Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to Survive Dengue Fever on an International Flight with 2 Small Children

I have been wanting to write this post for awhile. Yep 2 months ago, I came down with dengue fever the day we were scheduled to fly to the U.S. I guess I should start this post by explaining what dengue fever is. I won't go into a lot of detail, because if you're reading this blog you also have access to google...and they have way better information than I can give you. Here's the short version: a really nasty painful fever transmitted by mosquitoes.

"Dengue fever also known as breakbone fever, is an infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include high fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage, or into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs.

Dengue is transmitted by several species of mosquito within the genus Aedes, principally A. aegypti." -

Dengue fever also lasts for 7-9 days. Symptoms vary widely, but the big things I suffered were a fever that lasted for 7 days, achiness, pain behind my eyes, a rash on my arms and face, orthostatic hypotension (sudden extreme drop in blood pressure upon standing), chills, terrible taste in the mouth lasting 10 days, and extreme dehydration. It was epidemic this year in Chiang Mai. I had 5 or 6 friends who had already had it, and 10,000 other lucky individuals reported cases of it in Chiang Mai this year alone. Very few died...

Anyways this is what I had, although we weren't sure about it and figured I could be miserable here in bed or on a long flight. Before we left for the airport I had a fever around 102, achy legs, and a general feeling of weakness and misery.

So how do you manage it on an international journey (one 5 hour flight, followed by a 4 hour layover and a 14 hour flight) with two small kids?

Step 1- Take at least 2 doses of papaya leaf extract before getting on the plane. We happened to have some papaya trees growing in our yard and Josh snagged some leaves and whipped this up. It tastes terrible. The brief period of "feeling better" it causes will at least last you through the first airport so you can get on the plane.

Step 2- Make sure to pass out in view of a flight attendant. Passing out doesn't do you any good if the flight attendant doesn't see it and immediately usher you into an empty business class lay-flat seat! Cha-ching! Thankfully I wasn't holding or wearing my baby when I passed out. I did wear her through most of the airports though.

Step 3- It helps to have a medical team on your flight. In our case there was an American doctor and 2 nurses who had been in Chiang Mai running a medical clinic. They took great care of me.

Step 4- Drug your babies. Okay, Hailey (7 months at the time) legitimately had a cold with congestion and we had doctor- prescribed decongestant which conveniently causes drowsiness. So she was already taking that at the time. And on top of that, the doctor on the flight put me on some medicine that causes drowsiness and also passes through the breastmilk to make your baby drowsy. Seriously, don't do this without a doctor's approval, but it worked great and our baby slept all the way through both flights only waking up to nurse briefly.

Step 5- Travel light. I originally planned on bringing 
a laptop computer and several other bulky electronics but when we suspected dengue we decided to leave that stuff at home.

Step 6- Make sure the cute little Korean grandma notices your baby and your need for help. At one point, Hailey was fussing and Josh was pacing the airplane with her while I was basically passed out up in business class. The cute little grandma noticed and asked Josh if she could hold Hailey. Hailey spent an hour or two with that woman while Josh tended to Colby (2 years old).

Step 7- Request a wheelchair in the airport. They will meet you at the plane and push you through the airport to your next gate. I felt kind of silly, but it was very helpful.

Step 8- Have an awesome husband with you. Seriously, if you
don't have an awesome husband with you....forget about it. You can't do it. He had to take care of both kids on the flight while I was out of commission and manage both of them in the airport for awhile. He also carried all the bags and made sure I didn't die.

Anyways we did eventually make it to Chicago where Josh's parents were waiting. Hallelujah!

After 4 days of dengue we finally went to urgent care as Josh was worried I might be turning hemorrhagic- my gums had started bleeding and I had blurred vision on top of everything else. We had a great doctor there who was pretty ecstatic to have his first ever case of dengue fever (we could hear him telling someone about it excitedly through the door). But he was worried that he couldn't check on my liver (or something...) at the clinic and wanted to send me to the hospital for that purpose.

I was feeling pretty near death at the time, they had me on an IV and covered in a stack of warm blankets and I felt completely unable to ever get up and leave that bed so we didn't argue and they actually ambulanced me to the hospital. (My first every ambulance ride...woohoo, still waiting on the bill for that one!)

The doctors at the hospital were pretty terrible. The first one said something along the lines of "Dengue fever, isn't that the disease from the movie Outbreak?" Good try, but nope that was Ebola! We lost all confidence in the American medical system at that moment.

The other doctor at the hospital was the "infectious disease" doctor. He came in and told us that he was testing me for malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and japanese encephalitis.....even though all of my symptoms were classic dengue and we told him we were 99% sure that was what I had. He then said, "well I'm going to go ahead and treat you for typhoid with an antibiotic just in case." Yes....antibiotics for a disease I don't have, that's exactly what I want to be taking. So Josh flat out told him that we were not going to take the antibiotic as we were sure I didn't have typhoid. He seemed offended and pretty much wrote us off after that.....

And that pretty much sums up my experience with dengue. We had an amazing time in the U.S. after I recovered. I will have to throw together a post about that later....