Chikungunya, anyone?

Wednesday, day 62

The last few days have passed by in a bit of a blur, partly because of the workshop whirl one gets into in the middle of a project, and partly because by Sunday I was struck down by a mosquito-borne tropical illness known as Chikungunya. I think it started on Saturday with an ache in my knee that I assumed was due to over-exerting myself in the warm-up games that morning, but in hindsight I now suspect otherwise.

Chikungunya Virus is one of the more exotic diseases I’ve ever had (and I’ve been hospitalised for quinsy, which I’ve always considered exotic for its Victorian quaintness even though it is a horrible thing to be sick with…). But it’s no fun. It starts with a gradually growing stiffness in your joints. For me, this started in my right knee, moved across to  my left middle finger, my right index finger, my right 2nd and 3rd toes, my left heel and Achilles, and so on and so on in a strange, random pinball kind of pattern up, down and across my body until it was in my wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, neck and jaw. Sunday afternoon while eating my lunch I noticed a rash on my arms. A couple of hours later this was spreading to my legs. By the time I got the hospital Sunday evening (requesting a blood test that they didn’t have the equipment to do, it turned out) it was all over me. We wish we’d taken a photo of it as it was quite impressively comprehensive, and it disappeared just as quickly by the following morning.

I then developed a burning fever and lost most of my mobility. I could barely walk. It felt like I had the legs of a newborn foal that wouldn’t possibly bear my weight if I were to try to stand on my own. Tony or Mana Er tended to rush to my side whenever I needed to move somewhere. To sit down or stand up, I needed to use my arms, but given that my fingers and wrists were also causing me a lot of pain, I tended to have lean all my weight into my elbows. It was ungraceful, to say the least!

At that stage it looked like it could be dengue, but the only way to diagnose dengue is with a blood test, and I learned that Monday in Baucau that in all the hospitals across Timor, the equipment necessary to test blood for dengue was out of action. The only way to get a blood test was in Dili at a private pathology clinic.

We found a way to get Tony and me in a car to Dili that evening (Baucau is 3-4 hours from Dili by car). Tony packed up all our things, while I sweated it out on the bed, groaning away everytime I tried to shift my weight a little. Oh I was not a happy camper!

Tuesday we made our way to the private pathology clinic in Santa Cruz area. Does ‘private pathology clinic’ conjure images of white lab coats to you? It did for me, but this little clinic, in what seemed like a the front room of a standard private residence, off an unsealed road with wide concrete drains to step over on either side, wasn’t quite what I’d imagined, but it had everything a private pathology clinic needed to take a blood sample and test it. Lots of new sterile syringes in their packets, lots of little tubes waiting to receive blood for analysis, sticky labels for noting name of patients and the tests to be done (in my case a full blood count and a dengue fever test), and a pathologist (dressed not a white lab coat but in a blue t-shirt and a pair of jeans). He knew to expect me, and spoke to me with the low quiet voice that TImorese people tend to use when they want to speak very respectfully to someone, but that is very difficult for a newcomer like me to understand. Still, we both knew enough about what this encounter was expected to yield to get through any misunderstandings generated by language, and in just over an hour I was on my way to the Australian Embassy Medical Clinic, brandishing an envelope with my test results in it, ready for the doctor’s assessment.

Around this time Tony and I realised that my fever had almost completely subsided. I was also walking a lot better – still lurching and staggering around and losing my balance as a result of my stiff ankles and tender Achilles, but at least I was doing so without any assistance from Tony now.

And so we came to the likely diagnosis of Chikungunya Virus (or Disease, as some websites like to call it), carried around and spread stealthily by annoying little creatures called mosquitos. I’ve been steadily improving since Tuesday and hope to get back to Lospalos on Friday. This descriptive post is a bit of a departure from music education and collaborative practice, but how many people do you know, or read about, who have been struck down by Chikungunya? Here’s hoping I stay on track for a full and fast recovery!


4 comments so far

  1. Ros McMillan on

    Crikey – what a saga! Your writing is utterly gripping, Gillian, and I think everyone reading this would have felt every twinge of pain as you recounted your experience with Chikungunya! Thank goodness it wasn’t dengue fever although it sounds as though it was pretty awful.

  2. GataBalinesa on

    I know what’s you’re talking. I had this virus, my family think I caught on a trip, but I don’t know when I caught. It’s so painful, this virus causes high fever (I had only two days, but any case it’s a case), the pain is terrible. I stayed one month with it.

    • Gillian Howell on

      Apparently there are chikungunya-carrying mosquitoes in many parts of the world now – I have heard of many cases in Brazil and Italy, and the highlands of Papua New Guinea, where the temperatures are quite cool year-round. I felt like some of my symptoms lingered on for a long time – I was still getting cricky pains in my feet 8 or 9 months later. Four years on now, and I don’t think it is around – so that is good news!

      • Gillian Howell on

        Hopefully the virus has passed through you now. It really is a horrible illness to catch, very debilitating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: