This is not the first time Roatan has tried to kill me.
There was the entire first year that I was here and had allergic reactions to the sandflies and mosquitoes, had several staph infections in the bites on my legs and earned the somewhat unsavory local nickname of ‘Sore Legs’ from the islanders….
There was the time I fell down a concrete ramp…
There’s been a few more I haven’t mentioned due to legal issues and/or my mom’s sanity.
But this one has been the worst. You guys, I got dengue.
Dengue fever is one of those shitty tropical diseases that you can get in (surprise) tropical countries. It’s transmitted through mosquitoes, so I guess I should really just be happy I made it well over two years before getting it.
Here is the list of symptoms that I have officially compiled from all of the internets:
- sudden onset of high fever/chills
- joint and muscle pain (dengue is often called ‘breakbone fever’ due to the pain)
- pain behind the eyes and when moving eyes
So all really super cute stuff. After you get bit by an infected mosquito, in 4-10 days you will start to show symptoms. Usually it passes in a week if you don’t have complications (like it turning into dengue hemorrhagic fever which to me kind of sounds like Ebola and I’m pretty sure you die). But it’s the worst week ever. And you get all kinds of residual goodies to deal with, like being weak and having no energy for months.
I woke up one day with what I’ll call just a ‘touch’ of a hangover… no big deal, I sat on the couch and begged a friend to bring me some soup. After I ate, I was watching TV and felt better by the afternoon. Around 5pm I stood up to make dinner and BAM! My knees gave out and I fell back on the couch and immediately started sweating. Now, sweating is not normally a cause for alarm here since I do it pretty much constantly, but I could actually feel the fever starting and rising, all out of nowhere. I figured I hadn’t done a good job of killing the hangover so popped two extra strength Tylenol and went to bed.
Four hours later I woke up, teeth chattering and delirious. I fumbled around in the dark for some towels and sarongs to get under (I don’t own a blanket!) and put on basically everything I owned and tried to go back to sleep. I knew I was sick with something, I just didn’t know what it was yet.
The next few days were an awful blur of Googling symptoms, whimpering pitifully to myself while contemplating shooting off whatever body part was having a painful moment, ginger pills to help with the nausea, and alternately wearing everything and throwing everything off. I’ve had a few episodes of fever here on Roatan but nothing like this. It seemed never ending. I realized I was really ill when after 3 days I hadn’t eaten anything. ANYTHING. For someone who normally eats 8-10 times a day and can put big football players to shame at the dinner table, this was really disconcerting to me. Also the fact that nothing sounded appealing – every time I saw a restaurant commercial on TV or thought about a cheeseburger I would start to gag. For someone whose world revolves around food, this was a very sad time.
I had zero energy and even had to crawl from my bed to the bathroom for two days. I had to give myself full-on pep talks to get out of bed to get water, and I had to do it with my eyes closed or with sunglasses on because the pain in my eyes was unbearable. If I closed them and put my fingers on my eyelids, I could feel that my eyes were swollen and protruding. It was sexy. I also got terrible dizziness and looked like I was drunk because I couldn’t walk straight. If I bent over or got my head underneath my heart somehow, I got vertigo so bad I would black out. It was not a nice time to be living alone with most of your friends off the island visiting their respective homes.
Here’s the best part about dengue – there’s absolutely nothing you can do for it! Just take Tylenol (acetaminophen) to try to keep the fever down, rest and drink plenty of liquids. And lay around being the most miserable human ever.
My friends who had already had dengue told me I had to wait until the fever was at least on day 5 before I could go to the clinic and get the test done. I finally made it to day 5 and went off wobbling to the clinic. The doctor examined me and said, “yep, dengue” and sent the bloodwork for testing. It came back positive, and thus was the first time I’ve ever Googled my symptoms, thought I had something terrible and was actually right!
I went home and thankfully my fever started to go down, although I had some interesting new symptoms such as a disgusting red and white rash all over my stomach, chest and tops of my legs, which is apparently a hallmark sign of dengue:
Also the itchiest palms of hands and soles of feet ever. This was soooo uncomfortable and I woke up one night having rubbed my hands raw. I got hungry again but everything I ate made me sick. (Had some serious empathy for pregnant ladies after all this nausea.) I had a day where I threw up everything I ate, but after further investigation that might have been due to chicken salad gone off rather than the dengue. I’ll give that one the benefit of the doubt. I was desperate to get some relief from the dengue symptoms so I drank some ‘bush medicine‘… so whatever this thing below is… and it seemed to help:
Finally after 9-10 days the symptoms all subsided and I felt normal again, although my energy was seriously sapped and any little bit of physical activity left me exhausted. I still can’t dive for a few more weeks and I am trying to take it really, really easy on my body so that it can heal properly. I’ve heard of people who went out on drinking binges or started exercising again too soon after dengue and their symptoms all came back, and I am not interested in finding out if that will happen to me!
If you get dengue: you really do need to go to the doctor. Even though there is no treatment for dengue (just taking acetaminophen to try to keep the fever down) your doctor will need to keep an eye on your platelet levels in your blood. If they dip too low, you’ll need to be treated at a hospital ASAP. It can be really dangerous to let them get too low, so make sure you get your blood work done. I was lucky that mine stayed in the normal levels throughout the time I was sick, but the doctor was very surprised about this so I guess that isn’t normal.