My (second) harrowing experience with dengue

Needless to say, it was a painful ordeal.

Matthaeus Choo

Published: 9 September 2020, 12:31 PM

It has been a horrible 2020 for everyone. Apart from struggling with a global pandemic, we’ve had to deal with a large dengue outbreak as well.

Mosquitoes have been a thorn in my side ever since I was young; I am not sure what is in my blood that makes it so attractive to them.

I wouldn’t say I have always been vigilant but the rise in cases earlier this year definitely got me attentive about dengue prevention. I followed all the steps. I even wrote a piece about combating the disease.

Yet, dengue still somehow caught up with me.

It all began on Polling Day. I excitedly cast my vote as a first-time voter, had dinner with the family, and collapsed on my bed the moment I reached home. The plan was to wake up near midnight to catch the election results.

I even set an alarm just in case I overslept. That, however, wouldn’t prove to be an issue.

I woke up with my forehead scorching and my bones aching. At first, I chalked it up to the mental fatigue from the social media firestorm that surrounded the election. Then, after popping a few Panadol pills, I started getting really paranoid that I may have caught COVID-19 while doing my national duty – even if I didn’t really have the major symptoms.

It was a long night between watching the election coverage, dying in bed, and making plans on how I should break the news to my colleagues, friends and family if I did have COVID-19.

Admittedly in hindsight, I probably should have gone straight to the hospital in the morning, but to be fair I felt it was less selfish of me to head to the clinic instead of clogging up the A&E.

Sharing on my Instagram on how to make the best out of my dengue situation. PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHAEUS CHOO

The doctor gave me a swab test and I was told that I would have the results in two days. The wait was a nerve wracking experience, coupled with my worsening condition. Not only did my fever not subside, the aches only got worse, with prickling pains under my skin and a severe headache centralised at the back of my skull.

When I did manage to get off the bed, I stumbled around to pack a grab bag just in case my hospital stay would be months long in quarantine.

Finding out that I was tested negative for COVID-19 a day earlier than expected was a huge relief and it was finally then when I realised that I might have dengue. It just never occurred to me beforehand given my vigilance and how I don’t remember having any mosquito bites.

I took the blood test, tested positive and, to my surprise, found out it was my second time with dengue – I had it when I was around 10 but had forgotten about it.

The test also noted that my platelet count was at a dangerous low and I had to be hospitalised immediately.

The comfiness of the hospital would not last long. PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHAEUS CHOO

I am still not too sure about what exactly having a low platelet count means but the main danger was that if I fell and bled, the bleeding wouldn’t stop. This made me a fall risk during my four-day hospital stay, which meant that I couldn’t even leave the bed to use the toilet – I will spare the details on what had to happen whenever nature called.

The lethargy meant that I was too tired to use my phone, while the pain and cold kept me from falling asleep. I did eventually feel better after two days of IV drip.

Then, it became a battle to be discharged, which was determined by my platelet levels. It wasn’t something that could be felt. The only indication was with the blood tests at 5am every morning, with each failure to surpass healthy platelet levels being outright soul crushing.

Even after being discharged, dengue was still not done with me just yet. My next week at home saw me struggle with overwhelming nausea, which meant a few more days frustratingly stuck in bed.

It was only after two weeks that I finally felt like I fully recovered.

The view I had for most of the week even after being discharged from the hospital. PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHAEUS CHOO

Is this whole ordeal a wake up call? Not exactly, especially when I was already paranoid about dengue beforehand. I guess I was just unlucky; I must have been bitten while I was out buying meals home.

Instead, my second experience with dengue is a reminder to count the blessings I do have. While it was a painful ordeal, I still felt I was rather lucky in the sense that I could still retain food – this, despite the second bout of dengue usually entailing a package deal of all the worst symptoms.

I was touched by the outpouring of concern from colleagues and friends. Even acquaintances I haven’t spoken to in years reached out on social media and it wasn’t to sell insurance. Most importantly, I will forever be grateful for the support my family gave me during this dire period.

But I hope my ordeal will serve as a warning for those who don’t seem too bothered about combating dengue – it can hit you anytime, anywhere. Even if you have gotten it before.

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