So, living on the island of Cozumel does have its down side after all. If you’ve been reading my posts about retiring to Mexico you know that most of what I’ve experienced here has been almost too good to be true. Between the serenity of the mornings, the colors of Carnaval, and the good will spread through volunteering it was looking as if I really had found paradise. But, as always, reality had to hit and, in my case, it hit hard. Let me see if I can explain since I’m thinking these symptoms, and the experience, might help someone else down the road. And, now that I’m fairly certain I’m going to live, I have to do something because, frankly, I’m bored. Oh, and please excuse the limited pics, working with a handicap here.
It all started on Good Friday. I’d been running around all day snapping pics, checking out the ceremonies, and putting the events down in my blog. Finally, I was walking home in the late afternoon and noticed that I was having some difficulties with breathing. Now, I’m a smoker and, although I’ve cut down drastically, still I recognize that a price is to be paid for that silly habit. And that’s what I thought was happening. It was very humid out and I was walking briskly so I didn’t give it much thought other than I needed to cut down even more. That was Friday and, it turned out, was just a subtle hint of what was to come.
Saturday morning found me at Chedraui’s buying any and all flu medication I could get my hands on. With absolutely no exaggeration I can tell you I’d woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer wielded by anyone who’d ever disliked me. My eyes were swollen, (the pain and pressure behind them made me think they were going to just pop out), my head was congested, and my lungs didn’t want to stretch, at all. This was topped off by an overall ache that made it seem as if I’d also been hit by every type of arthritis known to man. I remember being so upset that the girl wouldn’t let me pay for all my stuff at the drug counter in Ched. She was doing some type of inventory and, apparently, didn’t want to be bothered, or, maybe, she just wanted to practice some form of self-preservation because I had to look absolutely awful. So to the front of the store I shuffled holding a box of “Exit” for the flu, a cheap form of “Vic’s” to rub on my chest, a box of aspirin (bad idea, should avoid all blood thinning medication), and cough syrup. At least the girl at the front checkout counter gave me a sympathetic look, but she didn’t want me to hand her the money, she had me put it on the counter. Her mother had raised a smart girl.
While shuffling home, which was the only pace I was capable of, I didn’t understand why I was so freaking chilled. It had to be at least mid 70s F outside. But, as soon as I got home I flipped the switch for my hot water heater and climbed in bed for the twenty minutes, or so, it would take to heat my shower. Then the rest of the day consisted of hot showers, rest, and a lot of meds. At one point I remember my dogs came over to the bed to visit, but they changed their minds quickly when I started hacking and they went back to the safety of their own beds with their heads down and their tails between their legs. Poor gals.
By Sunday I was in the local hospital in Corpus Christi receiving a breathing treatment since my lungs just decided to quit altogether. At that time the doctor there said I had bronchitis and, once I was able to breathe again, sent me home. Cost? $143 pesos for doctor, nurse and treatment. Grateful for the affordability I headed back to bed.
Tuesday was the day when I just knew I was going to die. In fact, I actually talked with a friend to make plans for my dogs in the event of such a likelihood. I mean, I can be a bit dramatic, what writer isn’t, but this was the absolute worst I’d ever felt in my life and I was fairly certain the human body couldn’t take anymore. Let me explain. I could barely sit up, I had no air, pain was oozing out of every joint, my fever was spiked, my body was soaked, and my head had this ringing sound like an ongoing bell that just would not stop. I put my pups outside and stumbled my way down the stairs to my landlord’s door. All I remember telling him was I needed to go to the hospital, but, this time I wanted to go to Clinica San Miguel where I’d heard the treatment was the best. He immediately dropped what he was doing and helped me and my flop sweat into his car. Once at the emergency room he came in and explained my condition since, apparently, my Spanish is non-existent when sick. I’m thinking my brain, or what was left of it at this point, only wants to deal with one problem at a time, which is good to know. The nurses surrounded me and got to work.
They’d called in Dr. Cruz, who has been my ongoing physician since moving to the island, and he immediately ordered an x-ray. Then he ordered a series of blood tests, which, when they came back, looked grim. Thankfully, as I learned later, they had put me on an iv since I was severely dehydrated, which helped me out in the long run. Apparently I had no immune system left, my numbers were all over the place, but my dengue test came back negative. Doing everything but scratching his head he looked confused. Best guess? Pneumonia. Now I have an arsenal of meds including stuff for a nebulizer, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and paracetamol. He suggested I get on a healthy eating kick and rest. Cost? $3,600 pesos for everything including the tests and x-ray, which you get to take home, and another $800 pesos in medication.
