[Note: This was written a couple of weeks ago. With La Niña wreaking havoc on Timor, and non-stop rains, dengue appears to be more prevalent than normal this year, although I cannot find real data to back this up. This blog entry is dedicated to my bestest friend in Dili and her UNTL-attending sidekick, who nursed me back to health.]
I was about to start and finish this blog entry with “It sucks.” But that was me somewhat feeling sorry for myself, bitter and exhausted on the morning of Day 5.
Now I am at the tail end of Day 6. I am simultaneously irritated by one of the last symptoms, “tingling hands and feet” (read: this HORRIBLE itching that can last for 2-3 days) and bored out of my mind, I thought I would try and offer some tips to those who will not dodge the dengue bullet in Dili.
I have tried to avoid anything regarding medical advice as that you will need from experts. Just my experience…
1) You will be hating life without a fan or air conditioning, life with ahi mate. Move to a neighborhood that the guy with his finger on the power grid switches at EDTL does not punish on a daily basis. This means a neighborhood with a Minister, and an influential Minister at that.
2) Bribe friends or neighbors to check in on you frequently and bring you food and drink. (Or move in with your bestest friend!) As long as you can stomach it, then you should be eating or drinking it. God only knows why the Timorese believe guava juice is so good, but who cares? It’s liquid and it has sugar. Have water – and lots of it – next to your bed. Test that it is within arms length and in small enough portions that you can lift. Camelbacks or straws may come in handy.
3) Sleep as much as possible. If you start to ache from sleeping too much, move to a sofa. (For me, a sofa was crucial.) Don’t even try to stay awake for some idiotic reason. Don’t check your watch, the only time references you need are your blood tests.
4) Which reminds me… don’t believe a positive malaria test. Get a second opinion. I was given a false positive for malaria at the lab where most Timorese go to get tested – this happens frequently.
5) And while we are on the topic of medical care, I hope that I need not remind you that the Dili Hospital experience only barely beats out Freetown Hospital for its lack of homicidal diamond traffickers. If daily news articles about the inability of the hospital to keep electricity running are not enough to convince you, then how about the utter lack of cleaning products, reflecting what appears to be a general lack of belief in germ theory? That said, if you need a hospital, GET yourself to a hospital. One tried and true technique for foreigners is passing out or vomiting in the lobby of the UN Hospital. Or, alternatively, word on the street is that Dili Hospital has “VIP rooms” (private rooms) for something like $10/night. BYO generator, wet wipes, and bed linens.
6) If things are not all THAT bad and you are awake and can keep your eyes open, get friends to bring page-turner novels, glossy mags, and trashy teen dance films (available in thrilling abundance in Dili), or alternatively Will Farrell, but beware that laughter can cause pain. And DO NOT watch Donnie Darko again to try and figure out its hidden meaning. Time travel paradoxes and high fevers do not go well together.
Everybody has a different dengue experience – there is no need to despair – until it’s time to despair.
On a more serious note, I know this warning will probably make no difference, but please take dengue seriously. Sleeping under a mosquito net is great, but it will not save you from dengue which is transmitted by day mosquitoes. Do not just carry around DEET, or leave Baygon on the shelf. Use them! And if your neighbors would like to talk about reducing the places mosquitos breed, take them up on the offer. Dengue is serious and can kill. We malaes can chuckle about it and write blog entries about it, but chances are, we will not live under the threat our whole lives…