The first time I came to South East Asia, I was advised by the natives that there is one thing I ought to avoid at all costs especially during the rainy season:
Getting bitten by mosquitos!
I do not know why I did not take that advice too seriously because when the rainy season started just recently, I was not too fervent about keeping mosquitos out of my house. I reluctantly let them invade my home, whine incessantly in my ears and I even let them steal my precious blood!
But this has changed now and NEVER again will I let a mosquito come within a 5 km radius near me! Here`s why:
The last two weeks were a hellish experience for me. I almost died. I woke up on what I thought would be a regular Friday. However, I was feeling out of sorts and a bit sluggish too. Dismissing it as tiredness caused by the very hot temperatures here, I decided to sleep for the entire day while hoping to feel better.
Instead, the discomfort increased. I woke up the following day with a mild pain behind my forehead and eyes. Things started going downhill from that very point and I developed a severe headache and really high fever. Although I did not have a cough, I was getting very concerned that maybe I had caught the dreaded COVID bug.
Not once did it occur to me that it could be something else.
By the end of the day on Saturday, the headache was becoming more unbearable. It felt like my head was splitting into two and I was feeling very cold too. Since my Doctor`s office was closed for the weekend, I had no way of getting any professional medical help except to google my symptoms to try and see what was going on with my body. Aaagh, I was getting conflicting advice on the internet and so I just decided to drink lots of water and just wait for Monday when the Doctor would be available.
By Sunday, I was now battling severe aches and pains all over my body, constant nausea, and was not able to sit or stand or for that matter do anything. With literally no appetite and dehydration making things worse, Monday was proving to be way too far for me. I really thought I was going to die that Sunday night.
By God`s grace, I survived the tough Sunday night and on Monday morning I did not hesitate to rush to the Doctor. Clad in 3 thick jackets, sweating profusely but still feeling very cold, I left the house very early. By 8 am I was already at the Doctor`s reception although she would not be available until around 09:30 am.
Just one look at me and the receptionist was very touched at my predicament. She saw that I was barely holding on and immediately called the Doctor for a possible earlier appointment.
When the Doctor came I was blessed to be her first patient. She did not waste any time and immediately instructed that I go for a full blood count and urinalysis at their local laboratory. Oh bless the health system here – there were zero challenges at all with the tests and the results came out in just under 30 minutes.
“I do not see anything out of the ordinary here. There is no evidence of any viral infection in your system,” the Doctor said.
“Oh really? Thank you Doc but are you sure I don’t have COVID?” I asked.
“Whilst the tests we ran on you are not meant to detect the COVID virus, I can assure you that you do not have COVID.”
Pheew, hearing her say I do not have COVID was like getting a heavy block of weight lifted off my shoulders. I badly needed to hear that. She then went on to say that her only small concern with my blood results is that my platelet level is slightly below normal.
The Doctor mentioned that at this point, it was too early to accurately determine what the cause might be and we would have to wait for 2 to 3 days before the tests can be run again so as to check why the platelet level is dropping.
I was then given a bunch of pills including paracetamol, zinc, and vitamin C tablets, and was advised to take plenty of liquids and bed rest at home. Fair and fine.
The medication really helped because by the 4th day the headache and fever had started receding. However, I was still feeling drained of all my energy and even the slightest exertion would render me breathless. And on top of that, I now I had a new batch of weird symptoms – I was now bleeding from the gums and nose, had some crazy rash on my arms and legs and a part of my stomach was now swollen. Now this was getting scarier!
My little puppies would look at me with their little eyes brimming with worry and concern, seeing me listless and tired most of the time.
On Wednesday I went back to the Doctor again for my review. Because my Doctor was away on a business trip that day, the nurses booked in with another Doctor. The new Doctor, Doctor Marie was equally as compassionate as the previous Doctor and she also spoke in simple clear-cut language. The only difference was that Doctor Marie liked to take her time to ask questions and explain things. I found that quite fascinating.
Anyway, Doctor Marie took me through the blood test and urinalysis processes again. Again, the results came out very fast and she did not beat around the bush telling me her findings.
“Sir, you have tested positive for Dengue fever.”
“Wait. Dengue, as in THE Dengue?” 😱 I gulped.
Dengue is something that I had read about in the newspapers and heard about on TV shows, but never thought that it would hit me. The Doctor must have seen the look of defeat on my face and went on to explain:
“Don`t worry, Dengue is basically a viral infection with flu-like symptoms. It is transmitted through the bite of what is called an Aedes mosquito that is infected with the dengue virus. So whilst feeding on your blood, an infected mosquito deposited the virus on your skin through its saliva. The virus soon found its way into your bloodstream and it is, in turn, destroying your platelets. Your platelet count has gone dangerously too low since your last visit here.”
“Okay, so is this Dengue thing fatal?” I sheepishly asked.
“Unfortunately yes. It can kill you if left untreated. Since the virus has already started circulating in your blood, it now has access to almost any part of your body. It multiplies itself very fast and can in turn cause further damage to your internal system. This is exactly what makes this virus so dangerous.”
My immediate silent response was “Congratulations Tinashe. You traveled over 10 900 km to get killed by a tiny insect in a foreign land!“
Because my platelet count was now dangerously low, Doctor Marie immediately requested that I get hospitalized so she can monitor my fluid intake and output, vital signs, and what she called hematocrit levels once every 6 to 12 hours. My vitals would also need to be checked at least every 4 hours.
