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Karan Thapar (India): the time that dengue had the gall to get me

In October 2018, Indian journalist Karan Thapar felt unwell with what he assumed was the flu. After many years living and working in India, he was surprised to be diagnosed with dengue, a disease he thought he would unlikely be affected by. This patient testimonial, first published in the Hindustan Times, charts his experiences with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease threatening over half of the world's population.

I used to think of dengue as a funny-sounding, weirdly-spelt and peculiarly-pronounced disease. Several people I know have had it and I was aware of the fact that it’s a terrible affliction. But no mosquito I had encountered had the gall to transmit it to me! I’d been bitten galore but beyond the scratchy itch that this produces, nothing more serious had come to pass.

“Wait till it happens to you”, my dear friend, Dr Ashwani Chopra, would joke. “Mosquitoes aren’t as discriminating as you seem to think.” Ashwani would smile and let the rest of my silly ripostes pass without further notice.

Well, last week it did. It happened without any warning and at a time when I could have sworn I felt on top of the world. I’d been out to a very pleasant dinner, eaten splendidly amidst enjoyable company and got to bed in time for a clear eight hours of sleep. I was looking forward to awakening the next morning to a bright and beautiful dawn.

Instead, I woke at six with the most strange feeling in my legs whilst my hands felt cold and wretched. Oblivious of the fact this was the first sign of fever, I dressed and left for work convinced it was what the elders call “change-of-weather”. The early morning October nip was to blame.

By 11 I couldn’t continue in denial. I asked for a paracetamol and patiently waited for it to take effect. But I was still convinced I had simply caught a passing viral. Perhaps another paracetamol and a bowl of hot soup at night would be required but the next day, I was sure, I’d be as good as new.

As is my wont when I’m under the weather, I rang Ashwani. I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and consequently we’re in frequent, if one-sided, contact. To my astonishment, he insisted on a blood test. I didn’t express as much surprise as I should have because hypochondriacs actually revel in such attention. And, anyway, a blood test does no one any harm.

Later that evening, Ashwani called. “You’ve got dengue”, he positively trilled. Given our earlier conversations I wondered if he felt the disease was taking its revenge. I certainly did. This was my turn. The damned mosquito had finally got me.

The next six days passed in a blur. The fever was constant though it stayed under 102. “It’s behaving itself,” Ashwani would reassure me. That was little comfort when I also felt increasingly queasy and listless. Meanwhile the blood checks became routine and I’d lie in bed eagerly awaiting the platelet count.

Gauri, a dear friend, and Kiran, my sister, came to my rescue. They sent me thick chicken broth for the days when dengue robbed me of all appetite. Gauri also sent papaya-leaf juice, a dark-green horrifically-bitter substance that would have probably killed me if it failed to beat the dengue. Both ladies called frequently to ask how I was faring, carefully noting each small change whilst providing encouragement for better results. And all the while I lay in bed wallowing in misery.

Then one day, just as suddenly as it started, it was over. Like flood waters, the fever receded, the queasiness abated though the weakness lingered. But do you know the first thought that came to my mind? The next time I hear someone has dengue, I’m going to be a lot more concerned and sympathetic. I hope I don’t forget!

Read the article on the Hindustan Times website here.

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