Paige’s Perspective #1: Chick-ung-What now?!

Authored by:
Paige S.

Paige S.

I had a difficult time deciding if this should be my first post or if it should even be featured in my blog, and in the end, I decided that I grew (and am still growing) from this experience so why not!

Fair warning it is a little lengthy!

If you are considering teaching in Thailand, then you know all about the "Land of Smiles" but do you know about the "land of mosquitos"? No, well it's not an actual title, but it should be! Thailand is a jungle, so naturally you're going to run into some mosquitos here, and with mosquitos come mosquito spread illnesses.

Insert Chikungunya.

Never heard of it? Me either until it completely uprooted the new normal, I was beginning to find here in Thailand.

I had been wearing mosquito repellant religiously for my first month in Thailand. I had still somehow managed to acquire a few mosquito bites, but nothing compared to living in the Midwest. I was genuinely surprised by the fact that I was more bothered by the mosquitos back home, but that beside the point.

Altogether, in Thailand I had acquired maybe 10 to a maximum of 15 mosquito bites. However, it takes only one, one rogue mosquito because Chikungunya is unheard of in my area. I obviously have no idea which one it was, but it was a Tuesday evening when I started to feel pain in the back of my neck and an odd achy feeling all over my body.

The fever had set in overnight along with a rash all over the front of my body. Naturally, I was concerned but I was not feeling terrible. Maybe it was heat rash? I immediately reached out to a friend in the medical field and asked if I should be worried. She was, but she couldn’t obviously tell me definitively what I had. I tried to sleep, but I tossed and turned feeling the effects of a mild fever. 

Next morning, I could barely get out of bed. In fact, when I did, it was a total out of body experience.

You know that feeling you have when you get up too fast? Now times that by a thousand. My vision had tunneled, and I couldn't hear anything. I sat back down. I was shaking, sweaty, and anxious because I had to clock in for work and I didn't think I was going to be able to put on my uniform. I could barely see my phone to message my coordinator. 

Somehow, I made it into my clothes and walked to the front office where my coordinator met me and asked if I was okay. I knew I wasn’t, but I was embarrassed by how scared I was. I said no, and she told me the school van was on the way to take us to the hospital.

The ride was a blur, but I felt every speed bump all the way to my very bones. I had no idea what to expect from the health care system here. I wasn't even sure if we were going to a public of private hospital. What did they say at orientation? Did I bring my wallet? I couldn't remember the emergency contacts, but I was lucky. My coordinator stayed with me the whole time.

We arrived at the non-emergency entrance and I was surprised by how big and clean (thank goodness) the hospital was. It resembled a fancy mall. I was quickly escorted to a section of the hospital where they took my passport and my insurance card. This confused me because I remembered at orientation, they said they would think we were strange if we handed over our iNext cards. Needless to say, the staff was confused by my insurance card. They do not have iNext insurance because it's a reimbursement type of insurance usually only carried by American travelers.

Then, we were asked to sit in the waiting area. These waiting areas have small Capri Sun like waters. Which was nice because surprise surprise I forgot my water. You had to stab your straw through the plastic seal on top of the water cup. As you can see, this entertained me to no end. 

We only waited a few minutes and I was called back to take my vitals, which they call "nursing duties". I was told how much I weigh in kg (this meant nothing to my dazed brain) and my blood pressure. She put an old fashion thermometer in my mouth, and she spoke English! Most of the staff did not but they knew to pair me with someone who did. Anyways, thermometer goes off and I had a fever.

As soon as the word fever rang out so did the masks. Masks in Thailand are worn for many reasons, and at this moment I was to wear a mask to protect other people from myself. My coordinator also asked for one.

Then we were escorted back to the waiting area. Shortly after, I was taken back again for a blood draw. Here was another odd part, she didn't wear gloves. It completely freaked me out but what could I do? My body was not reacting properly anyways. Maybe my fever brain made it up. Nope, I went back a few times for routine blood draws and I now ask every time for the nurse to wear gloves. They aren't offended. If it bothers you too, just ask.

