Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Good, The Bad, The Rat Bite Fever

This morning I was woken from my hospital bed at one of the best hospitals in Calcutta to be served my 5:30am hot tea. I groggily sat up, pushed back the down comforter that kept me warm for four nights in my air conditioned single hospital room, and accepted the tea despite the early hour. As I waited for it to steep, the nurse came in to change my IV. Antibiotics had been coursing through my veins for days... healing me, making me dizzy and protecting me when my body could no longer do so. After my tea I laid back against the starched sheets and let my body go back to resting. I stared at the narrow break between the curtains, and out at the early morning mist. I was reminded of the rain in Kerala that Laura and I saw on our first night there, peeking out of our balcony door. Were we really, just days ago, in what the locals call "God's Own Land"? My days in the hospital back in Calcutta had stretched time, morphing each sleepy day into what felt like a week. Kerala felt like ages ago. But no, we were just there, enjoying the lovely lush greenery, cool monsoon breezes, amazing food and the spectacular hospitality of our classmate Anjali's family and family friends.

Now may be an appropriate time to rewind to last week.

I returned from my trip to Darjeeling in North India well rested and cooled off from the beautiful weather there. I do want to dedicate a post to Darjeeling and will do so as soon as I feel up to writing another blog post. After Darjeeling I dove into three days at field. Sandra and I began our interviews with HIV+ members of the collective Network for Positive Women. The interviews were emotionally draining for me personally, as I wasn't really prepared for all of the emotion in the room that was present from the start. We finished with field on Wednesday and then went to a wonderful home-cooked dinner at an Auntie's house in Calcutta. We got home late and I set my sights on packing for Kerala.

Kerala is a state along the west coast of South India, flanked by the Arabian Sea. Our classmate Anjali's parents were born in the state of Kerala and they have a very large family there. A few weeks ago she invited anyone who wanted to go to travel there to stay with her uncle and see the area.

We arrived in Kerala last Thursday after a flight to Bombay, followed by a flight to Cochin. Anjali's uncle and the amazing driver Suvej picked us up from the airport to begin the long journey down to Telicherry (I literally have seen this town spelled four different ways, so Anjali correct me if I'm wrong!) Driving through Kerala is like driving through a movie...there was always something beautiful outside of the van window. Palm trees, lush forests, bodies of water, stands selling coconut water on the side of the road... speaking of:

After several hours of travel and stopping in towns for bathroom breaks, food breaks, tea and coffee breaks, and the lovely homes of friends who allowed us to freshen up, we arrived in Telicherry exhausted but awestruck at Anjali's Uncle's beautiful home and surrounding land. In the morning I took a few snaps of some of the greenery:

Over the weekend we spent time with many cousins, aunts and uncles. We went to a snake park that had a great zoo, and then we stopped at Anjali's family's temple. What an amazing experience, to enter a temple with a family who can explain everything to you and welcomes you inside. It was truly a beautiful experience. We all even washed our feet in the river behind the temple before entering:

Aside from being able to meet Anjali's family and share many good laughs with them (playing charades with cousins ranging in age from 8-20, in the dark because the power went out, and in English instead of their native Malayalum lead to some pretty intense hysterics for all involved), I'd have to say the highlight of the trip was all of the amazing food that was prepared for us by hand. So many aunties and uncles and family friends heard we were coming and pitched in to help provide us with some AMAZING meals. I mean, so much food you wouldn't even believe...piled high on the tables and pushed onto our plates so quickly that we couldn't ever keep them clean! I'm going to dedicate an entire post to the food we ate in Kerala, because I was able to take some photos of everything and I know some people are super interested in the food we're eating here. So I'll do that soon.

On Saturday we spent the afternoon at the beauty salon of two family friends of Anjali's. They were SO sweet. They threaded our eyebrows, gave us pedicures and manicures, and basically pampered us...they also insisted on doing our eye makeup! After 5 weeks in the Calcutta dust and tumble, this was like paradise. Actually, at one point I believe I was even handed a coconut with a straw.

I'm also holding a piece of new favorite dessert! I don't even know how to explain what it is, so... Google that one. We all took a photo out in front of the salon. Such sweet ladies! They noticed me practicing a waterfall braid in Laura's hair and asked me to show them, which led to lots of braiding and teaching different types of braids. So cool that I was able to show them something that they'll be able to use in their salon. And they showed me how to do a half french braid that I can't wait to try out.

This is the waterfall braid I did in Laura's second attempt ever. Rach - it's no wedding hair, but it's halfway decent, no? :)
Muxuan also got some gorgeous henna while we were at the salon:

We finished Saturday evening with a trip to the beach near Uncle's house. It was a beautiful night...we just caught the last of the sunset.

