Sunday, August 26, 2012

Exotic Souvenir

On the ferry to Surabaya from Makassar I started to feel a little unwell. I thought it was due to the kretek smoke that was permeating the cabin and thought that some sleep and fresh air once on terra firma would be all I need to feel better. Unfortunately that wasn't the case and the first day back in Surabaya the dull, throbbing headache that had developed aboard was joined by a vice-like sensation behind my eyes and pain in my joints and muscles. I had a sneaking sensation and after looking into the symptoms online and getting a second opinion I was certain that I had picked up an unwanted souvenir in the Moluccas: dengue.

An Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector of the dengue virus, biting an unsuspecting victim (actually, given the a photo was being taken of it the perhaps the victim was suspecting after all). [Photo from Wikipedia.]

Dengue fever is a virus that is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Sometimes nicknamed "breakbone fever" for the pain it inflicts to joints and bones it is much talked about amongst travellers with a fear that it doesn't really deserve. Although it isn't pleasant to have dengue it is rarely fatal (only about 1% of cases) and a person usually recovers fully within a week or so. Plus there is no vaccine so there is precious little you can do to protect yourself apart from all the usual steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Although I was not in the least pleased to get ill, as trying to shake off an infection whilst on the road is always much harder than when at home where one has access to friends, family and familiar surroundings, I was very grateful to have contracted it whilst at good friends'. Thanks to Erika I had a secure, comfortable base in which to convalesce, and the surrounding kampung had all the amenities that I would need: a pharmacy, fruit juice stall (it is recommended to drink plenty of liquids whilst fighting off dengue, plus I rarely felt up to handling solid food), chicken soup stall and a laundry, all within a few hundred metres gentle walk.

So I spent an enforced week in Surabaya, listening to the end-of-Ramadan celebrations going on in my neighbourhood whilst I myself flitted between sleep and consciousness and tried not to move my head too quickly for fear of aggravating the termites that I felt had set up their nest just behind my eyeballs. Time was flitting away and I was getting angry, but I knew I had no other option than to stay put and have more chicken soup. Finally the pain cleared up, and although I was still feeling less than 100% I decided enough was enough and packed my bag, shouldered it, decided I was carrying too much, left some items I hadn't used in months, re-shouldered it, and made for the train station, direction east. I may have lost some time dealing with the very mundane and unadventurous task of nursing myself back to health and sporadically feeling sorry for myself, but at least I can add dengue to the scratch I got falling from my scooter in Sumatra on my list of travelling scars. It certainly has a more exotic ring to it.

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