Monday, August 25, 2008

The Bubonic Flu

Saturday and Sunday

I am finally able to get a little sleep in the morning, but I feel miserable. Scott Skypes me around eight o’clock and I have no voice to talk to him. He tells me I need to eat and drink a lot of fluids. We hang up just four minutes into our call. I intend to go downstairs to eat, but fall asleep instead.

I have to call Julianne and cancel our plans for the day, but I can barely keep my head up to manage dialing. I can’t get through to her number and I can’t keep trying. I figure she’ll see the missed calls and call me back.

I have to call Palminder and tell him not to come. It feels like I use the only energy I have to find my purse and get his card from it. He answers the phone, “Yes madam.” I tell him I’m sick. He shouldn’t come today. “Okay madam,” he says.

At eleven thirty I get a call from the guard, “Madam, your driver. Car for you.”

I guess Palminder didn’t understand. I tell the guard, “Tell him he can go. I don’t need a driver today. I’m sick.”

“Okay madam.”

Five minutes later, the phone rings again. “Madam, your driver. Car for you.”

“No. No car today. I’m sick,” I squeak, then hang up the phone.

Five minutes later, the phone rings again. This time it’s Ms. Sonu. She wants to tell me my driver is waiting for me. What the heck, I think. Does anybody understand the word no?

I tell Ms. Sonu that I called Palminder and told him I’m sick. I won’t be needing a car today. She asks if I need to see a doctor. I told her I’ve already seen one, thanks.

I’m relieved I won’t be getting any more phone calls on that matter. I sleep a while longer, then Julianne calls. I tell her I’m sick and I have to cancel our plans for the day. She asks if I’ll be going to church tomorrow. We decide she’ll call in the morning to see if I’m up for it.

The fever today feels severe—worse than I can ever remember having a fever, except maybe when I had chicken pox in fourth grade. I curl into the fetal position trying to get warm but fail. I wonder if the doctor’s diagnosis was totally wrong and I do have the plague after all. I have developed a bronchial cough and this, to me, seems to complete my cornucopia of symptoms of the pneumonic plague I read about on the web. Fever, chills, cough. I certainly feel more like I have the plague than a cold today.

I spend the day in bed, waking and sleeping. I don’t turn on the tv. I don’t read a book. I don’t have the energy. I sleep and wake with a metallic taste in my mouth. I drool on my pillow because I can’t breathe through my nose. I tremble from cold and somehow wind up sweaty. I manage to shakily walk to the bathroom and take some more Ibuprofen, almost overturning the bottle with my trembling hand.

The Ibuprofen makes the shivering stop so I can at least rest. Just as with the necrosis, I wonder how much worse it is going to get before it starts getting better. “Will there be a rotting hole in my leg?” I wondered with the necrosis, which is now reduced to a large pink scar. “Will this kill me?” I now wonder about my new predicament. I envision myself having to fly home to the States for medical treatment in a space suit that keeps me quarantined on the plane, air marshals all around me. Then I envision myself in an Indian hospital freaking out about needing new needles. Neither of these visions are appealing. Why do I bother putting myself through these scenarios? For the sport of it?

At dinnertime, I microwave a packet of pasta that Scott sent to me in a care package. Then I Skype with Scott. This time my voice has come back a little and I have enough energy to carry on a conversation. I still don’t feel like I’m out of the woods, though. I feel like this disease could slam me back on the ground any second and I wouldn’t have a word to say about it.

I’m too sick to spend too much time worrying, though, and I roll back into bed after hanging up with Scott. I highly doubt that I’ll feel well enough to go to Mister Kundari’s temple with him and Diljesh tomorrow morning, but I still have to wake up and give them my regrets. I can’t just ditch an invitation to feed the hungry.

Rather than fool with my incontinent alarm clock by resetting my wake up time, I decide to rely on my internal alarm clock. I have this strange ability to name a time in my head, then wake myself up at exactly the time I’ve named. No alarm: just this weird internal alarm clock. I can’t think of a time when it’s failed me.

I just tell myself as I’m falling asleep, “Wake up at 5 a.m. Wake up at 5 a.m.” I have to keep repeating it and focusing on it, otherwise it might not work. I can’t let other thoughts intrude. I have to concentrate.

And when I open my eyes, it’s dark outside. Something tells me I should look at the clock. When I do, I notice it reads 5:06. Six minutes off, but still not bad for an internal alarm clock. No battery required.

As I suspected, I still feel horrible. I lay around for a few minutes then put on a pair of pants with the t-shirt I slept in and walk outside my gate where Diljesh told me he’d meet me. The guard at the gate greets me, “Good morning, madam. Madam, walk?”

He thinks I’m going on a morning walk, which is apparently a popular thing for the ladies to do here, but I am in no condition for such sport. I stand in the street for maybe two minutes waiting for Diljesh and my legs begin to wobble under me. My arms feel heavy. I am considering going back inside when I see Diljesh in an orange turban. He walks brisky, “Come, let’s go!” I tell him I can’t go. I’m sick. He says Mister Kundari is sick too. He has stomach problems. Maybe I’ll come and feel better later?

I tell him I have a fever. “Oh, well, then you can’t go. Maybe some time. Maybe next Sunday you come,” he says, and springs off into the dark dawn.

I drag myself back up the marble staircase, put my pajamas back on and land in bed again where I sleep until it’s time for Scott’s Skype call. What little voice I have I’m making work this time. As I’m talking to him, I notice I’m drenched. My shirt is wet. My undershirt is wetter. There are drops of perspiration running down my arms. My hair is wet.