And this is where things began to go a bit downhill for me. As we were leaving the beach I recognized that I felt feverish and had chills. I'd been experiencing it on and off all day, but not enough to be super alarmed. However by the time we left the beach that night, I was feeling more and more light headed. We got in the car and began the drive home. There was bridge construction and we were stuck in traffic... I remember Laura and the others saying that we could get me home and put a cool washcloth on me, maybe I could take a cold shower and take some Tylenol. And then things went from feeling icky to feeling absolutely terrible, the worst I've probably ever felt in my life. I leaned on Laura and she realized how hot I was. I don't remember the rest of the car ride. I'm told I was hallucinating and repeating conversations that had happened days prior. My body went limp and they drove me to the hospital, where I was carried inside and assessed. My temperature was 104F. I was screaming and hitting the air in front of me. I do remember feeling like my head would burst open.

At the hospital in Kerala I was given a shot as a fever reducer, and some anti-nausea medicine, which helped immensely. Now is probably a good time to explain that 10 days ago, 5 days before this, I'd been bitten by a rat in Calcutta. That's a long story, but it happened on my ankle and... yes, it was painful and slightly traumatic (especially if you know about my history with rats in Cambridge! ::shudder::) Because of the rat bite, I've been undergoing shots for rabies over the past two weeks (four shots in about a month's time). The hospital in Kerala sent me home with instructions to keep my fever down with tylenol and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Lucky for us, Anjali's mom is a doctor and Anjali was able to talk to her to get her opinion. Her mom's theory? Rat Bite Fever.

We'd never heard of Rat Bite Fever, but as soon as we got home and got me settled, we googled it. We were still unsure what exactly what going on with me...Rat Bite Fever seemed to fit the description and my symptoms, but we didn't know how to fix it. We figured we'd get back to Calcutta and I'd see a doctor the following day. My fever stayed down for the rest of the night, with help from Laura setting an alarm to remind me to take the Tylenol throughout the night.

The next day was our flight. After a rough (for me...and others at times) six hour car ride back to the airport, and an okay flight to Bombay, it was during our layover and airport shuttle ride to the plane to Calcutta that I began to feel really not okay again. During the flight I told Laura I could feel the fever coming back, even though I'd taken the Tylenol just a few hours before. Soon I realized that my arms, palms, legs, soles of my feet, and abdomen were on fire with a red rash and hives. What a rough friends were so incredibly helpful and such good advocates. They dealt with the airline staff and pushed for the absolute best care for me while on the plane. I'm so thankful I had them during that flight. When we landed in Calcutta we immediately headed to the hospital, where I was seen in the emergency room and was promptly admitted for four days.

Diagnosis: Rat Bite Fever, Gastroenteritis, and a Viral Infection. My body has been through the wringer and I'm taking extremely strict orders to take it easy, follow my medication schedule (about four antibiotics, an anti nausea, anti diarrhea, anti allergy, etc.), drink lots of water, and REST my body for a good week or so.

Some good came out of this experience:
-I now know how to better listen to what my body is telling me.
-I now know what it means to literally run yourself into the ground by never stopping to rest (I do think that my fever/symptoms were exacerbated by a lowered immune system).
-I made two wonderful nurse friends at the hospital, Jyothika and Greeshma*. Laura and I met them on our first morning there. They were so sweet and were part of a team of nurses that took such good care of me. Before I was discharged this morning Jyothi gave Laura and I each a rosary. It was so thoughtful, and mine is currently around my neck. I've been keeping in touch with Jytothi through Whatsapp. Both of them are 23 and fresh out of nursing school, and are also from Kerala, the region we'd just visited.
-Because they're from Kerala (as are many nurses at the hospital - around 90% we found out!) they speak Malayalum, the language native to Kerala. And Anjali speaks Malayalum. This turned out to be so lucky because Anjali was able to clearly communicate with the nurses when we first arrived at the ER in Calcutta, and during my first nights there she got many questions answered for me. I'm so thankful that I had Anjali as a resource.

-Which leads me to my last point. Throughout this experience I have been so incredibly thankful for everyone involved. Every single one of my classmates (friends, really), whether they were in Kerala or not, were a part of the support system that came together in a big way for me over the last week. From Anjali's family, who cared for me during and after the trip to the ER in Kerala, to Anjali's little 8 year old cousin who was by bedside and staring at me intently, waiting for me to wake up for the entire time I was in the ER (apparently when I opened my eyes she ran out into the waiting room shouting, "She's awake! She woke up!"), to Laura and Anjali fighting for a flight attendant to get a thermometer out of the medical box even though there was no doctor on board the aircraft, to Muxuan treking home with my suitcase once we got back to Cal while Anjali, Kris and Laura supported me in the ER and during my hospital Anjali staying the night with me and experiencing some very humble moments when I had to accept help from her for some very basic human Kris's encouraging texts and "one word checkin" while I was really struggling in the Laura visiting me every day, providing me with her own clothes, toiletries, entertainment...she even loaded my photos from my big camera onto my laptop and brought me the laptop so that I could go through the photos while sitting in the hospital. She kept my family well informed, worked with my mom to ensure a smooth billing process and was an amazing advocate (as she was when my fingers got smashed in the taxicab door). She contacted my sister for me and passed messages since I had no wifi and no way to contact anyone in the states. I was visited in the hospital by two outstanding guys, Akash and Imam, who motorbiked all the way up to North Calcutta to see me. Nirmal, our caretaker, called my hospital room to check in on me. My professor's mother, Kumkum, visited me in the hospital and also spoke to the doctor and nurses in Bengali and helped guide me through the discharge process. Phillip and Anna went through all of the food in my cabinet before I got home from the hospital to make sure I had things I could eat (I'm required to eat gluten and lactose free for awhile...) My professor TJ is not only willing to work with me since I've missed an entire week of field this week and couldn't turn in a paper on time, but has sent strength and bravery. And my family provided so much support and love from afar, the best way that they could from such a distance.

