When I would get sick in California, my home state, I would stay in bed a day or two, drink lots of fluids, do a couple nasal rinses (those suckers work so well — trust), maybe take some medication at night to help me sleep and think it was nothing more than the common cold or flu. A little hydrotherapy (standing underneath a scalding hot shower spray for 3 minutes followed by 1 minute of icy cold water, repeating this cycle 3 times and always ending the session with cold water), and I would usually feel right as rain. I hadn’t been to a hospital emergency room in years.
But getting sick in a foreign country changes the game a bit.
At first though, it started with nothing but a little sore throat on Friday night, which I assumed was due to the 3 doughnuts I had decided to call lunch. The next morning, it was a full-blown sore throat, my nose was dripping and I had severe sinus congestion and pressure. It’s OK, I told myself, just do nasal rinses, drink plenty of fluids and try to flush this thing out before it gets into the chest. There’s no hot water in our shower, but you’ll be fine, I soothed myself.
I took more than 1500 mg of Vitamin C, was drinking my body weight in liquids, doing nasal rinses practically every other hour and gargling with antiseptics. By that night, I was huddled under a blanket wearing a sweater, big T-shirt, flannel pajama pants, long soccer socks and a scarf wrapped around my neck and head — and I was still freezing. With no A/C on in the apartment. (Yes, my husband has the patience of a saint: The average temperature high in Bangkok was 91 degrees F, with the average low about 75 degrees last week.)
Hmmm, I thought, this might be a little more dire than I expected —- especially when I considered that I’d been bitten 18 times on the legs by mosquitoes right before I fell ill. (Oddly, when we would go on family vacations to tropical places, my sister would be the ones attracting all the bugs. But without her sweet blood around, mosquitoes are attacking me en masse.) Words like “dengue fever,” “malaria” and “tsetse” (how do you even begin to pronounce this word?) began to flash through my mind.
To cheer myself up (through confirmation/nonconfirmation of my worst suspicions) I turned to that great bastion of hope: WebMD.com. Tsetse was quickly ruled out (the fly that carries the infection is only found in Africa) and there are few incidences of malaria in Bangkok. That left dengue fever.
Dengue fever looked promising. Besides being delightful to say, dengue fever in first-time sufferers can be mild and mistaken for the flu. Although I didn’t have nausea, a skin rash, mild bleeding and was not vomiting, I developed a fever by Sunday and (darn it!) chest congestion. The kicker: Dengue fever can not be treated by any specific medication.
Still, I thought, this might not be dengue fever. If my fever goes down after 3 or 4 days and I feel worse, then I’ll really start worrying. Sunday passed in a blur, with me mostly lying on the bed, only rousing myself to spit loogies or do more nasal rinses.
By Monday I felt well enough to visit Ikea (although “well” is a relative term; I still felt weak and woozy and wore a scarf wrapped around my head and neck in yep, 90 degree weather. But hey, it was a trip to Ikea.)
Tuesday morning began auspiciously enough. The head and chest congestion were easing, the fever going down. Energetic is not the right word, but more sprightly would not be amiss. Then I took a nap. When I woke up, everything had changed.
I could barely sit up. When I did, I was immediately gasping for breath and wheezing. When I coughed, it felt like spinal vertebrae were being pulled up my throat. Walking to the bathroom took an extraordinary amount of effort.
While doing my daily devotional in a journal, morbid thoughts began to dance through my head. Dear God, what if this is it? Is this what the coming of death feels like? I began to write down things that I was thankful for, at first to make me feel better, but as the morbidity set in, to ensure that if I did die and the journal found, I wouldn’t sound like an ungrateful wretch who kept kvetching about her illness and asking God for things.
After finishing my devotional, I slumped onto my side in a fetal position on the bed, feeling entirely spent. Dear Jesus, I thought, is this what death is? Is it a mere giving up on living? Being too tired to fight? But wait, wait! I haven’t had a kid yet! And what about Bjorn? This would definitely put a crimp in his travel plans. Then again, I thought, I don’t know the big picture and if that’s what God wants, I should let Him take my life. He’ll take care of Bjorn. And anyway, God is God. He’s gonna do whatever He wants. Or maybe this is an Isaac test; God is asking me to give my life to see if I will. And if I do die, well, it might not be so bad: Dying in my sleep is my number one preference. The first thing I would see when I opened my eyes next would be Jesus … unless I didn’t make it to heaven.
Fervent praying for forgiveness of sins ensued.
I want my last words to Bjorn to be loving ones, I thought afterward. Oh wait, what if that’s putting him above God? Shouldn’t my last thoughts be about God? But God is love, and He wants us to love one another, I argued. I’m sure He wouldn’t mind me saying ‘I love you’ to my husband right before I die. What kind of God would mind people saying loving words to each other?
With that in mind, I rolled over onto my back with a mighty effort. I stretched out my hand feebly toward Bjorn and said, “Baby, I love you.” Then I closed my eyes, breathed a deep sigh and awaited whatever would happen next.
Which was, exactly, nothing.
Death did not come and take me (obviously). I waited a few minutes, but nope still breathing, still alive. Maybe an exasperated voice said, “Jammie, get up” but that could have been me talking to myself.
I slowly stood up and even more slowly ambled down the road to meet up with a friend for dinner. After a delicious dinner of tom kah gai, rice and buko juice, I’m feeling rejuvenated and refreshed as of 9:45 p.m on Tuesday night.
So long story short: All’s well that ends with me well-fed. 🙂