(JAMAICA GLEANER) — Being afflicted with dengue fever, which is suspected to have claimed the lives of as many as 50 Jamaicans since last year, was an unforgettable experience that has been implanted in the halls of my memory since the first signs emerged just over a week ago.
Despite contracting the illness previously, its impact this time around was like a sledgehammer. Imagine being in the situation where your body is unable to act on its own volition. Instead, your will is supplanted by a feeble inadequacy that renders you unable to even stand or hold an object. In other words, this affliction resulted in my body rebelling against my mind, leaving me physically immobile while glued to a bed.
SATURDAY/SUNDAY – EARLY ASSAULT
Unbeknown to me at the time, Saturday, November 2 represented my first interaction with this sinister agent. This debilitating force began as a chill that started while attending an evening event. While initially dismissing the frigid feeling as the conditions of the venue, I began to feel some discomfort from my joints.
After reaching home on Sunday, an immediate fatigue engulfed me. My marriage to my bed came shortly after as I experienced this hangover-like feeling. The full onset of symptoms was shortly revealed. A scorching fever was the first sign followed by the painful rebellion of my muscles and joints. Stomach pain also ensued with a sustained loss of appetite. Headaches and eye pain also shocked my system. The night brought the full extent of the onslaught with vomiting and nausea beginning their attack.
MONDAY – PLATELET COUNT FALLS
Dengue’s campaign of misery was sustained throughout Monday, despite its initial strike of vomiting and nausea ceasing. However, the internal effects of the attack began coming to light after a blood test revealed that my white blood cell count had fallen. The white blood cells are directly responsible for battling infection. What was of greater concern for doctors, however, was the decrease in my platelet count.
Platelets are cell fragments that are instrumental in the clotting of blood. A fall in the platelet count suggests internal bleeding or that an individual has an increased susceptibility to bleeding. A normal platelet count is recorded at between 150 mm3 and 400 mm3. My platelet count was down to 148 mm3.
TUESDAY – TEMPORARY REPRIEVE
Despite the ferocity of the onslaught in the previous days, Tuesday brought a temporary cessation of hostilities. I felt much better on this day after this reprieve. The fever had subsided and my appetite had resumed. Unfortunately, this respite was not to last and by Tuesday evening the storm clouds rolled in again.
The first indicator of concern was that my blood pressure had fallen to 85/66, which was a noticeable decline. This fall in blood pressure was accompanied by a fall in pulse rate and abdominal pain, which convinced my mother to seek medical attention for me. Tests indicated that my platelet count had fallen to 108 mm3, prompting an overnight stay at the Andrews Memorial Hospital. Up to this point, the only tools I was given to combat this illness was hydration, Panadol, Pantecta and rest.
My first experience with the doctor left me confused by all the medical jargon being used. This confusion morphed into horror when it was revealed that I had to be admitted but there were no beds available. The University of the West Indies (UWI) would eventually provide that deliverance. For the rest of the night, I had very little sleep due to the constant presence of bags of IV fluid needed to combat my dehydration.
WEDNESDAY – PETECHIAE RASH EMERGES
On Wednesday morning, I was transferred to The University Hospital of the West Indies, Tony Thwaites Wing. By now, I had acquired a new battle scar in the form of red spots on the skin – the petechiae rash had emerged. This common characteristic of dengue fever was visible on my torso, elbows and feet. Additionally, between the bouts in hospital, my platelet count had decreased even further to 104 mm3. The typical loss of appetite and abdominal pain also re-emerged.
My first interactions with my nurse were very positive as Nurse Wallace explained all the complicated medical jargon in a decipherable way and helped me start my sojourn in hospital. However, I can say that the most positive experience of being hospitalised was the food, even though the presence of such good food was torture to someone who had no appetite.
THURSDAY – NADIR OF THE EXPERIENCE
Thursday saw the worst drop in the platelet count since this experience had started. While the fever had been abated by now, the new platelet count was registered at 81 mm3. This represented a cause for concern as any count that falls below 50 mm3 would require an immediate blood transfusion. Naturally, frustration was the order of the day as no additional treatment was applicable outside of the usual catalogue of responses.
These treatments also brought annoying consequences. In addition to being confined to bed, I was also married to an IV pole. Moreover, the constant fluids led to continuous visits to the restroom, especially at night. These visits were particularly difficult, especially manoeuvring from under a mosquito net with a pole to get to the restroom every hour. As a result of the constant blood tests, I also became immune to blood extractions through needles.
FRIDAY – LEVELLING OUT
Recovery was far from certain by Friday. The fever had increased in the morning while the platelet count continued to fall. Now registering at 77 mm3, the rate of descent was not as steep as initially expected, which provided a silver lining. I was informed that, as a result of this levelling out, the count was expected to begin going back up in short order.
SATURDAY – GOING HOME
By Saturday, most of the symptoms had subsided and dengue’s assault waned. A noticeable increase in my platelet count would result in my release. This came by midday with a new platelet count of 92 mm3. While not being normal, the increased count was the exception for the week up to that point. I was subsequently released with victory in sight. Being told by Dr Dayna-Kaye Taylor-Forbes that I could go home was the best news I could have heard for the entire week.
My experience being hospitalised with dengue fever has given me an immeasurable amount of knowledge about the illness and its ghastly effects. I must commend the staff at the Andrews Memorial Hospital and the Tony Thwaites Wing of The UWI who performed their best to make my stay as comfortable as possible. I would also like to express appreciation to Dr Jermaine Whyte, who prompted the ordering of the first blood test. The experience has also reinforced my recognition that we must treasure our nurses who play an extremely important role as they spend the majority of time with you and are the first line of defence.
While there is still some lingering fatigue, I am happy that I have sufficiently recovered. I further urge people to be cognisant of their surroundings and take precautions to avoid contracting this illness. The catalogues of my consciousness have fully documented my haunting experience with dengue fever.