It all started with that one mosquito. It even looked different — larger than the usual kind, and even today, I distinctly remember the gray and white markings on its wings and body.
I killed it within seconds of seeing it, but by then it was too late. My ankle was itching. Still, who pays any attention, right? I scratched my ankle and drove off.
Two weeks later, I noticed a few black marks on my arms, which I figured were bruises. I was running late to get to a wedding, so I paid no attention. When I got back, my back was covered in bruises and when I woke up the next morning, I had a large bruise on the inner side of my lower lip. I rushed to my family practitioner, who said: “It’s nothing to worry about. Probably a viral. It’ll go away in a day or two.”
On somebody’s instinct, I got a blood test done, but before the results could come back, I had spiked a fever and was feeling extremely nauseous. My parents took me to the nearest hospital, where the emergency room doctor ordered an immediate platelet count. It was 3,000 (the minimum for a healthy person is 150,000).
Within half an hour, I was placed in the ICU, with strict orders not to brush my teeth or shave and to think twice before so much as going to the bathroom. The next three days I was averaging temperatures of 104 degrees. I couldn’t eat. I still don’t understand how my family and friends could look at me then – my lips were constantly oozing blood. Then the fevers stopped and all hell broke loose.
In all this while, my brother and uncles were constantly hunting down volunteers to donate platelets, which were given to me twice a day for the first eight of the 10 days I was hospitalised. After the first three days, my platelet count crossed 10,000 and my blood resumed some semblance of its normal ability to clot outside my veins.
The blood oozing from my gums and lips became semi-solid. My lips turned to black stone. Two days later, the blood starting clotting in my bladder and doing pretty much what a kidney stone does – blocking the piping, 12 times. All the while, the only medicine they could give me was paracetamol to help with the fever.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the doctors couldn’t decide whether I had dengue, Congo fever or Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). Checking for ITP meant drilling a hole in the breastbone to draw a sample of bone marrow, which couldn’t be done. Why? Because my blood wasn’t clotting enough for me to be able to cope with the wound and so, if they did, I was a goner.
Everything seemed bleak, when a family friend suggested to my mother to give me the juice of a few papaya leaves twice a day. Within two days of that, my platelet count jumped past 450,000. From needing platelets, I could now donate! The doctors put me under observation for 24 hours and then the ordeal was over, or so I thought. It was a month before my muscles, particularly those in my back, realised that I was no longer bed-ridden and that they had to start doing their jobs.
To date, I shudder to think what my family went through, even just to look at me. What’s worse, not only did they have to take care of me, but they also go through the effort of finding donors so that I could get the platelet infusions I needed twice a day. I’ve learnt my lesson —take that mosquito seriously next time. And use mosquito repellent.
The writer contracted dengue in August 2009. He is a former medical student and rotary representative.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.