I'm so thankful to have such a supportive network at this moment in my life. I never dreamed that I'd travel halfway around the world and need to rely so heavily on people that I didn't know before three months ago. Don't send me well-wishes...instead, thank those who are surrounding me right now. Without them, I would most definitely not be in the mental, emotional, or even physical state that I am right now.

My professor sent an e-mail that said, "Right now, Kristen's health is of utmost importance." And he's right. Because of that, I'll be taking some time in Calcutta to rest my body and recover from this. If you know me, you know that I'm avoiding even thinking about the inevitable. I'm supposed to be leaving for Thailand on Sunday... in 3 days. Right now, it's not looking possible. I'm trying not to think about it too much today because it hurts my heart and I'm not ready to process it yet.

So at the moment, I'm focusing on being here in Cal and being back in the apartment instead of in the hospital room. ::Selfie Break (this one's for you, Phillip):

Morning of discharge...SO HAPPY.
The USA soccer game is on and I'm watching it with Anna while I relax on the couch with my pillow. Anna made us chai (with soymilk, mom!) earlier and it was possibly the best chai I've ever had. Maybe just because it was made by a friend when I'm not feeling 100%. I saw Kumkum and Lalita in the stairwell tonight, and they must have been told I'd been in the hospital because they were silent and solemn. I could barely get a smile out of them. But as they left, Kumkum turned around and gave me her toothy grin and stuck out her hand to shake mine - our best form of communication.

It's taken me many hours to write this update. Close to 5 hours with breaks for rest. I hope you're all well. We're up to 19 countries that have touched the blog, and over 5,690 hits at the time of posting. Amazing.

Love & Light,

*Jyothika and Greeshma allowed me to use their names on the blog.


Eva said...

Huh. My earlier post didn't to through. Oh well.

Such a mixed entry! Your earlier experiences sound as wonderful as the sicknesses sound hellish. I'm so glad you're recovering, and that it looks like the worst is over.

Many thanks to everyone who's been taking care of you!

Joella said...

Oh, dear! I hope you continue to heal quickly. What a journey you've been on.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks to all near and far who were and are there for Kristin. There are lots more here who care and love you as well. Hugs always.

Sara Knight said...

I got teary reading about all the love and support that poured out for you when you needed it. It's because you're such a beautiful, special person, and everyone you meet knows you'd do the same for them. Thanks for writing, even though I know you're not feeling well, because I was wondering how you were doing. Please take care of yourself. I'm watching the Phillies right now for you.

JustJude said...

I cannot possibly say a big enough THANK YOU to everyone that helped Kristen through this ordeal. I have to mention Laura especially as she was my lifeline of communication throughout Kristen's hospitalization. Between emails & WhatsApp texts Laura gave me regular medical updates, conferred on billing needs (aka deposits of $$ that she kindly converted to dollar amounts from rupees) and shared medical information as it became available. So while I appreciate the part that each and every person played in getting Kristen through this, my heartfelt gratitude goes to Laura, who not only assisted Kristen, but also was the person that did everything she could do to make the situation bearable for me, reassuring me that Kristen was in good hands. Kristen do whatever you need to do to recover, build strength and nourish your body & mind. Love you! <3 Mom

Toni Lupro said...

Kerala sounds... AMAZING. The photo in the salon is so beautiful! The colors and the pattern of that top at awesome. I didn't know halwa was a Desi dessert as well. It's popular in Albanian culture -- it's something people are supposed to nibble on during important events. Hennah is so beautiful too, of course.

The rest... What an adventure, eh? That sounds so intense and painful, :/. I'm *so* glad for the amazing people that were there to help.

Anonymous said...

Kristen, what adventures you have had on this trip. I really admire your attitude about the entire thing, and it shows your immense strength to maintain that throughout, and of course, I am sooo grateful for your amazing new friends who have been so supportive and by your side the entire time. I'm glad you are listening to your body and continuing to rest, and with your spirit and the overwhelming support around you, I know you will fully recover, and grow even, from all of this. My heart is so big full of the compassion surrounding you.
Whatever the future holds, it will be right for you. <3 Raina