We have a family tradition that a lot of people find strange: when someone is sick, he or she gets to choose any food (that the doctor does not disallow) and we say yes with no questions asked. It’s based on the very simple theory that if the taste buds are tickled, the appetite is better and, instead of getting weaker from eating meagerly, a sick person gains strength by eating substantially.
So, we had pizza tonight as requested by Alex. Her blood test eliminated malaria but there are traces of dengue coupled with viral infection and severe dehydration. As weird as it may sound, we’re relieved. We’ve been through the dengue scare before with Sam when she was about five years old and although it scared us shitless, we learned a lot from it. A person with dengue fever requires round-the-clock care but, once recovered, there is no long-term danger.
But, with Alex, until the blood test results came out, we agonized because there was a point when I thought she had malaria. She came home last Friday from a two-week trip to various cities in Mindanao. She had bad headaches, heartburn, abdominal pain and joint pains. At that point, we thought it was fatigue or, perhaps, the onset of flu. The Mindanao trip (it was work, not pleasure) was grueling and it was expected that she’d be tired. We fed her well, we let her oversleep, we let her take long naps, but when she hadn’t improved by Sunday evening, we started worrying. Overnight, there were shivering spells — she shivered even when it was not cold and when she shivered her breath came in short gasps… By that time, she had difficulty getting out of bed without help because of her painful joints. That was when I read up about malaria and got really scared.
By Monday morning, we were at the hospital ER. A blood test was ordered and, until the results were out, there was nothing we could do. Alex did not want to wait at the ER so we asked if we could just come back for the results of the blood test. Yes, we were told, but if we were going out for lunch, Alex wasn’t to eat anything “colored” (food with soy sauce, for instance, and the like). And I was so sure that, depending on the results of the blood test, she might be asked for urine and stool samples.
At the restaurant with all “colored” dishes out of bounds, Alex ate her food sans dipping sauces (mine had) and spent half the time with her head on my lap. Then, with the test results not due for another hour or two, we drove home. I made coffee for Speedy and myself; Alex fell asleep almost immediately on the makeshift bed I made for her in my study (so I can constantly keep an eye on her even during the hours that I’m working).
Two hours later, Speedy went back to the hospital for the test results. An hour after he had gone, I tried to phone him but he wasn’t picking up. Alex was sleeping soundly but my nerves had gone haywire. Malaria, dengue and flu share common symptoms, Alex could have any one of the three, and malaria is the deadliest of them. I was torn between expecting the worst (malaria!) and hoping for the best (Alex didn’t have high fever and wasn’t vomiting so it couldn’t be malaria and she just needs rest).
When Speedy got home, I was at the front door before he could get out of the pick-up. I asked what happened and he said get ready. I panicked. Get ready for what? Was Alex going to be confined, I asked. Then, Speedy smiled and said get ready to go to whichever restaurant we wanted because Alex needed food — walang bawal — and water. If I didn’t feel so relieved with his news, I would have smacked him for his little joke. Then, he relayed what the doctor said. Alex has to eat and she has to drink lots of fluid because she’s severely dehydrated. She has traces of dengue, appears to be recovering already but there is also a viral infection. Speedy had already bought the medicines prescribed by the doctor on his way home, and he told me which has to be taken when and how often. Okay, okay… so long as it wasn’t malaria. It felt good to have our worst fear eliminated.
What is malaria and why is it so scary? Like dengue and the West Nile virus, malaria is a mosquito-borne illness.
In a non-immune individual, symptoms appear seven days or more (usually 10–15 days) after the infective mosquito bite. The first symptoms – fever, headache, chills and vomiting – may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. If not treated within 24 hours, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness often leading to death. [WHO]
There is no vaccine against malaria.
With malaria out of the equation, we’re concentrating on getting Alex fed and rehydrated. I asked her what she’d like for lunch tomorrow and she chose fried tilapia and lato. Until she’s completely well, she can dictate the daily menu.