By Dania Bogle
I woke up this morning with pain in my wrists and the joints of my fingers, and thought to myself, “This must be what old age feels like.”
I ran into Jamaican Olympian
Juliet Cuthbert at a local coffee shop and she expressed a similar sentiment.
“I feel like an old woman,” she told me, after explaining that she was in recovery from the chikungunya virus, which has been sweeping across the Caribbean and made its way into South America and North America.
Cuthbert, who operates a gym, said that her business had been virtually empty for weeks.
Everyone has chikungunya, referred to as Chik-V around here.
It’s a standing joke now among locals that it is so obvious when someone has been afflicted by the virus, even without having spoken to them, because you can see them hopping around on one leg.
That seems to be the defining feature of the infection.
It may sound crazy, but I knew I was going to get chikungunya.
I knew it as I sat on the loveseat in my living room four Saturdays ago watching TV.
I felt something sting my right upper arm and looked down just in time to see what I’m sure was an aedes aegypti mosquito nipping away.
He flew off before I had a chance to slap him into oblivion.
How do I know he was that particular mosquito said to carry the virus that causes both chikungunya and dengue?
Because he had the tell-tale yellow stripes that remind me of a hornet.
The incubation period is between three and 12 days. But even so, on Tuesday, when I felt slight pains shooting across my chest while climbing the stairs to my office, I just put it down to the effects of not having climbed them in a while.
I did an intense work-out, complete with aerobics and push-ups, on Thursday afternoon.
After my work-out, I was so beat that I went to bed early.
I woke up around 01:00 to discover that my right knee and ankle were swollen and I could hardly walk.
I had to drag myself to the kitchen to get a drink.
Mackenzie, my two-year-old daughter, woke up too and wanted me to lift her up, but I explained that I just didn’t have the strength to do it.
Sweet thing that she is, she asked to hold my hand to go back to the bedroom instead.
By the time I woke up on Friday morning, nothing had changed. I wondered if I had overdone the exercise bit.
I told a friend I thought I may be coming down with Chik-V, because my joints were swollen and were aching slightly.
“Are you sure it’s not the exercise?” he said.
“I must be in terrible shape,” I replied.
When I dropped Mackenzie off at pre-school, the security officer saw me dragging myself towards the door.
“You go chicken coop,” she laughed.
“I was doing some exercise yesterday, you know, so I think that may be it,” I answered.
“No man. You go chicken coop man.”
Later that day, my mother confirmed that my symptoms were similar to those of some of her co-workers who had fallen ill at the office.
They were falling like flies down there, it seems. Staff members were being lifted out by the cartful.
I think I got off easy. At least I was able to move around and I wasn’t in pain per se. It was just difficult trying to move.
I went to the pharmacy and bought some Panadol. My mom took Mackenzie to her home, and I slept out most of the rest of Friday and Saturday.
I barely ate. Got up a few times to eat crackers and drink something.
At one point, I started developing a headache, I think from not eating enough, and took some Panadol and went back to bed.
By Sunday morning, my mom told me she suspected Mackenzie had Chik-V too.
She had a fever and had been hopping around on one leg since she woke up. Later in the day, her skin broke out in a rash.
It is said that the rash usually comes on at the end, but maybe because she is so small, many of the symptoms were concentrated. The doctor confirmed that her lymph nodes were swollen.
I took her home for bed rest, with the hope that if she slept long enough, she would feel better faster. By then, I was feeling much better, which I put down to sleeping so much over the last two days.
There can be nothing scarier than a toddler with a fever of 102-plus and no seeming respite, despite regular doses of Children’s Panadol.
The scariest part of the experience was during the night, when it became clear she was hallucinating.
She started screaming and jumping when she looked up at the curtains in the bedroom and tried desperately to run away from the floral patterns on the bed sheets.
At one point, I was certain she had seen the face of Jesus or some other apparition living in our house.
When I turned the lights on to give her a sponge bath to help reduce the fever, she found something fascinating to stare at in the ceiling and in the open doorway.
Whatever it was, was moving too, as her head shifted to follow its movements.
By Tuesday, the fever had broken and she seemed to be back to her old self.
By Tuesday, I had broken out in what they say is a rash. But to me, it looked like the second coming of the Elephant Man, because the tiny lumps that covered most of my arms and legs could not be accurately referred to as a rash.
Locals also seem to be struggling with the name. It’s been called just about everything.
I heard someone refer to it as chikamonia, which sounds more like the name of an STI than a mosquito-borne ailment.
Others have jokingly referred to her as a “loose” woman, spreading her wiles to all and sundry.
I hate to say that it’s typical, but Jamaicans have also been capitalising on the epidemic to fill their financial coffers, as Panadol prices have gone up by over 50%.
There was said to be a Panadol shortage too, as some persons were stocking up on supplies of the drug in a case of “prevention is better than cure”.
The thing about this virus is that I feel much worse now than when I actually had it. I’m having real pains in my joints now, which I didn’t have when I was actually ill.
I’ve spoken to a few other persons and their experience is the same, and they share stories of others who say the same thing.
Our local health minister, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has been blasted for saying publicly that he wants to contract the virus, so he may better understand what citizens are going through.
I’ll gladly give him mine if he wants it.