There are certain truths you need to face when going travelling for an extended period of time. You will sleep in some pretty appalling places, you will have to endure some difficult journeys and you will, in one form or another, get sick.
So before Andy and I set out on our exodus, I prepared myself for all of the above. Knowing that I’ve a relatively strong constitution, I didn’t think it’d be a bout of food poisoning. Instead, I acknowledged the fact that I’m a mosquito magnet and that illness would be more likely to fall in the form of malaria or dengue fever.
God, I hate it when I’m right.
Unlike anti-malarial tablets, there’s no vaccination or tablet you can take against dengue. And so, ever since I’d read about it in the health section of a guidebook before going travelling years ago, I always feared it’d get me.
What I didn’t count on was it hitting just one month into our trip.
We were on a visa run to Thailand after our first 4 weeks in Myanmar. As a surprise for Andy’s birthday, I’d booked a treehouse right on the beach on the island of Koh Samet. The night before his birthday, I got a sudden blinding pain behind my eyes. I started burning up, too – and silently cursed Andy for giving me his cold, which he’d had a few days previous.
By the next morning, the pain behind my eyes had increased and I also noticed an aversion to light. Not wanting to be a downer on Andy’s birthday, I told myself to “man up” – and a couple of Sinutubs temporarily did the trick.
But back in Bangkok, my symptoms got worse. The fever increased, my lower back and my knees ached and I’d had a couple of near fainting spells – all quite embarrassing ones on public transport, when I probably just looked like another tourist with a hangover. Overall, I just felt really weak and even standing still for a few minutes to brush my teeth sent shooting pains up my legs.
P.S. Dengue is also known as “break-bone fever”. I sure as hell know why!
At that stage, we got worried that my sudden flu was something more serious, like the malaria we joked that I’d contracted every time I got a new bite. We decided to pay a visit to the closest hospital, just in case – which led us through the fancy doors of the BNH.
The reception area looked like a plush hotel, or at least one of those fancy clinics where celebrities go to dry out. In fact, apparently BNH is where scalpel fans flock to from the United States in seek of cosmetic treatment.
I can see why.
The whole experience was pretty pleasant, really; my vitals were checked and my bloods taken by smiling nurses within a mere 15 minutes.
The doctor was a kindly man who was so soft-spoken it was near impossible to hear him. Still, his gentle manner did a lot to put my nerves at ease! I warmed to him further when he ruled out malaria – then froze when he went on to murmur, “but we think it could be dengue”. Not the dreaded dengue! All I knew about it was it could be fatal if left untreated. And there was no cure for it, so where did that leave me? I know now that you just need to let it run its course but at the time, hearing those words terrified me.
Follow-up blood tests revealed that yep, it was indeed dengue. The doctor whispered that my platelets, my white blood cells and my blood pressure had dropped well below normal. The (barely audible) recommendation was that I be admitted to hospital for a few days because I was at risk of hemorrhaging. Andy and I were due to fly back to Myanmar that evening.
As it turned out, we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Like most people, I hate hospitals and hadn’t stayed overnight in one since I’d had my tonsils out aged 5. And here I was, so far from home, stuck in hospital with a disease that had always scared me – admittedly, a lovely hospital, but still! It wasn’t the best news for a Monday morning.
Not my favourite gift of jewellery, either.
Things began looking up when I heard that Andy could stay in my room with me…at least I wouldn’t be alone! And I actually began to see the days ahead as a kind of adventure, a travel experience we’d never forget.
So as I went through the horrible process of having an IV attached to my arm, Andy went through the (possibly equally) painful procedure of contacting our travel insurance company to cover our stay. Once he got the all-clear, we breathed a sigh of relief. The hospital would be our fanciest accommodation so far and getting it as a freebie (kind of) made it even better! Admin taken care of, it was time to see our new digs.
I made sure to travel there in style.
The room was huge, I had my own bathroom, Andy’s couch/bed looked pretty comfy and there was even a flat-screen TV! Sadly, the king had died a few days earlier and, with a whole country in mourning, every channel was tuned into various royal ceremonies. Thank Christ for Netflix…
I also got pimped-out scrubs (better than an open-backed smock), an adjustable bed and a room service menu.
Now that’s what I call healthcare!
Luxurious as the hospital was though, it wasn’t exactly restful. Nurses came in every 3 hours, day and night, to check my temperature and my blood pressure. And 6am meant blood test o’clock – which frankly, wasn’t exactly a great start to the day!
Still, I did an awful lot of dozing, unable to move farther than the bathroom – a bone-aching journey of 10ft that involved me collapsing into bed as soon as I’d wheeled my IV back. It was no wonder that I felt so weak; after all, my bloods had continued to drop lower and lower each morning. Not to mention the fact that apparently the dengue had caused some liver damage too, which we later found out was a form of hepatitis. When it rains it pours, I guess!
I’ll admit that at this point, I did feel quite sorry for myself. But thanks to Andy’s bedside manner, the chocolate he smuggled in and the lovely flowers that my family sent me, I didn’t stay down for long!
I was released from the comfy clutches of the BNH when an itchy rash appeared on my legs (apparently a sign of healing).
And so, equipped with headache tablets, re-hydrating electrolytes and anti-histamines for my rash, we reluctantly left what had become our home for the past four days.
This time, I was able to walk out. 😉
Andy and I stayed in Bangkok for a further week while I got my strength back. Since my immune system was still quite vulnerable, we had to ignore the delicious street food options available and instead, opt to dine in places like Subway and shopping centre cafes. It was all a bit…sterile, but that’s just what I needed! As a plus, we did have the excuse to stay in nicer places than usual and for $20 a night, got a slick hotel with a rooftop pool!
Needless to say, my recovery went swimmingly!
I started to go a bit stir-crazy in the city for that long though and so we tentatively began to move north. In Ayuthaya, I was able to stroll around for 15 minutes without needing a break. By Chiang Mai a few days later, I was back to (shaky) yoga classes. 2 weeks after I got out of hospital, I got my bloods and liver function tested again – luckily, everything was back to normal.
So, one of my biggest fears about travelling came true – I’d been “dengued”. I’d love to say it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be but…it kind of was! I felt weak for a long time afterwards and still dread getting it again, when it could be more serious. But that’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it? It’s not going to stop me from going out and experiencing all the beauty that Myanmar has to offer, or whatever country we end up visiting next.
It does mean that I pretty much bathe in Deet now. But as long as it keeps the fever at bay, I’m ok with that. 😉
PS: As I was too sick to take 99% of the photos in this post, all credit must go to Andy Barker. Thanks, Andy! 😉