Jonathan Kearney and fellow volunteers Stephen and Dan work at the Centro Buen Pastor en Caguas in Puerto Rico. Jon writes a blog to chronicle his experiences.
Caguas is a 20-25 minute drive south of San Juan into more of a foothills terrain. Over the past few years, a collective effort called Proyecto Siempre Verde (Project Always Green) developed. The idea of the project is to make the rain forest more of an ecotourism attraction. A lot has to happen before any of this is realized, though. Jonathan is in the midst of developing trails through the forest. That was when a bout of Dengue cut him down. Here is his First Person Account of that experience.
Approximately one week after Dan acquired the flu, which was going strong on the island, I began to come down with something of my own. Dan had a fever and chills one night and was very weak/tired for the following few days.
A few days after he began to feel better, I was hit by a ton of bricks. One weekday night, I was watching the latest episode of the TV show House on my computer when I began to feel sick. I started the episode feeling great, but once I got to the end and packed up my computer, I could barely stand up.
It was amazing how quickly I went from 100 to 0, so to speak. We had just cooked a big dinner and I had felt completely healthy. I also got the chills instantly to a degree I never felt before. My entire body shook, so much so that my teeth began to hurt from all the chattering.
It is generally about 90 degrees in my apartment, even at night. Despite the heat, I was freezing. I became very weak and decided to go to bed early. I notified my roommates of my bizarre illness, took some Tylenol, threw on a sweatshirt, and hopped under the covers.
I woke up at least 5 times during the evening. Sometimes I woke up with the same extreme chills; sometimes I woke up drenched in sweat. My entire bed was soaked with sweat. I felt too sick to move or do anything about it, so I laid there most of the night. I knew I had a high fever, but we didn’t have a thermometer to check it.
The next day I woke up with 3 more symptoms. 1.) I had absolutely no appetite. 2.) Every part of my body ached. It was the feeling of squatting in the weight room for the first time in a long time, except everywhere on my body hurt. This made it hard to even walk. 3.) The worst part by far was the extreme migraine. I had trouble looking at light. Then I had trouble moving my eyes around. If I looked up, my eyes had a sharp, shooting pain. I continued to feel this way for another 2-3 days.
We finally got a thermometer, but only after I was feeling somewhat better. My temperature kept floating between 101.5 and 102 degrees. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt compared to the first few days and yet my temperature was 102. What was my temperature that first night? 104?
Eventually, I broke into an unbelievable rash all over my body. Up until this point a doctor and many others decided I had the flu. The rash, though, is a Dengue Fever hallmark.
I finally got to a doctor who got some blood work done. I had Dengue Fever. My white blood cell count had dropped considerably to under 100,000, and other blood work stats were off their usual levels. On a side note, the doctor noticed I had huge bites of some sort in my groin region. Before I could even begin thinking about how that could have happened, he told me that the bites were from small ants. Outstanding! The hormiguitas are expanding their borders from the kitchen to my bedroom. Just last week, I woke up to them crawling all over my face. Good stuff.
So anyway with Dengue, you can’t really do anything about it. It’s just like a severe flu with more intense symptoms. You can attempt to control the symptoms, but that may not be too effective as I found out. Taking Tylenol made my fever drop a degree or two, but it went right back up after an hour.
The major thing you have to be careful about with Dengue is developing the most severe strain. About a week after symptoms, your white blood cell count drops more than it already has and you are generally in the hospital for a while.
I don’t know all the technical terms; you can look those up medical crowd. It’s called Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever. A Puerto Rican friend of mine had this type of Dengue and it sounds absolutely terrible. After the major symptoms die down, the full recovery takes at least a few weeks. I lost 15 pounds and felt pretty weak for a long time. Writing this about a month later, I finally feel like I am back to full strength. I’m still down a few pounds, but at least I can start to exercise again.