Hospital Life with Dengue

by Nora Dunn on May 30, 2008

Hospital Update May 30th – GOOD NEWS! Kelly is on the mend. The fever has broken, and the blood tests are starting to move in the right direction. We will be released tomorrow (Saturday), in time to board the train for the 4-day ride to Singapore, with one day to spare to catch our flight to Australia.
I wrote the post below this morning, and it is a culmination of personal experiences over the last few days.


DAY 7 In The Hospital:

The only time I’ve had to reflect in the last few days has been spent in uncontrollable tears. Here are some snipits of the fun we’ve had:

– A new team of nurses joins us on Day 5. They speak no English, and seem to lack many basic nursing skills. They leave arm bands on Kelly after drawing blood, they bring Kelly paracetamol hours after detecting that he has a high fever, and they never change the sheets despite numerous requests (one of Kelly’s symptoms is profuse sweating). Once we manage to get them to do so, they don’t bring a blanket. When the chills arise, asking for a blanket with all the charades you can imagine is almost impossible.

– Kelly’s nausea erupts into a vomiting fit – the first time he has vomited in 10 years, he says. The nurse injects an anti-nauseant into Kelly’s iv, which sends him into fits of hallucination (not the good kind), pain, sweats, chills, and dizziness. He thinks he is going to die. An hour later, it subsides.

– I’ve been communicating with the insurance company almost daily. One particularly kind gentleman on the phone proves to be completely incompetent once he sets to the task he promises to do. Instead he sends me an email indicating I have to call Australia’s enrollment department myself to figure out the matter in question (who also proves to be completely the wrong department, but at least they are helpful), and to make matters worse he sends the email to the wrong address. Who spells “skies” as “skyes”??? Come on, people…

– Thursday (the day our visas expired for Thailand) comes. After being assured that we could wait until the last minute on Thursday to apply and that this is routine stuff (“no problem,” they say), I find myself at the Immigration office with the application being refused because the doctor didn’t write my name and passport number on the medical report as well. Back to the hospital I go, and am taken straight to the director, who I have to fight with to write a new report so I can get back to the Immigration office with literally 10 minutes to spare. Nice.

– We are bored with the nurses. Initially, we engaged them in all the conversation we could, learned their names, and were courteous and attentive. Now, we are just bored. So many nurses come in and out of the room, that we have started to react to them the way you react to the bus boy or server in a restaurant who has just filled your water glass for the tenth time. It’s uncomfortable and insincere to gush and express huge gratitude every time, but it doesn’t feel right to ignore the gesture either. So you politely cease conversation while they’re doing the task at hand (ie filling the water glass/administering medication/taking temperature and blood pressure/checking the iv, etc), and then thank them as they’re leaving. We don’t know anybody’s name any longer, and have lost interest in learning.

– There’s no getting around the fact that I’m absolutely exhausted. I was exhausted with the Burma project. Dengue Fever is just the icing on the cake.

And so it happens that I find myself on my way downstairs for yet another round of insurance phone calls, sitting in the stairwell in uncontrollable tears. My computer just had a mini-meltdown after three hours of effort was put into an internet posting, and it was the final straw. Kelly knew I was upset, but I wasn’t about to let loose in front of him; this was the sort of upset where things get broken. And with Kelly at severe risk for internal bleeding, I didn’t want him to be the broken one.

So I leave, go to the stairwell to go downstairs, but find myself unable to make my legs move. There I sit, on the 10th floor landing, sobbing as quietly as I can so the echo through the stairwell is inaudible. Every once in a while somebody comes through, so I stand up and go down a flight or two like nothing is wrong and resume my sobbing position.

I pray. I really pray. I pray for Kelly. I pray for myself. I pray for peace. For wellness. For happiness. For something to go right in Asia. But most of all, I pray for the strength to get through this.

The tears eventually end, and I resume my mission to make my phone calls, tear-stained face and all.

– That isn’t my only fit. Yesterday (Day 6), once again exhausted but not understanding just how exhausted I am (it’s tough to get a good night of sleep on a couch with nurses coming in every two hours), I find myself walking through the mall after a few hours of errands. Errands which include finding out where I can get some documents translated for insurance purposes, running there before they close, begging them not to charge me exorbitantly for what is basically the translation of two small receipts, and trying to impart a sense of urgency against their three-day turnaround policy. Not to mention a few other such errands, all after the big fight to extend our visas and other minor catastrophes averted.

So here I am, walking through the mall. All of a sudden, my lips go numb. My knees buckle, I am fighting tears, and I start to pass out. I had been lightheaded through much of the day, but this is profound. Maybe my blood-sugar is low, I think. Often a quick snack can solve many problems I have, including over-emotional behavior, stomach cramps, light-headedness, etc.

A small Dairy Queen (yes, Dairy Queen is in Chiang Mai) dipped cone later (something that normally would be a treat, but this time is more like taking medicine than enjoyable), I find myself sitting on a bench next to an escalator waiting to recover. I am across from a home show display. Mattresses, fridges, and exercise equipment are on exhibit under way too much fluorescent lighting. A small army of extremely bored salespeople are scattered throughout the large display, many of them talking on cell phones or text messaging their friends.

