It’s Hike Fest season again in Dominica and for the first time in its seven-year history, I am not along for the fun. My pace would lag greatly behind even the most novice intrepid, because these days I am doing the chikungunya shuffle! No, it’s not the latest dance craze or a new form of exercise. A number of my faithful followers have asked me why there have not been any posts on Ti Domnik Tales for the past two months. Apart from attending to my cat Tia-pet, whose health was failing rapidly before his imminent death on May 3rd, I am still struggling with some pronounced and debilitating symptoms from a little-known illness in this part of the world.
Chik-un-GUN-ya is a mosquito-borne viral disease that arrived on the French island of St. Martin in December 2013. (It was first detected in East Africa in the early 1950’s, soon-after India, later South-East Asia and now there are occasional outbreaks in other tropical areas). It has recently spread to other countries in the Caribbean region like wildfire! When the first cases were reported in Dominica early in 2014, I was as concerned as everyone else and hoped that I would not ‘get’ it. An intensive insecticide fogging program initially affected me adversely, as I am intolerant of those types of chemicals. The particular mosquito that carries this ailment likes to hang out in domestic areas, and as such, residents were urged to clean up their properties and ensure that there was no standing water about.
However, in a very short while, many people fell ill in certain locations on the Nature Island. I am not aware of anyone else getting sick in my neighbourhood, but then I had spent time in an open building very close to a village with many confirmed cases of the disease. It is possible that I was bitten there, but it also could have been somewhere else!
When I woke up on Monday April 7th, my feet and ankles hurt and I felt more tired than usual. I figured that I had walked too hard in the mountains the previous day and was now paying the price. Then as I typed on the computer keyboard, my fingers became very painful and I noticed that some joints were swollen. I thought that I must be spending too much time typing and it was showing up on this day. By mid-afternoon, I really didn’t feel right at all. I had not taken my temperature for years, but as I was about to head out to my vocal ensemble’s regular practice, I thought I should check it out. To my surprise, I registered 99. 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I am someone who is always below ‘normal’ in terms of body temperature, so I was very shocked to have a fever. When I called to cancel my attendance at the rehearsal and later phoned another friend, the refrain was the same: “Chikungunya’s got ya’!
As evening approached, I felt as if I were on fire. I was flushed and hot and sought comfort by lying down on a sofa cushion placed on the floor in my office. I did not sweat and felt as if I were burning up. I drifted off to sleep but awoke a few hours later in great discomfort. Not only was my dear Tia-pet lying on my chest but I was profoundly aching from head to toe! I struggled to get up so I could go to the bathroom. I headed to the toilet in my bedroom and almost didn’t make it: lovely lavender-coloured spots appeared before my eyes and I could feel myself losing consciousness. I dropped onto the bed (thankfully I was close) and lay there for a while, relieved that I did not faint. I grabbed the thermometer and thought that I must be hallucinating when it registered 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. I hadn’t had a high fever since I was seven years old! (And that was a long time ago…) I bent over at the waist as I slowly crawled off the bed to get to the toilet. I was alarmed when the pain became excruciating just to sit down on the seat!
Next morning, I had to go to the laboratory for some prearranged, unrelated blood tests. When I told the technologists about my symptoms, well, you know what they said. I asked them if it could be confirmed and they told me I would have to wait five weeks to ensure that antibodies could be detected. On the way home, I stopped at my local grocery store to stock up on juices and water. I had no appetite for anything else, but I did crave sugar and I was glad I had stocked up on coconut water at the Roseau market a few days earlier. As the pain in my joints intensified on that second day, I settled myself on the sofa. I tried to read but couldn’t hold the book. Watching TV hurt my eyes. Music irritated me. I drifted in and out of sleep for the next five days, while the fever dropped a couple of degrees by day and then rose again each night. Lymph nodes swelled all over my body. I guess I should have known that we have so many. And I have never taken so much paracetamol in my entire life!
By the fifth day, a hot itchy red rash covered my face, chest, arms and legs. It looked like red measles (for any of you who suffered through that disease before a vaccine was developed, you will recall what I mean…). I still couldn’t eat but I did have to feed the cat. He was my one and only priority – I wasn’t good for anything else. Unrelenting nausea prevented me from preparing a proper meal. When I was mobile again after a couple of weeks ( when the fever was gone and I was apparently no longer contagious), I resorted to having one meal every few days at my favourite eateries: Cartwheel Cafe; Desiderata Cafe; Zam Zam Cafe; Romance Cafe; and Papillote Wilderness Retreat. The staff had heard my story and spoiled me with the best fish and vegetarian dishes. I could not eat chicken for several weeks as it did not agree with me. Fruits and vegetables filled me up and I then felt better.
I was really hobbling around, but it would have been much worse if not for the exceptional treatments from physiotherapists Ariane Magloire (German-trained) from Laudat and Martine Varlet (French-trained) from Mero. Every week, I went to one or the other and they worked on me to relieve pain and enable improved circulation to the most problematic joints and tendons: feet; ankles; knees; elbows; wrists;hands;fingers; and a few other tender spots. I have noticed that the pain seems to migrate and is worse in one joint for a day or two and then moves to another! The virus also seems to persist in areas of previous injuries. After seven weeks, I am up to walking half an hour a day without too much pain. I still plan to hike the two outstanding segments of the Waitukubuli National Trail as soon as I am able – but that won’t be next week!
I have also helped myself in a number of ways. Apart from good natural food and as much walking as I can tolerate, I have tried some local herbal medicines, including papaya leaf tea (very bitter – I added 1 teaspoon of honey) and an external rub of bay leaf oil mixed with coconut oil on sore, swollen joints. I have also consulted regularly by phone with my naturopathic physician, Dr. Shawna Clark in Orillia, Ontario Canada. She prescribed various homeopathic remedies which provided some relief from symptoms. I have resumed singing and am resting a good deal of the time as fatigue is still quite pronounced. I did have to cancel my French classes until September 2014. I do have difficulty concentrating and studying is difficult. I also go to bed around 7 p.m. most nights, so any social life is on hold for the moment. I do take the occasional ‘sea bath’ at Champagne Beach or Mero Beach if the water is calm and I do warm and cool water soaks whenever I am at Papillotte Wilderness Retreat.
When I recently learned from test results that I had both active (IGM) chikungunya and dengue antibodies, I almost felt relieved. Now I knew why I had felt poorly for such a long time! Apparently, I might be the first confirmed case of co-infection in Dominica, but there may be others who have not taken the official blood tests. It has been noted that the same type of mosquito can carry both viruses, which have some similar symptoms.
It was then I decided that I needed to take a little break before travelling to Canada in June. As you know, the dear kitty had passed and was buried (thankfully, friend Nancy at Springfield helped me with that) and I was long overdue for a little excursion. I spent last weekend at a lovely boutique hotel called Beau Rive on the east coast near the village of Castle Bruce. It was a wonderfully restorative and restful retreat in immaculate, tranquil surroundings with good food, friendly staff and fresh breezes from the Atlantic Ocean. I will tell you all about it in the next post!
In the mean time, stay well, readers and take good care of yourselves. Don’t let me catch you doin’ the chikungunya shuffle!