Sunday, June 7, 2009
During one of our profoundly frivolous discussions, one of my trainee buddies broached the burning question: Would you rather get Dengue, or do a lap in an Olympic-sized pool full of feces? Having only a vague idea of the former—we’d had a lecture or two about it, sure, but you can really only know so much—but a very vivid one of the latter, I emphatically chose the Dengue.
Flash-forward a month or so. It’s Sunday night, and I’m suffering from a consumptive, devastating fever, measured at 103.3º. As the rain clatters against the tin roof, I lay writhing in the dark under my mosquito net feeling my mind detaching from current preoccupations and delving into the past. I relive experiences of all types from all ages in rapid succession, maybe 10 seconds dedicated to each. Some of these memories are the classics, the sort we revel in on occasion for years afterwards—memories from college graduation, for example. Others, the majority, are obscure reflections on moments mundane, of little consequence in the great progression of my life but novel and unexamined for that very reason. They evidently stuck around in the distant recesses of my mind, so maybe they’re of greater value than I realize. In the end it is a profound state of retrospection, but without any grand revelations: just long-lost memories reclaimed, and more proximate ones recapitulated. Next time I get feverish like that hopefully I can summon the energy to record what I’m thinking, for posterior evaluation.
Anyways, I continue in that state for another day or two, without appetite or energy, Ibuprofen being my only salvation and a tenuous one at that. On Wednesday the incomparable Doctora Lisette, who cares for all of us so well, picks me up and takes me to Clínica Abreu, where the real adventure begins. I had been under the impression that this was a place to relax, to recuperate, to be pampered, where you didn’t have to always be thinking, strategizing. Not so much, it turns out.
Blame it on the nurses, some of the most disagreeable and difficult people I’ve ever encountered. I’ve never felt so deprived of information, or so impotent to extract it. I wasn’t particularly interested in what they had hooked up to the IV. But how to turn on the TV—you have to turn on the cable box first—that’s important to know, right? Or how to get a hold of one of these elusive nurses—you can try dialing 375 on that phone over there, but more effective to just yell ‘¡enfermera!’ as loud as your debilitated lungs will allow you. It isn’t until night three of five that they give me one of those pee buckets, so I don’t have to haul the IV machine 10 times a day to the bathroom. And it’s strange, because Dominican women tend to be so warm and doting. So you’d think Dominican nurses would be even more so, ¿no? Maybe they were at the beginning, and serving all these ricos and foreigners, many of whom I’m sure aren’t so friendly either, just sucked the love out of them. To be fair, one or two, out of eight let’s say, performed like nurses should perform, and for that I thank them. I would also like to commend the doctors and their assistants: they were competent, and most importantly for me at the time, friendly. And the females among them: beautiful. I forget her name, but she was Japanese-Dominican, had an adorable accent when she spoke English, and that smile—it could melt icebergs and cause warring factions to trade guns for tulips. Drop me a line gurl.
On Friday I receive my first visitors. Luck would have it that an inordinate amount of Volunteers are in the capital for the weekend, and they’re all dropping by Abreu to see me and another Volunteer. The food there is mostly inedible—lots of tasteless potato puree, the one Dominican staple I just can’t dig—but my friends are totally clutch and bring me chocolate and bread, which quickly turns to diarrhea, but that’s fine. Most of all they—and all the other PCVs that stopped in over the weekend, especially Amanda Meng who tended to me most of Sunday and into Monday— remind me that Peace Corps is family, and this is how family members support one another. Sappy it may be, but when you’re ill it counts for a lot.
During this time I can’t help but think about my blood family as well. They are all in Montreal for Whitney’s graduation, which I had loathed to miss. On the other hand, if I had gone I would have spent a legendary family week in one of my favorite cities in bed, either in the hotel or the hospital. So in the end, in some tragic way, it worked out.
Two weeks since that fateful Sunday I’m feeling almost totally recovered. After numerous tests, the doctors decided it was, in the end, the dreaded Dengue. And they informed me that I had caught the Dengue at some previous point in my life, whether here or on one of my other journeys. What do you know.
As for the burning question, I guess at this point I’d rather swim in that pool of refuse. Life is all about new experiences after all, and now that I’ve had the Dengue one (again), I can only choose to take a poo dip.