I’m back on my feet and functioning like a normal human, but the last few weeks have been a little rough. After a week in the hospital, I still wasn’t able to walk more than a few steps and ended up spending another week lying in my own bed to recover. So without further ado, here’s my experience with dengue fever, for anybody who is curious about what this disease is like.
Day 1: Sunday
I woke up feeling perfectly fine. Josh and I went out and ate a late lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant. As we walked through the mall after our meal, I started to feel a little nauseated, though I assumed it was just something I ate. A few hours later, we got home and my body started to ache–the pain started in my back but radiated throughout my whole body. Soon after I started to feel really warm, and Josh took my temperature–102°.
Though I didn’t have a sore throat, I thought perhaps I had come down with another bout of strep throat. I took a Tylenol before bed but it only reduced the fever slightly and did nothing to make the pain go away. I spent the night trying to find a position comfortable enough for me to fall asleep, but had no luck.
Day 2: Monday
I was supposed to teach at my in-school that morning but could barely stand from the pain and weakness. At 6:30, Josh helped me out to the car, and the driver who was supposed to take me to my classes dropped me off at the hospital instead.
After shakily filling out some paperwork, I was shown to a bed in the emergency room, where the nurses took care of me until a doctor arrived to take a look at my symptoms: severe pain everywhere in my body, fever, nausea, weakness, and a headache. She said that it appeared to just be some sort of virus but she asked if I’d like some painkillers and a blood test to find out exactly what it was. Soon, I had an IV in my left hand pumping liquid Tylenol into me. Little did I know that I’d have that needle in me for the rest of the week.
About an hour later, another doctor appeared with the lab results: dengue fever. I was simultaneously shocked and not surprised at all: I always wear bug spray and bug lotion but still manage to get mosquito bites all the time. I thought back to ten days previously, when I had walked home from work on a Friday evening and got home with about seven bites on my ankle. I feel certain that one of those bites was what infected me. Still, though, we haven’t heard of anybody coming down with dengue here, so it never seemed like a serious concern. Until now, of course.
The doctor admitted me to the hospital for a week-long stay. Josh filled out the paperwork, paid the deposit, and wrote a list of things to bring for me that night. After making sure I got to my room, he headed off, as he still had work that day.
Day 3-6: Tuesday-Friday
Every day, I had multiple blood samples taken so that the doctor could look at my platelet levels, which were dangerously low and weren’t going back up the way they should be. “As soon as they start to go up, we will know that you are recovering,” he told me every day. However, the platelet numbers he cited at each visit were even lower than the last blood test.
There were a few moments where the pain subsided a little, but for the most part, I spent these days in constant agony. As a child, I had dealt with a really painful autoimmune disease, and my period cramps are usually so bad that they make me physically ill. But no pain I’ve ever experienced can compare to what I felt when I had dengue. It’s been called (very appropriately) “breakbone fever” by some, and there were moments when I had such sharp pain in my fingers or my toes that I had to look at the place that was in pain to convince myself that the bone hadn’t just snapped in half.
My fever came and went, so the nurses constantly had me on medicine to keep me at a normal temperature. My nausea prevented me from eating anything for most of the week. Some of the meds required that I eat first, so there were some times that I choked down a few bites of white rice only to run to the bathroom minutes later and add diarrhea to my list of symptoms.
While physically, these were some of the most miserable days of my life, I felt surprisingly calm. I felt that I was getting really good care from the hospital staff and they seemed to be doing all they could to make me more comfortable. Josh had really long hours, but he visited when he could.
Day 7: Saturday
After almost a week of nausea and almost nothing to eat, I finally woke up on Saturday morning with an appetite for pizza. Josh brought pizza from my favorite Italian place, and I plowed through the whole thing. By the end of the day, I actually felt better for the first time since I had arrived at the hospital.
Day 8: Sunday
The lab tech came first thing in the morning to take my blood–the crook of my elbow was now thoroughly bruised from the dozens of blood draws I’d had over the last few days. Once more, I was craving pizza, so Josh willingly went out and got another pizza for me, glad to finally see me eating.
Shortly after lunch, my doctor came in and announced that my platelet levels had finally increased. Hooray! I could finish my recovery at home. A few hours later, after plenty of paperwork, I was wheeled out of the hospital and driven home, where I took my first real shower in over a week and happily curled up under my own blanket.
Day 9-14: Monday-Saturday
I spent my first few days at home back in bed. It was still a huge effort just to walk over to the bathroom, and standing up to take a shower took away all my energy. I had lost visible amounts of weight in the hospital, but luckily my insatiable pizza cravings helped me put that weight back on fairly quickly. (I think I ate about 5 pizzas in the span of a week–after all, the doctor ordered me to eat as much as I could!)
Some of my strength started to return as the week progressed, and by Saturday, I was feeling well enough to go to the mall, as long as I walked slowly and took frequent breaks.
Day 15+: Sunday-now
As I write this, it’s now day 26. I thought I would be fully recovered by now, but there are just a few small issues I’m still having. My muscles feel really fatigued after only the smallest amount of exertion, and I get lightheaded and start to black out if I walk too fast in the heat.
My doctor mentioned that it would take some time for my strength to come back. Which is why the vacation Josh and I booked months ago came at a perfect time: we’re in Bali right now! (And that means my next post will be much more light-hearted!) There’s an abundance of vegetarian food and fresh juice here, so I’m getting plenty of nutrition to help me with my recovery. Hopefully by the time I start work again late next week, I’ll have all my energy back!
Overall, I don’t recommend catching dengue fever. If you’re in an area where dengue is a threat, make sure you take precautions to avoid getting bitten by the world’s deadliest creature!