She gave me the hospital admission notes and advised that I go to the nearest hospital with better facilities, or be admitted in her own hospital (Yep, there is a family of Doctors here with their own private hospital). The only small downside of getting admitted in her own hospital was that they are a smaller medical facility and they do not have a CT (Computed Tomography) scan. A CT scan is a fancy term for a machine that combines X-rays and computer technology to produce images of the inside of the body.
Regardless, I opted to go to her own hospital. I would feel safer with a Doctor who explains so well.
The hospital wards were just a few feet away from the Doctor`s office, so thankfully I did not need to get any vehicle or ambulance. I just slowly dragged my very tired body to the admissions reception.
Unfortunately, the admission process was very unpleasant😔.
Whilst the admissions personnel were very friendly just like everyone else is here, they informed me that I would not be admitted unless I have a next of kin (or watcher) with me.
Oh, I just need to call someone and ask them to get listed as my next of kin. Easy, right? So I thought.
So I picked up my phone and called Ma`am Rose, our flight school`s Administration officer. Ma’am Rose is widely known here as the go-to person, the kind of person who is connected to a lot of people, knows places, and is quite good with paperwork. Within a few minutes, she had arrived at the hospital to submit her credentials as my next of kin.
I was so relieved to see her😀.
Now she just has to put her signature somewhere and in a few minutes I will be rested on a nice, comfy hospital bed eating something nice, I thought. It had been a long day after all.
I was wrong.
The admission process seemed to be getting a bit more complicated than that because now the Admissions Officer was saying that the hospital has a strict ‘no watcher no admission’ rule – i.e a second person has to physically stay inside the hospital with me (the patient) for the entire duration of the hospital admission.
This was my first time getting admitted in a foreign hospital and so I had never heard of such a rule. The rule meant that Ma’am Rose had to abandon all her important duties for a week or possibly more so she could stay with me in the hospital. This was unplanned and for various reasons, this was inconvenient and rather awkward too. I did not have a close relative nearby either😔. If I had known that this was the rule here I honestly would not have given her all the trouble to come over and help with the admissions process.
Lengthy negotiations were done to try and get a workaround to this problem but with each minute passing, the process was getting more and more complicated. After at least 3 hours of fruitless discussions, I decided to just go home and self-manage the illness. It had been a very long day already and I was done for the day.
I know I had the phone number of the owner of the hospital and I had the option to call her and tell her my admission situation. However, I am not the kind of person who likes to override a set of rules just because I`m connected to someone superior. I respected their strict policy and so going home was the most viable if not the only option for me.
Before leaving the hospital, a kind nurse by the name of Ma`am Almie Laiza recommended that I drink papaya (paw paw) leaves juice and goat milk at home. Papaya leaves are the locally renowned home remedy known to be highly effective in beating Dengue fever.
Goat milk is known to prevent replication of the dengue virus by modulating the production of something called interleukin. I am not a scientist and sorry I can not explain what interleukin is. All I know is that it is some sort of protein that is important in helping human cells communicate with each other and it`s something that I needed at that time. She also advised that I eat a lot of mga prutas (fruits) – apples, bananas, etc. Thankfully fruits are both plentiful and very affordable here.
At home, I tried as best I could to manage this illness properly. The hardest thing for me to deal with was the constant fatigue and insatiable thirst while keeping my electrolytes in balance, but also taking in enough food to keep my bowels in check. It was really tough.
Someone made an announcement somewhere that I wasn`t feeling well and within a few hours, my phone was constantly buzzing with calls from concerned friends and family around the world. Friends from church and from the aviation community here were calling every now and then and offering prayers or any advice possible. A friend who is an astrologer advised that I look at the moon and chant a curse at the dengue virus 7 times a day😨. Hmmm, the advice was appreciated but I do not understand astrology and therefore wasn`t comfy to do that.
And for the next several days, Ma’am Rose brought me a good supply of fresh papaya leaves.
I would grind the leaves in a blender and extract the juice. OMG that juice is extremely bitter 🤮 but I had no choice but to gulp that bitter ticket to recovery 2 times a day for 5 days.
My friends put me on a liquid diet and the ever-helpful Tara recommended a delicious vegetable soup which was the only thing that appealed to my inactive taste buds.
By the fourteenth day, the effects of dengue had started receding. A final blood test indicated a rise in my platelet count and I was advised by the Doctor to go back to my regular diet. Yey, McDonald`s burgers here I come again! 🤪
During this entire hellish experience, I got to learn a lot about Dengue. I think the world`s collective focus on Corona has somehow made us forget about other diseases such as Dengue and how debilitating and life-threatening they can be. This has become worse with more people staying at home leading to less frequent checks of mosquito breeding sites, increasing the likelihood of getting bitten by the female Aedes mosquito, the carrier of the Dengue virus.
I also learnt that Dengue is a disease that affects everyone differently. Some people have mild symptoms and recover within less than a week. Some, like me, are so unlucky to get the worst version of it. I think I had Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever or DHF – the worst form of this virus. Whichever the case, Dengue is definitely not a disease one would want to get considering the enormous physical, mental, and emotional toll it can take on you.Finally, I learnt that friends and family are very important. Having people who love you and can move mountains to see you in a better condition is such a blessing. May I live long enough to fully appreciate all these people for their outstanding care and support (listed in no particular order):
- All My Health Clinic staff
- Mary Rose Asuncion
- Tarisai Tara
- JR & Vero Basilican
- Ma`am Almie Laiza
- Kuya Jay Peñalber and wife
- Ma`am Krystal Claire
- Elder JM Bautista
- Captain Glennford Arongate
- Captain Randell Dan Dallire
- Sir Mark Ston
- Taxi Driver Ray (I wish I knew his surname)
- Ma`am Veronica Sebastian
Maraming salamat po!
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12