Location: National University Hospital, Singapore
Ever wondered what it's like having dengue fever? Ever wondered what it's like being hospitalised for dengue fever? Ever wondered what it's like having and being hospitalised for dengue fever during a pandemic? Ha. Been there, done that.
The thing about a global pandemic is that no one ever entertains the thought of contracting any other illness - all precautions are catered to not being exposed to the coronavirus, so much that you forget that other ailments do actually exist. Cue dengue. Known as the virus that launched a whole 'National Dengue Prevention Campaign', the threat of dengue fever is one that hangs over our heads during the warmer months of the year (June to October) due to an increase in the mosquito population of Singapore and shorter incubation periods of the virus (source: Channel News Asia). But this year, the number of dengue cases in the first quarter of the year has almost doubled from the same time period last year, which is, frankly, concerning, because nothing can be worse than hearing a buzz in your ear and immediately launching yourself out of bed for fear of becoming prey to the malevolent mosquito.
But as I said, dengue is something that we hear about so often, yet none of us really think that we would actually contract it. Until, well, we do. And that's what happened. A few days after clawing at a particularly itchy mosquito bite on my toe (which I assumed to be normal, considering how I'm almost always mosquito bait), I started getting bouts of headaches and fatigue, waking from an hour-long nap one day to find that my temperature had shot up to an alarming 38.6 degrees Celsius. Naturally, being in the middle of a pandemic, I assumed the worst - it didn't exactly help that my dad had also been having a fever for two days. Well, crap, I thought. It's over. Fast forward two days, and my symptoms had developed into a persistent fever, headaches, pain behind the eyes (my exact words were "I think my eyes are going to pop out", for lack of better phrasing), fatigue, a sore throat, extreme nausea and a rash that I didn't put much thought into. And then my dad was diagnosed with dengue fever. So, mask and warm water in hand, I stepped out of the house to brave the germs of a medical facility and headed towards Clementi Polyclinic.
Let me first warn you - displaying most symptoms of Covid-19 during this period of time does absolutely nothing to alleviate fears and suspicion. And in case you haven't noticed, I'd been displaying about half the number of symptoms of Covid-19 by the time I went to get it checked, which gave me a short-cut to the isolated section of the polyclinic. As expected, the first doctor I saw sent me straight for a swab test. One word of advice: do not take the nasal swab test unless you absolutely HAVE to. It hurts. It really, really does. Search up videos if you want, but my take on it is that it feels as though a wet bristly bottle-cleaner or toilet brush is scraping your brains out from the inside. After about fifteen seconds of eye-watering torture, I left the room wiping my tears away with one hand and clutching a piece of Kleenex in the other, sent home to wait for the test results armed with two foils of paracetamol. Well, the results came back negative and I made another trip to the polyclinic to get tested for dengue. One full blood count later, I was sat in a different doctor's room, waiting anxiously to hear the verdict - I was a confirmed dengue case. While a healthy person's platelet count lies between 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood, mine was at 90,000 platelets per microlitre. Needless to say, the doctor panicked, and I was sent home (again!) with strict instructions to do whatever I could to boost my platelet count, because if it dropped below 80,000 I'd be at high risk of both internal and external bleeding.
Now - allow me to pause for a moment while my grandfather's foolproof cure makes its grand arrival - papaya leaf water! According to my grandfather (and a few other reputable sources, I made sure to check), papaya leaf water does wonders for boosting one's platelet count, and - miracle of miracles! - I just happened to have a papaya tree growing in my garden. This can be drunk two ways - through boiling the leaf and drinking the water (touted as the less bitter, more bearable option), or through crushing the leaf, mixing it with water and drinking the mixture (much like matcha). Being the coward I am, I chose the former, choking down half a cup of liquid natural remedy. (Not to say that it was any better, because after one mouthful the nausea had a relapse, which I had to forcibly suppress so as to stomach that first singular mouthful of papaya leaf water.) But I went to bed peacefully that night, thinking I'd done all I could to keep my platelet count up, and myself out of the hospital.
But the dawn of the following day brought an even lower platelet count: 82,000 platelets per microlitre, almost half of the lowest-acceptable average count.