At this point all I wanted was to get healthy now! Enough was enough. So, I immediately went online for suggestions for foods to build me back up. As always, folks down here are more than happy to help and I got recipes, advice for over the counter supplements, and suggestions for a local eatery that specializes in healthy foods and smoothies. However, here is where I entered a time of complete stupidity, or just plain stubbornness, not sure which, but neither would prove to help me much. You see, I had friends calling, checking in on me, bringing me fruit and juices and offering all sorts of assistance. I have some very nice friends. But, the next morning I woke up feeling remarkably better, I’ll get to the reason in a moment, and headed off to Mega after convincing Lesli all I needed was a ride. Even though I was fortunate enough to have half a dozen folks offering help, I ignored them all. So there I was, holding onto a grocery cart for dear life and shopping as if I was just fine. I paid a price for that, let me assure you. However, Lesli, she has her way, had let her dad know what I was up to. I was so very happy to see him waiting at the end of the checkout line to take me home and he had such an expression of grandfatherly concern that I did feel guilty, and relieved. But, the reason for my sudden sense of well-being would come later, and I would quickly find out just how wrong I had been, and how good it was to have had that ride.
But, before all the revelations, I was just happy to have a ton of supplements, loads of fruits and veggies, and I just knew that all would be good. Looking around I realized that my dogs had been paying the price for my illness. So, since I had been given the number for someone who walks dogs in the area I called him to explain how my guys had been stuck with me. Paco, even though he’d never met me before, graciously agreed to come over that evening to walk my guys and I had to laugh when he returned. My dachshund just sat in the middle of my bedroom looking at me with her tongue hanging out for about half an hour. If she hadn’t come to give me a kiss later I would have felt a little guilty, but she was suffering from a happy exhaustion. My other gal just went immediately to bed, no thoughts about it. And, gratefully, the next day they slept in an hour later than usual, which was a good thing since everything was about to hit the fan.
Yes, that next morning, once again, I knew I was doomed. I woke up worse than ever. I called my landlord’s daughter, Lesli, who’d been a huge help already through all of this, and asked if she knew a doctor who would come to the house. I, frankly, felt too weak to even get out of bed and I didn’t want to figure out how to pay for an ambulance. My rush of recovery from the day before had completely disappeared and I was back to the sledgehammer stage. And, worst of all, my head just kept sounding off that alarm again. It was like there was a tiny person in my head just screaming in one loud, continuous shriek aimed at the inside of my brain. Lesli called a friend, Dr. Edwin Villanueva, who came over shortly with a backpack and a bag full of whatever might be needed. And, he had a lot of stuff. After a long series of questions, his English is great, he determined that I had dengue after all and the only reason the test was negative was because it was taken after the third day of contracting the disease (dengue tests can come back “false negative” if not taken in the first few days). And, apparently, dengue comes in waves. First are the flu-like symptoms with chills, then a few days of respite, then it hits again. And, since I’d started bleeding when I brushed my teeth, had bruised dramatically from the former blood tests, and had a face so red it looked sunburned, he suspected it was the hemorrhagic dengue. Ouch! Dr. Edwin prescribed a few more meds and then mixed a shot of vitamins and other stuff to help me rebuild. Meanwhile, a friend who I’d just been on the phone with was sitting in my bedroom watching both the doctor and me. I could tell from her expression she was worried about me and with good reason. She was who’d I been mourning my lack of provisions for my pups. Yes, I really was just that sick, and crazy. Cost of the home visit and meds? $600 pesos total including the shot.
Dr. Edwin suggested I go back to the hospital for more tests the next morning to see where my numbers were. Since I woke up feeling about the same, and had that damned alarm going off in my head again, I had no problem taking his advice. And, this is where I think it gets amusing. Dr. Edwin, for no reason other than true concern, met me at the local hospital in Corpus Christi and talked with the attending physician. Lesli was providing the translation and I was just trying to keep the alarm going off in my head from blinding me. The best solution I could come up with was rocking while holding my head and listening to rapidly spoken Spanish over top of the screaming banshee that had taken up residence in my brain. But, as far as the doctors? Kudos to them! I could see these two young doctors puzzling over my test results and my symptoms like I was a Rubik’s Cube that they, in all their youth and enthusiasm, were bound and determined to solve. And, when the results came back an hour, or so, later, I swear I thought they were going to give each other a “high-five.” Nothing like a little enthusiasm from your doctor. Diagnosis? It turns out I have both hemorrhagic dengue and pneumonia. Okay, that’s serious enough even for me. Oh, and cost for that visit to the local emergency room, including doctors, tests, and test results? $645 pesos for everything.
Now? Well, now I’m listening to the doctor, accepting help from my friends, and can accept that writing this will be the most effort I will put towards anything today, or tomorrow for that matter. I will read a lot of books, play on my computer, and try to think of ways to thank my friends and my wonderful landlords. Here’s to a great community, cheap medical costs, and one less strain of dengue this expat will ever have to face. Salud!
p.s. special thanks to Lynda, Maria, Joey, Tammy, Lesli, Don Pedro, Melinda, and Paco the dog walker………and absolutely want to include Leonna for helping me with my dogs today….and everyone else who so nicely gave me online advice, offered assistance, and some loving empathy. What a great bunch of folks, my hat is off to you all!