes of fame." People unaccustomed to the holiday approached us and anyone in a costume for pictures. It was like being a Batman or Michael Jackson impersonator on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
We escaped to Ceylon Bar where we comfortably sat down and watched the street for good costumes (Super Mario and Ronald McDonald took the prize on a street that looked like Halloween 101--blinking red demon horns, cat ears, and countless zombies outnumbered by people in their regular clothes).