Some friends and blog readers know that I came down with a mosquito-borne virus, Chikungunya, shortly after I returned to Bequia in July. This virus had been moving through the community at a fast pace until now, just about everyone on the island has either been suffering with it or is attending to someone who is suffering with it. The only doctor on the island was run off his feet seeing and treating patients, although other than recommending Paracetamol for fever and pain, and Histol for the rash, there was nothing more he could prescribe. Rest, and when you think you might be getting better, more rest. A friend who had spent the winter on Bequia didn’t come down with Chikungunya until the day she went back to Canada for the summer. Somehow she had managed to protect herself from mosquito bites until that last week, but then she was hit by it hard and it’s really affected the quality of her life.
Here’s what happened to me … I returned to Bequia on July 14th and must have been bitten that night (the virus takes 5 to 7 days to incubate), because I began feeling achy joints and feverish on the 19th – and Dennis had just left that morning for his trip to Canada. I went to bed early that night and did not have a good sleep, so not only was I not rested on the Sunday morning, but I could barely move around the house on my own, let alone make something to eat. One of the other symptoms though is a lack of appetite. I received a lot of sympathy from Dennis’s staff of gardeners and housekeepers, because they had all suffered with the virus at one time or another during the spring. At least I knew they knew I was here alone and offered to help me, if I needed anything. The fever only lasted two days and I have never even felt headachy since then. But the joint pain has increased steadily over the weeks to the point where it has been debilitating at times. I had the full-body rash, as well, but that went away again within 24-hours. What a sight, though! Red splotches over my entire body! Funny that it wasn’t itchy, either. Just unsightful.
I’ve had Dengue Fever before. In fact, Dennis and I both had it at the same time, and it was all we could do to get out of bed for a glass of water. Thank goodness the cats insisted we get up to feed them! Dengue is known as “break bone fever” because you feel as though your bones will crack if you move in the slightest. But what I remember vividly of that illness was the incredible head-pounding headaches and high fevers we suffered. I did not, thankfully, experience anything like that with Chikungunya. And Dengue only lasted about 2-3 weeks for us (although it is possible to catch Dengue a second or third time).
It’s the pain in my joints and the bones themselves that is making Chikungunya unbearable for me, and for everyone else I’ve spoken with who has had this. I’m now into the fifth week since I contracted it, and there does not seem to be an end in sight. I sometimes feel better and think it’s going away and then it just hits me twice as hard the next day. Sometimes my fingers are swollen and cramped up so badly that I can’t even type. (I have not been able to write with pen and paper at all!) Other days, it’s my knees that won’t work properly and I can’t get out of bed or stand up from a chair without help. Always, always, though, I have had an unbelievable pain in my right bicep that is not in the joint and not in the muscle, but feels as though it’s right in the centre of the bone. Of course, I’m right-handed, and I don’t have enough strength in this arm to lift and carry, or even to just do small things, like brush my teeth or hair. It’s difficult to dress myself (so I remained in pajamas most of the time, until it felt a little too much like I was lounging around the place …), or to hold and drink a glass of water, and definitely impossible to write. The pain is much worse at night when you would think that relaxing and sleeping might help. That’s when the numbness in my hands begins and it’s near impossible to get settled into a comfortable position let alone fall asleep. Even then, if I move the wrong way, I scream out in pain, waking up Dennis and the cats (although I’m now not screaming in sheer agony the way I was the first few nights …). Sometimes a hot water bottle helps, but generally I just have to hope I’ll fall asleep deeply enough that I won’t be restless at all. Taking a couple of Gravol sometimes help, but is no guarantee I will sleep.
The other problems I’ve noticed is that I’m not steady on my feet, but I also can’t sit for long periods of time, either. I need to get up and walk around just to increase the circulation again and to stop the numbness in my hands. And then there’s the lack of any exercise, because I just haven’t got the energy, and that lack of exercise is causing my calf and arm muscles to waste away. It’s becoming noticeable. And why-oh-why is this not causing my butt and thigh muscles to waste away, I ask you???? There is no justice!
The worst of it is that my mental capacities are strained. I’m lethargic and I find I’m forgetting more than usual, am not able to concentrate or even focus on anything, and this is the most I’ve written at a stretch that is more than a Facebook status update or short email. I can read, thank goodness, but I’m not sure I’m really retaining all that much.
It’s been a very frustrating 5 weeks, let me tell ya! And when I speak with others, that’s what they all say, too. We’re more incapacitated than feeling really sick. But we’re angry with feeling this way for such a long time. (Some have had these same symptoms I describe for 12 weeks or more already.) And, especially knowing that there’s really nothing we can take to alleviate the discomfort, we’re angry. The ONLY consolation we have is in knowing we can never catch Chikungunya again.
And, fortunately for me, Dennis has never caught it. He’s been looking after me all this time, since he returned from Canada. I would not have been able to survive on my own, that’s for sure. Those cats still need to be fed, regardless of how bad we may feel!
So that’s my Chikungunya story and an explanation as to why I’ve been so quiet on this blog of late. Today I have to say I feel a bit better than yesterday, but even while typing this, I’ve had to be careful of my right arm and the way I hold it. It’s beginning to become painful again now, so I will quit this. My right thumb is going numb, too. I just hope I’ll be able to fly back to Canada again at the beginning of Sept. I can’t imagine travelling anywhere, let alone on planes, feeling the way I feel right now.
Here are links that you might find interesting. And, please note, this virus is only transmitted by two varieties of mosquitoes that thrive in tropical climates. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sakes, that it does not begin to mutate in any way and spread even further than it already has!