How to survive dengue in S.E Asia
The obvious answer is prevention. But I’m talking about how to survive the emotional roller coaster that is inevitable once that blood test shows up positive.
Firstly, I believe my latest bout of dengue (I’m suspicious I’ve had it before) occurred while on language training for a volunteer assignment in Indonesia.
I left my Bahasha Indonesia class a little early as the headache I’d been nursing for two days strengthen and I felt nauseated and unfocused. I apologised to my concerned guru, text my Husband, who was also studying and walked outside into the steaming heat. Slowly, I walked up the gang (alleyway) toward my homestay, noticing that there was a strange sensation moving up and down my legs. It felt more than an ache and the momentum of it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Rounding the corner with my homestay in sight, I could now say I was feeling pain, running up and down my legs like jackhammers on either side. My headache was replaced with a million thoughts all clambering to gain my attention. Was there a blood clot travelling at rapid pace towards my lungs? Have I got meningitis? Is this a stroke?
I have a background in heath, not nursing as such, so I couldn’t pinpoint what was going on exactly. It helps to add I also have an overactive imagination; I can get a little obsessive with details but have never been a hypochondriac (I can hear my Mother *ahem* from 2,803 miles away). Just as I was visualising blood, bacteria and the side of my body paralysed, I realised I’d crawled up the stairs and my bed was in front of me. I tossed aside the mosquito net and that’s where I woke up three hours later. A concerned faced Husband sitting on the edge of the bed with bottled water in one hand and a backpack in the other. I explained the sensations, sat up and surprisingly, felt fine! So yes Husband, you should totally go and climb that mountain at 8pm at night to see the sunrise tomorrow, I’ll stay here just to be sure and binge watch pirated DVD’s until you return. I’m sure! See you tomorrow and stay safe. All while sitting in the bed.
Waking up again from dozing off, sometime around 3am and began walking to the bathroom when my legs all but went from underneath me. What?!
It was like my muscles didn’t exist and dragged myself up onto the bed, googled dengue fever symptoms, then threw out a few profanities to no one who was listening and passed out.
I woke to a concerned faced Husband (again) and this time he helped me up from the bed, down the stairs and into a waiting Taxi. We phoned my Country Manager and informed him of our movements and that we were enroute to the hospital. He diverted us to the fancy ex-pat hospital and explained the procedure of admission (take a ticket, fill in paperwork, wait) and chuckled that I’d have to be the unluckiest volunteer the organisation to contract dengue within the first three weeks of my 13 months assignment.
Amazingly the blood test results were confirmed in only an hour that my thrombocytes were low and the Dr reviewing the diagnosis suggested I was to be admitted ASAP.
It’s important to recognise the stats on dengue. (Stats)(Ref)
So, this is where we kick into survival mode.
I had a suggestion by the Dr. I wasn’t in a critical state (Google told me that) so I chose to go home and return the next day for a follow-up blood test.
At home my instincts, although clouded my moderate headache, were telling me to pack a back for tomorrows visit back to the hospital.
So dengue survival tips:
#1Trust your instincts. I have a relatively high pain threshold, background in health and an aversion to hospitals, however, when my I feel something in my heart, I can’t NOT listen. There was something going on and I knew. A simple Google search (not a reliable method of self-diagnosis I know) confirmed my suspicion.
#2 Confide in a few. And only a few. You won’t feel up to writing back to everyone, let alone fending international calls from concerned family, friends, neighbours, ex-colleges etc. You will NEED emotional support as the days go on and a degree of confidentiality is required to get through. It is an exhausting experience both physically and mentally.
#3 Take the local remedies. They give you a sense of control or at least help you feel less passive about your care. Dragon fruit, the tea and ____ all turn your pee interesting sunset colours and take that as a reminder to hydrate. Pee = drink more water.
#4 Have an open door. In western countries we tend to shudder at the thought of a crowded room when we are not feeling well. But in Indonesia, everyone MUST visit you. It a cultural quirk that now, in hindsight is very beautiful. The owner of the homestay, her Husband and sons visited me multiple times over the week after insisting to my poor Husband who was fending the calls on my behalf. He got driven to and from the hospital for free so he wasn’t daring to say no. I was gifted fresh juices, cut fruit, candy, and empathy. All of which made my situation a little easier.
#5 Don’t’ panic (much). A little panic is a good thing. It motivates you to seek answers and as my language was basic and the nurses English was non-existent I was using Google Translate to get by. I was checking on what I thought was medication (they were vitamins), then what I thought were more vitamins were actually anti- nauseas, I decided not to take as, I then wasn’t nauseated. This move opened up a can of worms, with three different nurses baffled that I wasn’t going to comply. Again, health background and feeling panicky. What followed was a battle of wits to hold my ground. I know they were only anti-nauseas but I didn’t want to take them.
My body, my choice right? I decided from that point I needed to be more vigilant with what was going on and although my thrombocytes continued to drop each day, I felt less foggy and became an observer of my care. I guided the nurses when they canulated my hand (after inserting the needle into tissue, twice), I researched fluid overload and suggested the drip to titrated down and I informed my health insurance of every blood result, pill, drip rate and communications I had with the DR.
A combination of these tips and week horizontal binge watching all seasons of GIRLS and OITNB got me through and three months on I’ve never felt better.
Give yourself permission to be quiet and thoughtful and tap into your inner introvert for optimal healing. I’m planning on not getting dengue for a third time as I’ve read that’s a battle I’d rather not take on and the only remaining affect is about 50% hair loss which is easing off now.
So, as they say in Bahasa Indonesia...santai or relax, the worst is over.
Update July~ the 50% hair loss is now about three cms long and spikey...a little like an extreme mullet...sticking it down not working....advice appreciated.