My First Experience With Dengue Fever

My First Experience With Dengue Fever

How I May Have Contracted Dengue

I had to get stitches in my foot back in December 2018 and we had returned to have them taken out in early January. My wife and I suspect that it was during that return trip that my daughter and I contracted dengue fever. We waited a long time for a ride home at the terminal. We have never had to be at that place in the late day when the sun is setting - prime time for dengue spreading mosquitoes to be biting. There was standing water around and the mosquitoes were biting. We thought nothing of it. 

Dengue Begins

We had lived in the Philippines for almost ten years and never had any encounter with dengue. It was maybe two days later that I had a very unusual and sharp pain in my right abdomen. It was very brief, but very intense. There were maybe a half dozen jabs like that over the next couple of days and then nothing. Then after two days of feeling strange and thinking that maybe I was getting a cold the fever hit. It was 10 PM on a Saturday night when I decided to take my temperature and it was 101.5 F. I thought nothing of that, except that I had been right about the cold. I went to sleep as usual. 

The next morning when I woke up I had the worst upper back pain of my life. The fever was still present and I started taking acetaminophen. That was Sunday morning. The pain in my back continued throughout that day and I still presumed that maybe I had the flu. I went to sleep at 10 PM Sunday night and woke up four hours later at 2 AM. At first I did not find this strange. Many times I have awakened like that. But I was not able to get back to sleep, which again I did not connect to the illness as I did that from time to time. 

Our Daughter Shows First Signs Of Dengue

When day broke my wife told me that our daughter had a fever. I presumed that she had caught my cold/flu. It was not too high - only 101 or so. But by around noon the fever was climbing to 103+ and I told my wife to go buy biogesic (acetaminophen), since I had used it all. Our daughter's fever responded well at first to the biogesic and the fever came down to 101 and she was able to sleep. Within an hour or two she awoke and the fever was 104 - then 105. She vomited and I told my wife to call the ambulance. Her temperature reached 106 the last time I took it before the ambulance arrived.

By now it was early evening on Monday when we arrived at the emergency room. ER personnel began tests. I told the doctor that I suspected flu, but the high fever was a mystery. My own illness was on the back burner of my thoughts, but I did start to notice what seemed to be auditory hallucinations - unintelligible voices and such. I also kept hearing the beeping of my daughter's thermometer even though it was nowhere around. Within a couple of hours the doctor had received results of our daughter's blood tests and shocked us with a confirmation of dengue due to a positive IgM test. 

That night we were unable to get a room at the hospital so we were forced to stay in the emergency room. I still did not find my inability to sleep to be strange. I thought that it was just the excitement and worry. 

By Tuesday morning we had a room and our daughter’s treatment was well underway. Because we had sought treatment early our daughter's platelet count never went below 280. Her potassium was at 3.3, which is a little low, so the doctor began an IV drip to bring it up a bit and to make sure that it did not fall. 

Dengue Would Not Let Me Sleep For Days

It was now Tuesday afternoon and I had been awake for 36 hours. I realized that something was wrong and I requested something for sleep from the ER personnel. They gave me diphenhydramine, which I had taken for sleep in the past. I knew there was a problem when 100 mg of diphenhydramine had zero effect. I returned to the ER desk and asked if they could find a doctor who could see me and possible give me something stronger. The doctor I visited prescribed Klonopin, but it was no help at all. 

Whether it was the medication or my illness, I was now having visual and auditory hallucinations. I fell asleep briefly in my daughter's hospital room and my wife and daughter told me that had had raised up from my sleep speaking incoherently. The sleep that I was able to get was only brief and not restful at all. I was in the same bad shape and getting worse. 

My Daughter And I Are Both Diagnosed With Pneumonia

By Wednesday morning I still had no sleep since 2 AM Monday and we received notice that in addition to dengue fever our daughter also had pneumonia. By that evening my mind and body were falling apart from lack of sleep and sickness. The nurses looked at me and said that I should see a doctor. When they took my blood pressure it was 150 over 120 - my normal BP is 110 over 70. I could feel myself literally dying with each breath. 

My wife went with me to the emergency room where they preceded to run tests on me. The ECG was fine, but my chest X-ray showed likely pneumonia and my platelets were much lower than our daughter's ever had been. I had the same dengue and pneumonia as our daughter.

Dengue Feels Like Death

I began giving my wife all of the information that I thought she might need if I did not recover - it was that bad. I made her write everything down. 

At some point it struck me that if I could sleep I could beat the sickness or have a fighting chance of doing so. Unless the disease becomes hemorrhagic, much of the effect (to me) seems to have been psychological. It made me think that I would die, but perhaps I could use my mind to fight it. I had to find a way to make myself sleep so my anxiety and my blood pressure could ease. 

Back in our daughter's hospital room I laid down on the metal chairs and tried to make myself sleep. Each time I would start to doze off what seemed like a strong electric shock jolted me awake. My entire body would spasm. This happened several times until eventually I was able to get past it and sleep - but only for a couple of hours. That two hour sleep was a huge victory after almost three days with no sleep. I knew that I could do it again. I went through the same process of trying to relax and visualizing a green pasture or a country road winding through green hills. Not long after I put myself into that place the sleep came. Again it was only a couple of hours but it was enough to refresh me. 

Recovery And Looking Back

Fortunately for our daughter and me, the dengue never turned hemorrhagic. We both were able to go home with courses of antibiotics for the pneumonia. Our daughter's recovery was uncomplicated and she was back to normal within two weeks. For me the sleep disturbances continued for months and I still have problems with insomnia, tinnitus, and electric shocks that I blame on the dengue. 

Dengue was one of the most unusual experiences on my life. I have no memory of much of it. I came as close to death as I ever have or at least felt that I had. In the worst of it the whole world seemed to be melting and me with it. I felt like I was in that Dali painting. I lost all track of time. There are a lot of gaps in my memory of those days. What is more concerning to me is that I had to wander around a strange place buying meds and supplies while my wife was with our daughter in the hospital. I remember trying to communicate with people and how they looked at me and responded to me. I am lucky that no one took advantage of my weakened and delirious state. 

The experience made me hyper aware of how close death is at all times. Death can come from the smallest things - things we never suspect of being the end of us here. It makes me see most of what people are doing as being so vain and meaningless. Without love you have nothing at all.  Without people to love and who love you back you have no life worth living.

And in an instant the ones you love can be taken from you forever. 

Or you can be taken from them.

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