I was asked again to wait. About an hour later the doctor could see me, and he spoke English! Albeit broken, but better than zero English. I described my symptoms and had a difficult time talking due to the mask and my fatigue. He gave me some Tylenol right away. We were both afraid I had somehow gotten Dengue fever, which I am sure you have heard of. 

He prescribed me some meds, but basically couldn’t definitively tell me why I was feeling this way, "Acute Viral Infection" that's what he called it. What does that mean? The blood test only tested for Dengue, which came back negative, so he offered to run more blood tests, but they were expensive. Keep in mind, this was all within my first month in Thailand, I hadn't even received my first pay check. So, I decided I would rather not know, especially if it did not affect my treatment. 

I was sent to the pharmacy, was called up by number like at the deli counter back home. The numbers were all in Thai, until they say me and then only my number was in LOUD English letters. I was given 5 different prescriptions, which were explained to me also in English, only to go home and completely forget what to do with each. Thank goodness instructions were labeled on them.

I paid with my Visa card ab out 2,000 Baht and was on my way. The doctor wrote me a Medical certificate, which if your unsure, I had to ask too, it’s what we call a doctor’s note back home, to excuse me from three days of work.

I was concerned I was going to get other people sick. I kept asking and the doctor could not give me a definite answer. I found out later, with Chikungunya, that it is not contagious! Unless, of course a mosquito were to bite me then go an bite someone else.

Fast forward two days, of fever, extreme joint pain that Tylenol could barely touch, horrible night sweats, hunger and boredom (thank goodness for my VPN and Disney+) I was finally starting to feel more human, and my fever broke Friday morning. 

Prior to this whole debacle, I had planned a trip with a few friends, and decided I was fever free so why not go relax on a beach there instead of sitting in my gross diseased dorm. I went and I had a great time. I brought my meds and still had some joint pain I had to work through my system every morning, mild dizziness, and other less desirable side effects that I won't go into much detail about...

At this point, I think I'm all good, and in the clear right? WRONG. 

 I came back to my dorm and that night my skin was starting to feel this strange tingly sensation. Mind you, I had been to the beach all day and in the sun. I was thinking sun poisoning. I got up to investigate my skin and literally before my eyes this crazy rash starts spreading up my arms and down my legs. This rash didn't really itch like a mosquito bite. It is hard for me to describe the sensation besides uncomfortable.

Extremely uncomfortable.

It's late at this point, and I have my first day back to work tomorrow. I decide to take a Benadryl (thank you neighbor!) and just sleep it off. It will be gone by tomorrow morning, right?

Nope, it was still going strong and the strange tingly sensation was stronger. I taught my three classes and my coordinator stopped me and asked how I was feeling. She took one look at me and it was clear on her face, I looked as strange as I felt.

Back to the hospital. At this point Chikungunya has not been confirmed so I was unsure where this rash came from. Once I arrived, they had the blood test I requested to discover if I really did have Chikungunya. I did. 

Funny enough, it was my parents who diagnosed me. Neither of them has any sort of medical training. My own doctor did not suggest it. He kept mentioning that he had no idea I had joint pain. 

WHICH I DEFINATLY MENTIONED BECAUSE IT WAS SEVERE.

Either way, I was given even more meds for my rash and it has been slowly clearing up.

I wonder what Chikungunya will throw at me next? Either way I survived a foreign illness and multiple trips to a foreign hospital. What's the saying, if you’re not uncomfortable you're not growing? I definitely did some growing this past week!

Think about it, I survived my two biggest worries about traveling to a foreign country. Foreign diseases and foreign healthcare. If I can get through this then I can pretty much get through anything! 

I hope if you do travel to Thailand you wear bug spray and never have to deal with this disease. But if you do, the hospitals are great, and OEG is there for you. They check on me periodically and send me emails with helpful information!

So, biggest takeaway here? You are not alone! You can do this! Take it from me. The one, and only CIEE/OEG participant to ever contract Chikungunya! #winner

Everything else in Thailand will be a breeze.

Right?

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