“That’s good. Your fever is breaking,” Scott tells me.

“How do you know?” I ask skeptically, interpreting this as just one more horrible symptom to add to my tally, wondering if I should go to an emergency room.

“I don’t know. My mother told me?”

He tells me I should see if my friends from church can bring me anything I might need. Do I need food? How about some antibiotics? Why don’t I take some antibiotics? The guesthouse phone rings. It’s Julianne calling to see if I’m going to church. I tell her I’m still sick. She asks if there’s anything I need. I ask if they would be willing to get me some antibiotics. I remember the name of the one they prescribe for plague and tell her that one. The report on plague said that people who are treated early have a mortality rate of fifteen percent, as opposed to people who are treated after the disease has progressed—who have a mortality rate of sixty percent. Why do I ever read health information online? When will I learn?

Julianne says she and Susie will come over after church with antibiotics of some sort for me. I thank her profusely.

Scott wants me to drink more fluids and eat breakfast today. Eat eggs, he tells me, even if they’re gross. I should go eat breakfast and take a shower and he’ll call me back at 1 a.m. his time to check on me. I tell him not to be silly, but he doesn’t listen. He’s calling me back at one in the morning to see if I’m okay. He might be cranky and tired, but he’s calling.

I stop to think. I must be better today. I am standing up instead of lying down. I can think about getting breakfast, whereas yesterday, this wasn’t even a near possibility. Though I’m shaky, I walk downstairs and ask for my naash taa with egg this time, but no onion.

They bring me a red mango, a banana, toast and the omelet. I can’t find the morning paper, so I pick up a magazine with a cover article about terrorism in India. The editor’s note at the front says that India isn’t doing enough to fight terrorism and that since 2003, it is second in body count only to Iraq. I wish I’d chosen another article. How about that friendly issue of Expat? It will tell me all about the Indian handicrafts of some random southern state here.

A friendly man all dressed in white sits down at the table and starts asking questions. He has the voice of Morgan Freeman. Am I here on business? Oh, so I wanted to have the Asian experience, did I? How am I finding it?

I want to tell him I’m finding it hard to keep my head from falling into my plate of eggs right now, but I manage a smile and some friendly banter until he excuses himself. “Sorry I have to rush off,” he says. He leaves his room keys on the table and is gone.

Upstairs, the salty eggs execute a similar quick exit. So much for my protein. I take a hot shower, thankful for the hot water, as I am every time it comes out now. It’s just an hour or so before Scott said he’d Skype me back, so I take a nap.

Scott wants to know if I ate. I did, but it didn’t go very well. Did I drink? Yes, I’m drinking right now. I’ve almost had a whole liter today. Okay. That’s good. Keep drinking. When are my friends from church coming? Soon. After church.

He starts to hang up but hears me choke up when I say goodbye. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel okay as long as I’m talking to him, but when he hangs up, I’ll be alone again. He lets me cry and stays on the line until I’m reassured. It’s okay. I’m okay. I finally let him go to bed.

A short while later there is a knock at the door. It’s Julianne and Susie. They look so happy. I am so glad to see them. They thought they would stop over here and see if there was anything else I needed before they went to the chemists for me. Also, they don’t think I should just take some random antibiotics. They also talked to Ruth at church who has some nursing experience and, like, eight kids who have all gotten weird Indian diseases. Ruth says that if the fever doesn’t break in three or four days, then you should go to a doctor, but otherwise, you should be okay.

I tell them about sweating this morning. Susie, whose mom is a nurse, says she can tell I’m better by looking at my eyes and just from seeing that I’m up and walking around. If I had something like dengue fever or malaria or something, she says, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish even this. She tells me with a sense of authority that I’m on the mend. The fever might come back and break again, but it shouldn’t come back as bad as it was, as high as it was.

She says when you travel thousands of miles, your immunity system can’t combat the viruses around you, so this sort of thing happens. Her roommate just had a temperature of 104. They were getting ready to take her to the hospital. Then she was better the next day.

Julianne announces that she’s come bearing gifts. She takes out a Ziploc bag of Tylenol Cold, Tylenol, “And I gave you some band aids, just in case,” she smiles. The gesture is so thoughtful and caring it almost makes me tear up.

“And, I got this for you,” she hands me gold-leafed Bible. “I thought since you’ve been coming to church every week with us, you might want one.”

Susie and Julianne tell me they know it must have been scary being that sick and being alone. They tell me I can call them anytime, day or night. Julianne can come over here and do her studying to keep me company, she says. And Susie knows a good doctor. If I still have the fever or it comes back really bad, I should call her tomorrow. She can make an appointment and go with me. She’s taken many people to the doctor here, she says. And I should call them just to check in. They might hesitate to call me because I’ll be sleeping, but I should call them. I tell them I would love some phone calls from them. I’ve been doing nothing but sleeping, and a little interruption by a friendly ring would be welcome.

We talk a little while longer, then they leave to meet some friends in the Defence Colony for lunch. I feel so relieved to have had someone look at me, size me up, and tell me I’m definitely getting better. I’m definitely going to be okay. I’m so happy to have band aids and Tylenol and a Bible and friends I know I can call on if I need them.

I’m so happy I think I’ll take another nap.


K said...

I had an upper respiratory infection last spring and the first couple of days you feel sick were the worst. I was told by the Doctor to stay home even for a couple of more days after that, because it is contagious. So likely got it from someone else, not the fleas. Take care and get better. - Kurt S.

Vicki said...

Thanks, Kurt. Good to hear from an upper respiratory tract infection survivor ;)