Right in front of me is a set of machines that I expect are meant to help reduce cellulite or lose weight. You stand on a platform that jiggles and bounces. That’s it. You hang on to the bar at waist level, and jiggle. I watch the machines, idly bouncing on their own, wondering why anybody would own one. It reminds me of the cellulite machines that were popular in the 50’s where you are strapped in with a large band around your hips and the band agitates, sending your entire body (but mostly your posterior) into fits of motion. This is intended to loosen up the fat I guess.

Music that was popular in Canada about five years ago is blasting from a nearby speaker. I actually enjoy listening to the tunes and I allow them to take me back to the happy moments when I used to hear them back home. Music has a wonderful way of bringing back vivid memories. I am at Bill’s place watching a funny Eminem music video when Eminem was just becoming popular, I am with my buddy Ermos from Investors Group on our way to a seminar, and I am driving to Ottawa in my fancy car to visit Kelly. All happy memories. I even find myself quietly singing along with a few of the tunes.

I snap back to reality when I realize that instead of personal cell phones being the main attraction of the bored salespeople, I now am. They are trying hard not to point and whisper, but they’re pointing and whispering.

This is my cue. I do an internal scan. Has the ice cream cone kicked in yet? Well, I feel a little better. Tears are not as imminent as they once were. My lips are still numb, but I hope it’s from the cold ice cream now. And the final litmus test: I try to stand up. Knees are working okay. I’m lightheaded, but that’s common for me when standing up. Sick or well, I’ve just whittled away the last half hour and I must get some dinner for us and get back to the hospital.

I resume my search for “something American, maybe a cheeseburger,” which is Kelly’s dinner request. I am embarrassed to be ordering American food in Thailand. I worry that people think I’m “that person” – the North American who comes to Asia but doesn’t want to eat the food because I’m afraid of being tricked into eating fish eyes or cat testicles or something. Which is quite the contrary; bring on the fish eyes if it’s an experience in cultural immersion. And Thai food is still among my all-time favourite cuisines.

But I’m here to quench Kelly’s scarce appetite, which today is for American food. As I wander the extensive food courts, riddled with indecision, another wave of lip numbing, knee buckling, light-headed nausea washes over me. Oops – I’d better get something quickly. Anything. Korean food it is. As long as it doesn’t look like green curry, it should be fine for Kelly. Half the time he barely eats what I bring him anyway.

I order and lean against a wall as they prepare the food. My stomach is churning, but not in a hunger-induced way. I want to close my eyes, and believe I could fall asleep standing up, even though I’m not feeling conventionally tired. I force myself to keep my eyes open and remain upright, grab the food, and make a final dash towards the finish line – a 10 minute walk away.

I walk intently, focused on the ground in front of me. My peripheral vision is dampening, and I coach myself out loud. “Keep going, Nora. It’s just around the corner. You can’t stop now,” I say. I feel my forehead – sweaty, but not hot. Good. No Dengue for me.

A dog barks from behind a gated property. It startles me so much I scream in a way I don’t believe I’ve ever screamed before. It doesn’t even sound like my voice. It wakes up the gate attendant who looks quizzically at me, like “dogs bark all the time here, lady. What’s your deal?” I resume my gaze on the ground in front of me and quicken my pace, embarrassed.

The elevator ride to the 10th floor takes eons. I lean against the side, staring at the blank space about two feet in front of me. I don’t even have the energy to smile at the people getting on and off, on and off, as I usually do. I just stare.

Getting back to the room, I let it all go. Bags drop to the floor, and I collapse on the couch. I can’t speak in full sentences. Tears stream down my face. I moan quietly. I can’t even qualify how I’m feeling to Kelly, who is obviously concerned. The man in hospital pajamas with an iv in his wrist is rubbing MY back and taking MY temperature. There’s something wrong with this picture.

But I don’t fight it. I can’t. The ball has dropped, and I’m officially clinically exhausted. I can’t control the tears. I’ve cried in front of Kelly before throughout this episode/adventure/disaster (whatever you want to call the last month), but not like this. I didn’t want him to see me like this. I wanted to be strong for him. But now Kelly is strong for me. All I can do is lean on his shoulder and cry.

Eventually I run out of tears. There’s nothing left to cry about. I’m tired, but I’ll be damned if I go to bed now without eating the dinner I just searched all over for. And so we turn on the tv, watch a movie, and eat dinner, side by side in the hospital bed with the bed table in front of us.

The episode has subsided, nothing left to discuss. We do our best to pretend we are sitting on a couch at home (wherever that may be). There is no iv beeping, no nurse call button, no fluorescent lights, and no gurney bed. Just us, a nice dinner, and a movie. All that’s missing is a nice glass of red wine. But alas, I said I won’t drink any more, and so we make do with what we have; a very necessary skill that we have learned on the road.

“Cheers,” we say as we clink water glasses and move on.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda May 31, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Nora, good on you, you’re much stronger than I’d be in such a situation. And thank goodness it sounds like the worst is over. You’ll make it!! Take care of both of you :-)
Amanda

Reply

Nora Dunn May 31, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Thanks, Amanda! Next stop: Australia!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: