Tiina Greig (Norway & Finland): the journey to overcoming severe dengue and ME
In 2015, Tiina Greig, a microbiologist with an interest in tropical diseases, was travelling in some of Thailand's most idyllic destinations. Taken unwell quite suddenly and with symptoms pointing towards likely food poisoning, Tiina was far from expecting an infection with dengue fever. Further complications and a later additional diagnosis of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) were to turn Tiina's life upside-down. Here is her story.
I was travelling in Thailand alone in June 2015. I had arrived to Koh Lanta and enjoyed life. My cottage had a tub of water in the bathroom but I thought none of it, I had a mosquito net. I had a couple of mosquito bites even though I used strong DEET all the time. I changed hotel and moved deeper into Koh Lanta.
The first morning I woke up I had a bit of fever but what was worst was the pain I had on my skin! It felt like electric shock on my skin whenever I came in and the AC hit my skin. I literally collapsed in pain every time. I sat outside inside a duvet trying to enjoy Thailand but I had to man myself up every time I had to go in. This pain symptom was weird and I did think if this could be dengue, but my friends and colleagues said surely not.
I work in a microbiology lab myself and am kind of a tropical disease geek. So I couldn't imagine it was dengue because the pain was only on my skin. This weird pain lasted only one day. On day 2, I started having diarrhoea and vomiting. Now I was sure I had eaten something making me ill. On day 3 I tried to eat but couldn't hold anything in, also still had fever. Was this really food poisoning?
I agreed with hotel management that they would take me to hospital on day 4 because I was 100% sure it was food poisoning. On the morning of day 4 I was so fatigued it took me 2 hours just to get up, shower and get dressed. I still wonder sometimes, what would have happened if I had just stayed in bed that day. I think a few more hours and I wouldn't even have been able to call for help. So I got into the hospital at Koh Lanta where the first question was is this dengue? I said I didn't think so as I didn't have a rash at all and no pain, only an upset stomach and fever.
Test results however confirmed that I had dengue and I got admitted to the hospital. My insurance company moved me to a hospital in Trang in the middle of the night. Lots and lots of tests were run, my platelets were very low.
Eventually a rash did errupt on day 5 and my hands and feet got swollen and purple. Going to the bathroom was agony because it felt like I was walking on marbles. I wasnt able to open a can of soda because it hurt my fingers. I was slowly able to eat a bit and after 5 days I got out.
What came after was by far the worst. I lost skin and hair. I wasn't able to keep my arms up to blow dry my hair; I needed many breaks for something that takes 5 minutes. I started getting flu like symptoms after anything that would drain my energy. I had "flu" every week including terrible fatigue. In May 2017, I got an ME diagnosis (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis).
I am currently back to work and living a normal life but I can say that I completely lost my life for a few years. There was time at the hospital when I thought I'm going to die alone. I was very sick and I saw the worry on the nurses' faces. This haunts me. and I am still wondering if this was a secondary infection but doctors in Norway say it's not possible to test. Doctors in Thailand said it was dengue hemorragic fever.
I still love Thailand and my greatest dream is to go back and finish my trip but, at the same time, risking getting ME again is too much. Dengue would be a piece of cake :)