Friday, July 15, 2011

the account of my dengue (or some such virus)

So Julie has been pressuring me to write about my dengue experience although it gets less interesting to me the more time that passes, and also it seems inappropriate to dwell on it so soon after the bad news she got health wise that was actually serious. It’s actually a pointless story with no moral at the end, just gruesome details in the middle. Nevertheless, she has persisted and agreed to my terms that if I’m going to write about it, I get to spice it with levity and hyperbole. I seem unable to write in any other manner.

WARNING: the following story is not for the faint of heart and may contain the word “vomit” many times. I may give more details than simply the fact that vomiting happened, but I promise not to discuss colors or tastes. Read at your own risk the story that follows.


Wednesday afternoon, June 29th, 2:00 pm: I suddenly began feeling terrible in my head, chest, and stomach. I blamed my meal of roasted chicken from the eatery near the church, and I continued working—although progressively more slowly. Before leaving at the end of the day, I was for some reason struck with the idea of setting up a dummy at my desk made of a large stuffed bag topped with a weird horsehead mask. I thought the church guard might see it through my office window and we would both laugh about it in the morning.

Upon returning home, I found that my temperature was 101. Julie had made a fancy salad for dinner, but I could barely manage to munch on some dry lettuce and cucumbers while we watched old episodes of House. I slept in the guest room so that whatever I had wouldn’t infect her immunosuppressed body and land her in the hospital again. A sad fact of our lives now, but I accept it with cold rationality while she tries not to take it personally.

Thursday: I call in sick for the first time in a year. Fever holds strong at 101 all day, body aches are a nuisance, and I still don’t have much of an appetite. I drink a lot of water and hope that this and almost complete physical inactivity will do the trick. I keep checking my symptoms on WebMD and, as usual, am disappointed in how unhelpful WebMD is. I keep checking when Julie isn’t looking to make sure my neck isn’t stiff and that I’m not dizzy because I hope I don’t have meningitis since that would require a trip to the hospital and would be really dangerous to both of us.

Friday morning: I call in sick again. My fever goes up and down all day, so I hope that the sickness is faltering. I don’t want to take any painkillers because I want the fever to accomplish its purpose, but I end up doing so anyway to help with the headache that is crushing my head from all sides. Advil barely puts a dent in it. Also, I begin to feel embarrassed that there’s still a stupid horsehead dummy in my office chair and no one knows why. Towards the end of the day, my appetite is picking up and I’m feeling better. Julie and I foolishly decide that nachos sound great for dinner.

Saturday: I wake up suddenly at 2 am with an overwhelming feeling of nausea and a headache that simultaneously stabs me between the eyes and pounds the back of my head. I try to sleep for another 30 restless minutes, but I fear I know what’s going to happen next. Another sudden wave of nausea sends me running to the bathroom to kneel in front of the toilet. Oddly enough, I love nachos enough that facing them again like that hasn’t ruined them for me.

Side note: up to this point, I could count on one hand (using only 2 fingers) the number of times I’d thrown up in my life: both of them traumatic. Ignoring salt-water-gargling and swimming mishaps, my farthest back memory had permanently stained carpet, and the other time (the most recent) was from a nasty sickness I picked up in Mexico when I was 14. I’ve heard many people say they love throwing up, but I have always been terrified of this action as being unnatural for my body. Now that I know the relief that comes afterward (and if you ignore the suffocating and lurching that happens during), I’m inclined to agree that vomiting is the best cure for nausea, albeit very short-lived relief.

6 am brings me to face the toilet again, which is unfortunate because I really have to go to work today. Saturday is the only day when my job title “Children’s Director” actually means something. I take some of Julie’s anti-nausea meds leftover from January and get to work at 8. I meet with our group of workers and assign jobs. I reassign my on-stage roles to people who are strong enough to stand without breathing heavily and sweating profusely. I also am unable to inflate the balloons for the games we have planned. I’m informed by several people that I am pale and look like I have malaria. I’m also informed that an organization is coming to interview me about our kids program. Perfect.

After directing everybody to their jobs, I sit in my office for a few minutes and hope to feel better enough to last another two hours until the end of the kids service. As I sat in the seat I had just kicked the horsehead dummy out of, I wondered if I might feel better lying on the cool tile floor. I opt against lying on the floor, but I do have to get on my hands and knees to relieve my nausea into my trash can. I ask someone what the best way to dispose of a trash bag of vomit is, and he tells me to chuck the whole bag in the grass across the street. To my shame, I do so, but in my defense, there’s a lot of other garbage there already.

I apologize to the man who came for the interview that I can’t stay and point him to someone else who can give him information, and then I leave immediately, bringing a spare garbage bag in the car with me just in case. I stop by the store to stock up on 7up, Sprite, ginger ale, ramen noodles, and Ritz and saltine crackers. The logic is that a restful weekend with a supply of clear fizzies and salty starches would hopefully cure me.

When I get home, Julie hears me vomit for the first time in her life. She says it sounds awful. I am dimly aware that I sound a lot like my first college roommate when he’d get home at 3 am—a noise I refer to as an “angry vomit.” I can do the impression for you in person sometime if you’d like.

After the fifth vomiting, I feel no relief whatsoever from my nausea, and I secretly hope for a quick death. Also, the math seems pretty clear to me: 1 quart of liquid in minus 5 quarts of liquid out puts me at a clear deficit. That, and I can’t do anything to relieve or get my mind off the pain. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen together won’t relieve my headache which has spread to my eye sockets, so I can’t read or watch TV, and it only lowers my temperature to 99.5. Even speaking requires great effort. I grab another trash bag and ask Julie to take me to the hospital to get rehydrated.

That’s pretty much where the story ends. The doctor said I probably had dengue (a mosquito-born virus that is in epidemic force every rainy season) even though the test came back negative. At the very least it was some kind of non-contagious virus that behaved like dengue. The only treatment is lots of Tylenol and strong anti-nausea meds until the virus runs its course. I did the research and found that if it indeed had been dengue, it was mild dengue since I neither felt like my bones were breaking nor did I have any kind of hemorrhaging.

I used to think that it would be cool to get dengue just to say that I had had it. I have since decided that death would possibly be preferable to getting it again.


Well, if you read this far, thanks for putting up with my long-windedness. Incidentally, the people that came to interview us made a video about us (as part of a video about people who are trying to help children and youth). You can find it at but it is in Spanish. The footage of us starts at about 1:00.


  1. Oh my gosh, Chase!! That sounds awful, but you did a good job storytelling, because I couldn't help but laugh throughout this story. There IS a moral of the story, though -- be careful what you wish for (or in this case, think is cool...?). I'm glad you're better.

  2. Love how you can write a story.

    #1 disappointed in how unhelpful WebMD is.
    #2 embarrassed that there’s still a stupid horsehead dummy in my office chair
    #3 relieve my nausea into my trash can
    #4 “angry vomit.” I can do the impression for you in person sometime if you’d like.

    And yes the impression is great.
    miss you two, hope in one-two weeks we can have some once eatin' nachos!



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