Break Bone Fever

It started with a headache last Saturday, 10/31. It wasn’t excruciating, but I could make it worse by moving my eyes all the way to any corner of my field of vision. I worked the nightshift alone because Susan was sick; I thought it was because I had only slept 3.5 hours, I was wrong.

Susan became sick with flu like symptoms Thursday and stayed home from work on Friday with a fever. I had a strange rash on the right-side of my neck and the skin on my face was reddened and dry. Krisida (the nurse I work with) thought that it was probably just from sun exposure the day of the Fireball festival - he was right about that rash. 

Saturday - We did very little, I slept quite a bit and Susan continued to rest. My headache persisted enough that I didn’t read, we suffered through cooking dinner and that was about enough.

Sunday - Susan still did not feel very well and had a new rash on her neck and upper chest. We used the internet to talk with our families, and then took some good advice and went to see the doctor. The doctor saw my rash and said it was sun exposure (it was and is), but recommended a blood test for Susan “just to be sure.” We got some medications to treat our symptoms, picked up groceries, and went home.

Monday - Susan still wasn’t feeling well. She went to work, but cancelled doing massage because her rash was worse. But the blood tests were negative. I went to work, but felt fatigued all day. I thought the antihistamine I was given may have had a drowsy side-effect. P. Bon (the nurse assistant I am occasionally able to help) knew I was not feeling great, she sent me to lay down twice. I still made it through leading exercises and patient care. I went home and was asleep by 7:30 pm. 

Tuesday - We got up at 5:00 am to take care of a billing issue that could only be taken care of during Mountain Standard Time, and we were supposed to go to immigration. Instead we went to visit our doctor a second time; he decided we both should have blood tests. The initial blood tests were again negative for dengue, he gave me the same medications he had given Susan on Saturday and told us to call in the evening for the results of the other blood tests he was running. Susan went to work, I went to sleep, and Sister Pranee was already talking about sending us to a hospital in Udon Thani (80 kilometers away). 

At 7:00 pm, one of our co-workers came over and told us it was time to go to the hospital, we have Dengue Fever!!!

When we arrived at the hospital, they were expecting us. Sister Pranee, Antonia, and one of our co-workers Mau were already there. They had even found out that we could have a shared room. A quick set of vital signs was taken, we were given hospital scrubs to change into (which consisted of pants and shirts - I’m looking at you American hospitals with your backside revealing gowns), our blood was drawn, IVs established, and we were in our room in under 45 minutes (the lengthiest part was probably us changing). Our doctor visited us at 9:00 pm that night, told us what to expect (1-2 days at most, most likely) and we settled in.

I admit, I was a little nervous. As a medical professional, I know what to expect, I understood what we were being told, and I know the odds are good that everything is going to be fine. As a medical professional, I know that infections can be very fickle and sometimes have little regard for your age, overall health, and fitness. They have even less regard for the good you are trying to do. I was also feeling very poorly. Before bed, I told Susan “I love you, and if this thing happens to turn south, I’m still happy we made the decision to do this.” It didn’t turn south.

I just want to share a little bit about what I know about Dengue Fever. I knew that it was a virus transmitted by mosquitos, and I did actually know that it was predominantly daytime mosquitos that do the transmitting. I also knew that it could be a hemorragic fever and could be life threatening. After researching I now know that although mosquitos get it from people, the virus actually continues to multiply in them and makes its way to their saliva where it is transferred during a bite (so it’s actually not a blood transfer). A few other facts:

  1. There are about 4 different strains of dengue fever
  2. Once you are infected with 1 you have lifetime immunity to that 1
  3. It is also known as “break bone fever” because of the joint, muscle, and body aches it causes.
  4. The danger lies in that it can attack your platelets resulting in hemorrhaging, circulatory shock and death. (Read More)

So yes, we spent 2 nights in a hospital in Thailand with Dengue fever, and the first happened to coincide with our 3rd Wedding Anniversary. We ate a little and slept a lot. I had a fever, Susan didn’t. I had a lot of pain, Susan was through most of it, but neither of us were given or requested anything but tylenol, an antihistamine, and intravenous fluid support. We counted and reported the number of times we urinated each day, the nurses were very nice, we had air conditioning (we later found we kept the room at a frigid 79 degrees), and I saw very few differences in the quality or method of providing medical care in comparison to the United States. We went to a hospital for people with means and insurance. It wasn’t a whole lot scarier than any other time you get really sick and hope it doesn’t get worse.

  • What I don’t want is for this to be the only thing we talk about for the next several months.
  • What I don’t want is people to be dissuaded from volunteering because of this experience.
  • What I don’t want is to become someone’s anecdote about bleeding heart liberals.  
  • What I don’t want is to feel sick anymore.

Like an appropriate retirement portfolio, our lives are a series of decisions based on perceived and calculated risks and rewards. We make our decisions based on a risk tolerance, and as many of us age that risk tolerance gets smaller and smaller. In a global age of information, we have access to any news story or anecdote that supports the mental construct we have created. It is easier than ever to always be right and to find someone who will tell us we are right - and let’s be honest, we all enjoy being right. Furthermore, we seem to live an an increasingly fear based society; inundated on a daily basis by stories of terrorism, murder, abuse, brutality, and random violence. The types of things that make us want to turn off the news and lock our doors.

But I can tell you, there is so much good, and beauty, and love out here. And by out here, I don’t mean Thailand. I mean anywhere you can take a risk and put yourself out there for someone or something above yourself.

The easy thing to do when faced with an unfamiliar illness, in an unfamiliar place is to question what you are doing. I can tell you first hand that there has been none of that. Although the risks here are much different or “foreign”, I would argue that my daily risk is much less than that back home. We have greatly reduced our likelihood of being in a traffic collision, being a victim of random violence, or a victim of workplace violence. And anyone who knows me, knew I wouldn’t make it a year without something like this happening.

What has been clearly revealed this week is how much we are cared about here. People have talked about us being part of the family since we arrived, but it has sometimes been hard to feel it. Being visited each night at the hospital and just chatting, getting flowers, a homemade and hilarious anniversary card, having fruit and coffee and tea dropped off. Having your shifts covered by co-workers, having neighbors stopping by to check on us, having dinner unexpectedly dropped off. It is sweet, and touching, and although it is frustrating to be weakened and vulnerable, it is nice to feel the love.

Now, can I just please have the rest of my energy back? I am really eager to get back to some important work I was rudely interrupted from last week by a daytime mosquito.

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