Three hours later, I was packed up and on my way to the National University Hospital, prepared for at least four days of stay in the hospital. What I did not expect, though, was being carted off the isolated section of the hospital upon arrival, and left in a small room that had only a sink, a chair, and a hospital gurney (kind of like the ones in the medical K-dramas I'm so fond of) for another three hours. At close to 8.30pm, my hospital admission was finalised and I was wheeled to my ward through a hamster-like maze of passageways, lobbies, and occasionally even a cargo lift. (side note: It's a little strange to enter through a set of automatic, pass-activated doors marked 'authorised personnel only'. A little strange and a little gratifying.) Straight up to - you guessed it - the isolation ward of the hospital for suspected Covid-19 patients.
The thing they don't tell you about the isolation ward is that since each room is, well, isolated, they have to put you in a single-bed room with the entire room to yourself. And since it isn't the patient's choice to be stuck in what happens to be the most expensive ward in the hospital (excluding VIP wards), the hospital can only charge the patient the fees of the cheapest ward. Which basically means I got an A class ward for the cost of a C class ward. With - most importantly - an air-conditioner (don't blame me, it was an extraordinarily hot week, I can usually sleep without air-conditioning). And thus began my hospital stay.
If you think your admission is the end of the lengthy first-day process, you're absolutely, horrendously wrong. In a total of four hours, I'd been visited by four doctors and asked to repeat and give a detailed account of all my symptoms twice, excluding the five times I'd had my blood pressure taken and the one time I had to do another Covid-19 swab test (again...). Then I had my hand strung up to an IV drip, another blood sample taken, my food orders for the following day sent in before I was finally free to sleep.
Hardest things to do while in a hospital ward:
1. Go to the toilet. My IV drip was strung up to a machine that regulated the rate at which the solution was released from the bag, which was plugged into a power socket. Needless to say, though the stand had wheels at the bottom, it couldn't go very far because it had to remain plugged in. Thankfully though, when fully extended (and I mean fully extended), the wires and tubes were just long enough for me to reach the bathroom and close the door, awkwardly stretching my hand out to prevent myself from accidentally ripping the needle out from my vein. Ouch.
2. Eat properly. I can't eat under time pressure. I get stressed. And in the ward, when the food is brought in at specific timings and they tell you exactly when they'd be back to collect it, I get super stressed. Now, try eating when you're stressed with an IV drip-tube flopping around on your dominant hand.
Food review: (disclaimer - I love bland food.)
Hospital food is actually not too bad, for all the bad reputation that it receives. I avoided the spinach because I'm ordinarily very adverse to spinach, but everything other than that was significantly bearable. The pumpkin porridge was especially good, while the 'french onion soup' had barely any onion and a little too much salt (ironically, since it's meant to be bland) and was strange with no oil at all. The banana was bruised.
When morning came, another nurse entered with the telltale syringe and vial - by this time I'd drawn blood so many times in such a short duration of time that they'd run out of veins to insert the syringe into and had to look all over my arm to find another - with a doctor who was doing his rounds, accompanied by what seemed like an army of medical students. Now, if you've ever been in a class of highly academically competitive students, you'll probably know what kind of cutthroat environment I'm talking about. And, boyyyy, did I feel like a specimen in front of a classroom. Being in the hospital that all medical students from the highly-prestigious NUS School of Medicine are sent to over the course of their university education, I suddenly found myself surrounded by students who were extra-motivated to excel and perform better than anyone else, clamouring to answer the doctor's questions as comprehensively as possible, all the while eager to demonstrate (show off) their prowess and deep understanding of the patient (case-study-slash-specimen). Think Hermione Granger, and then multiply that by ten. Now, of course I believe in the pursuit of academic excellence, but it's a really strange feeling to sit there and know that you're the human textbook they've memorised in the mere eight hours you've been in the hospital. In fact, when the doctor asked one singular question about my condition, a particularly enthusiastic student immediately took a (pretty unnecessary, if you ask me) step forward, rattling out my entire medical history and recorded symptoms (including all the medication I'd ever been on for an extended period of time and the respective durations) at the speed of a bullet train, with the manner of a starving hyena pouncing for an animal carcass. Being the aforementioned carcass, I felt a little attacked.
When the metaphorical bloodbath and verbal diarrhoea was over, the doctor turned to me and delivered the most surprising piece of news yet - I was free to leave! Not gonna lie - I was a little bummed that I couldn't stay for longer (not quite sure why, but I was). My platelet count had increased from the previous day's, and it seemed to be taking on an upward trend. All I had to do was go back for another blood test the following day to make sure that the trend was really present, and then I'd be able to return home, with all concerns alleviated. In a few hours, I was packed up and ready to leave, thankfully immune to one strain of dengue (but sadly, still susceptible to the other four).
- Ashley x