Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Guatemala: My First IV

Up until this point, I've yet to be hospitalized. No IV, no emergency rooms, no medical panic. I'm a lucky heathy girl. What are the odds of having a crazy illness during a long term travel? Pretty likely. Almost everyone I've met has had one or two of those crazy medical experiences. "That time I got dengue in Mexico", "food poisoning in India", I mean, my best friend had a parasite in Senegal. It was really only a matter of time before I became a victim. 

I swam in the river...

Everyone swims in the river! The volunteers, the kids, the dogs....they're always in the Rio Dulce. It was a hot day, I was drying some washing out on the hot concrete of the dock by Brisas, and I decided to jump in and cool off. All I did was wade around for 3 minutes, feel the icky plant life below me, and jump back out. What a mistake that turned out to be. And, no, I didn't pee in it. In fact, Angelo and I had a conversation just before about how you shouldn't pee in fresh water. About 3 hours later, I had white spots on my legs...
Next morning: tons of white spots all over. I bought cortizon cream and antihistamine at a nurse volunteers suggestion.
Next morning: red raised rash that itched and burned. I left Casa Guatemala and traveled down river to town. By the time I walked to the clinic, my joints were swollen and I couldn't walk more than 3 yards without resting and rubbing my knees. It was a Sunday so no doctors were working. Luckily there were emergency fire fighters, an American couple who were both nurses, and the internet. I determined I didn't need to bus to Morales to find a hospital. Reactive arthritis? Allergic reaction? Chikungunya? Every possibility seemed okay to wait one more day. I also started taking Tylenol and that changed everything. It became bearable.
Next morning: I had a bad night of sleep but made it to the clinic at 8 AM. It took until almost 11 to get seen and by that point (I stopped taking the Tylenol), the slightest breeze was making my skin burn. I was sitting there crying on a bench outside the clinic. There was pressure in my feet and hands, horrible skin irritation, my eyes were burning, my lips all numb, and my lower spine felt like I fell on my back the night before. Overall, bad shape.

I had trouble even having the doctor check me out once I finally got called in because I started to get really worried about being treated in Guatemala. The bathroom didn't even have soap in it. No lovely plastic coverings where you lie or sit. No hazard bins and clear signage. No nurse. Angelo actually had to assist the doctor. I felt so lucky that he had paramedic training at some point in his life because he was able to watch and be sure the doctor was doing all the normal things. I watched the doctor unwrap the new needle for my IV but the bag and tubes and all was just sitting on the dirty counter. The stand was rusted. I was thinking about what it would be like to be at war...WWII. I was thinking about refugee camps and emergency relief trailers at hurricane destruction sites. And then, I was thinking about all the people I know who live here in Guatemala. This is the private clinic. What the public clinic looks like, I'll never know. Apparently, I'm medically spoiled AF.

He got the IV going and I felt immediate relief. The swelling went down and the rash started to disappear. Shit works. I stayed in that room for 6 hours. The doctor monitored me. I did a blood test, a urine test, physical examination of the spots. Angelo went and got the computer so we could watch Bridget Jones' Baby. He got the V8 fruit juice with yum. I felt like the spots on my lower back were like a little indicator of my well being. That day and for the next 3 days, when my back looked bad I felt bad. In the end, we ruled out a virus (no dengue or chikungunya) and a bacteria infection (no e.coli). So in the end I was severely allergic to idea what. I don't know if I'll ever know. The amount of crazy things living in that river would be really hard to test for back home.

I recovered. As I'm writing this, I just stopped taking the prescription antihistamine. All I have left are three days of steroids and I'm finished. I even went scuba diving this week. I'm so grateful for modern medicine and I'm never swimming in that river again. In fact, I'll probably feel hesitant of all fresh water that's more than 3 days from a hospital.

All I have in response now is a big sigh and 'fuck the Rio Dulce'.


Fun ending to a bummer story. The pig had piglets at Casa cute!