In 2009 Canadian folks were fearful of catching the flu. No one wanted aching muscles, chilling waves of nausea, scratchy throat and fever. No one wanted to miss work or family outings. No one wanted the inconvenience of suffering.
Arriving in San Pancho, Mexico, that same year, I witnessed queues of anxious people lined up in front of hospitals. Signs with bold red letters announced “Dengue Clinic.” Upon further investigation I learned that dengue is characterized by fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain.
Within two weeks, with my house still unfurnished except for a long wooden table, I developed flu-like symptoms. My head hurt and my temperature was rising quickly. Lucky for me my newly hired gardener was working outside. I mentioned that I felt ill, my head hurt, and I was feverish, and therefore could not assist him with decisions. “Okeydokey,” he replied, “but you have dengue.” He proceeded to rush me to his car, a sporty red jeep with one seat and no passenger door. I climbed in to sit on the floor and he rapidly drove me around the corner to the hospital. “Adios,” he waved cheerfully. Feeling increasingly worse, I fell in line with the others outside. Men and women were laughing, chatting and drinking Coke. After about ten minutes a woman said to me “This just the waiting for friends; you are going inside?” Ah ha, I was not in line, so I staggered inside where about fifty people were sitting in a waiting room. No one was at reception and I felt close to death.
I gestured frantically to the women beside me, all the while pointing to the front desk. “Go, go,” she said, and so I lifted up the counter and went. “Tengo dengue,” I announced to the busy doctors and nurses I found behind the front lines. Suddenly a handsome young doctor said in English, “I will see you right now in here.”
Imagine my surprise as I, feeling on the verge of passing out, was ushered to a wooden chair while he used a manual typewriter to record my history. “Do you have a husband, boyfriend?” “Do you live alone?” “Did you come forever?” “Aren’t you lonely?” That was it! I put my head down on the desk and began to sob. “YYYYesss,” I stammered, raising my head slightly to accept the anticipated pat. “Do you own your house or rent?” he continued.
I was then given a chance to run (now my fever was confirmed at 105) across the street to the farmacia and buy a pee bottle. With the bottle filled I once again entered the forbidden zone. “Okeydokey” ( a common expression) said the doctor, “and we will now take your blood.” He continued with authority: “Yes, it’s true you have dengue, and you must not vomit, but you must eat every day so that you don’t become anorexic.” That stopped me in my tracks. Anyone who knows me would definitely never imagine me thin. “There is no medicine,” he continued, “just come back here every day so that you don’t bleed because that is very fatal.”
I am a brave sort, but given the fact that it was now night, and I was beginning to
hallucinate, I whimpered slightly. I staggered along the dusty path, no moon to guide my faltering steps, and imagined I saw cougars, boa constrictors, and scorpions. I don’t have night vision, I had no flashlight, and not a soul was wandering with me. I picked my way through wet patches, coconut droppings, and palm leaves until I saw the lights of a house and realized it was my street. Never was I so happy to see my concrete floors and my lone table.
For the next two days I slept on my table, moaning throughout day and night, and tried to keep a tablespoon of yogurt down. I had to chant “not vomiting, not vomiting,” as I swallowed. On the third day there was a knock at my door and there stood the kindly and eccentric recyclables collector, welcoming me to the neighbourhood. When he heard that I had dengue he took pity on me and brought me juice and papaya leaves every day.
I became very familiar with the hospital as I went for daily blood checks, and each time the doctors assured me that they would not let me die. I met my neighbour, and we found we both spoke Spanglish. She was having “De Glasses,” which turned out to be dialysis. I discovered that the walk did not offer any threats, wild animals or human. In fact my neighbours smiled and waved, and welcomed me each day. After six trips my platelets had returned to normal. (I think it was the papaya leaves.)
At the end I asked how much money I owed, and the English-speaking doctor paused, and with a smile as wide and beautiful as the sunset, said, “You want to pay for dengue?” “Oh no lady, it is free today and so is the treatment.”
Karoul Talaba is a freelance writer from Canada. Trained in Child Psychology, Karoul has written and published journal articles and children’s stories. In 2009 she relocated to San Pancho, where she continues to work with children.