Break-bone fever, arse flashing and latino Sunset Beach

Posted on October 31, 2012


In the build up to Halloween I’ve already had a run in with a transvestite witch, donned a bad pink wig and encountered far more Miranda Hart posters on the tube than my nervous system can handle. My local florist is doing a pretty good line in ‘hellacious’ geranium displays – shit be getting SCARY. But nothing on this spookiest of days can even come close to the haze of fear and delirium that swept over me when a tropical disease invaded my unsuspecting blood cells in Central America five years ago.

Back in the summer of 2007 I was living in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa and working for an English language newspaper at the end of a six month gallivant across the globe. Life consisted of eating my body mass in empanadas, trying to dance to reggaeton in the local clubs (difficult when you’re whiter than Casper and lacking rhythm) and penning articles about Honduran life and culture. All while trying not to get mugged at knifepoint.

At sunset the smog belching metropolis underwent an eerie metamorphosis from grey, urban jungle to a sprawling mass of flickering lights nestled into the hills, and the nights passed by in a contented fog of rum and excitable chit-chat with my room-mate Carmen, our host Criscia and her friends. As far as I was concerned, this was the beginning of an intrepid investigative career in journalism. I was going to be the next Marie Colvin dammit. But six weeks later, lying face down on a toilet floor with my bare buttocks hanging out the back of my hospital gown, I knew I was a far cry from a Pulitzer Prize.

One morning after the inevitable 6am wake-up call from an outdoor shoe seller touting his wares through a megaphone to shame Edison, I became aware of a dull pain behind my eyes. Too much rum, I decided. Definitely time to eat some fruit. And off we trundled to the office, to the usual tune of random hissing and hoots of ‘mamacita’ from some local gents on the street.

It was like any other day at the paper but as I attempted to read an interview transcript the words swam in front of my eyes, my skull began to feel like the back end of a pressure cooker and I started to sweat.

As the hours dragged by I started to feel worse and worse, my frantic confusion peaking in the bar after work as I weakly grasped Carmen’s arm and gazed desperately at her bemused face.

‘I think I’m dying. ‘

‘Hmm. Dying. Probably not though, are you?’

‘Seriously. I feel SO bad. It’s definitely the end.’

At this point our boss Mario interjected, laid a cool hand on my sweltering brow and proposed that I have a cocktail.

He smiled. ‘It could be dengue fever. But you know it’s not that bad. Not that many people even die from it.’

The next day I went to the hospital, had a blood test and lay in a waiting room staring at the ceiling while contemplating my imminent demise. My Spanish didn’t stretch much further than ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘two beers please’ but I gathered from the nurses that I did have the dreaded dengue fever after all, and felt slightly better about all the I Think I’m Dying episodes. As for having a tropical disease, well that felt pretty crap. The tapestry of mosquito bites adorning my legs took on new meaning in my mind – less gross and itchy, more a malevolent, evil status symbol – and I began to plot the global downfall of these sadistic, disease-carrying insect fiends.

Next stop, much to my confusion, was the X-ray department to have jelly slathered across my stomach for an ultrasound scan. What was going on? Had I been IMPREGNATED by this god-forsaken disease? Was I to birth tiny, nightmarish dengue babies that would spring out of my body Alien style and TAKE OVER THE WORLD?

Thankfully it was eventually explained to me that I was being checked out for internal bleeding. No mutant foetuses just yet then, just a risk of haemorrhage. Awesome.

Dengue fever gets you at night. During the day you feel weak, tired, lethargic and achy but once night falls that’s when the blighter really comes to the fore. Your body temperature rockets, headaches penetrate your skull and vicious aches and pains consume your body – hence the disease’s affectionate nickname, Break-bone Fever. I spent the next five nights twisting and turning on sweat drenched sheets and lying limp and exhausted in front of various Latino soap operas by day. By 4am when the fever really took hold, the only thing keeping me going was finding out if Alejandro had been caught shtupping his wife’s sister in the latest telenovella. This shit was like the Latin American Sunset Beach and no pesky tropical disease was going to stop me getting my daily fix.

The only other Spanish phrase I managed to perfect during my stint in hospital was ‘It’s broken’ – in reference to the help button I’d desperately stabbed at while in the throes of another I Am Dying incident. Nobody came. I did not die. Again.

Thankfully I got a visit once a day from an English speaking doctor, who was very adamant that I wasn’t going anywhere until my platelet count stabilised and that I must on no accounts brush my teeth.

‘But my mouth tastes like dead gerbils. WHY NOT?’

He leaned over me and peered over his glasses. ‘Because if your gums bleed, the blood will not be able to clot, you will not stop bleeding, and you will die.’

Fair enough.

A week after stumbling through the hospital doors I was released, still slightly delirious, to spend a few days recuperating at Criscia’s flat before flying back to England where I developed a weird habit of hugging doctors, shop sales assistants and the occasional bin man purely because I could understand what they were saying.

My story, thankfully, is one of survival – unlike the thousands that die from dengue each year. I haven’t yet had a chance to exact my cunning revenge on the furry bastards that hospitalised me, but if you’re a mosquito reading this – be warned. I’m watching you.