29 August 2007

The Night I Internally Combusted

It was day four when things really started to go downhill. My fever was still on the rise, even though big-time antibiotics were being pumped into my blood day in and day out AND I was popping two Tylenol every four hours.

About two in the afternoon the body aches (which had subsided thanks to some heavy duty pain killers) came back in a big way, and I began to feel my heart beating in every part of my body. My head was pulsating, my arms were pulsating, my thighs were pulsating…I began to sweat again, and I literally felt like I was on fire. At 4pm the armpit thermometer read 104.7 degrees and from then on, I don’t remember much.

I drifted to sleep just moments later, and never touched my dinner. Watching movies seemed too exhausting and since I was sweating so much, I didn’t really have a need for the bathroom. MY BODY ACHED SO BAD I COULD HARDLY BREATHE. I was melting through ice packs every half hour.

What I do remember is the nurses coming in every hour to check my pulse rate and body temperature, and every time they were more and more concerned until, around midnight (so they told me the next day) it hit 106.8 degrees and they kicked into “life maintenance” mode. Four nurses were with me at all times, changing the twelve ice packs that covered my head, body, arms and legs every ten minutes, because I was burning through them so fast.

The sweating only got worse, and they ended up putting me on a bed of towels, changing both the towels and my gown every half hour. I do know I was hallucinating something terrible, and remember feeling like the nurses were enormous, asking them not to “hurt me.” The hallucinations were strange and to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I was seeing, though I can recollect images of my grandma who died three years ago, different types of food and nondescript faces. The nurses also told me I kept asking them to turn the TV off. It was, of course, off the entire time.

It continued this way until 6am, when my fever started to break. By 8am my body temperature had dropped to 99.1 degrees and the horrible body aches had subsided, though I did remain ungodly tired from “fighting the fever” all night long. “Totally normal,” the doctor said. Apparently, the signature “ordeal” with Dengue is a continually rising fever that, on the 6th or 7th day, peaks and breaks, followed by a return to normalcy in terms of body temperature.

I slept most of the next day, simply trying to regain my strength from the night before. The only interruption to the nothingness was a two-hour in-hospital magazine interview that included a cover photo shoot of me IN MY HOSPITAL BED. HOT.

Twenty four hours later I felt like a different person, shocked that I was actually “well” after such a long period of “yuck” when you all but forget what it felt like to be well in the first place. The doctor graciously had the hospital manage a medical flight change and all but forced me to leave the country, as a Dengue outbreak was spreading across all of South Asia and he did not think it was a good idea to spend any more time in that environment.

My flight – 16 hours nonstop from Bangkok to LA – was, per usual, delayed 6 hours, which left me wandering the airport aimlessly, forced into a Duty Free mall that had NO SEATS anywhere. Perfect for an ingrate like me!

I arrived back in the US upset to have missed the incredible site visits but relieved to be able to recover in the comfort of my own home. This sign greeted me:

And instantly, I remembered why I loved being abroad so much...Off again in just a few days! Mexico Saturday. WHOA.

Just for laughs, this is a self-portrait my Dad took while waiting for me at the airport. This is about how I felt most of the time I was in the hospital (he doesn't actually look like this in real life).

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