Doctor Heal Thyself, My Perspective On Chikungunya Virus Infection

I am the first to admit that I do not stay tuned in as much as the next person. I hardly listen to the radio or watch T.V. In my experience, the violence portrayed and the negative information that bombards you is a turn off.  Aside from that, I am totally engaged with living my very full to overflowing life, and I just don't have a lot of time to watch TV or listen to the radio. This is not to say that I  don't  have screen time, I do, but mostly on my own terms. I occasionally watch movies with my spouse or with my family - depending on the rating and subject matter. I also love to listen to the playlists that I have made on my iPod. 

So really and truly, I had heard that there were a few cases of Chikungunya in Grenada in August, but I did not know there were so many cases in Carriacou at the time.  I therefore went to Carriacou to see patients on 21st August ill prepared. I wore a short sleeved skirt suit, had on no pantyhose or insect repellent.

At CHS clinic, I noticed the mother of my second patient shuffling into the examination room very slowly with her baby. I asked her, what was wrong, and she said to me that she was coming down with the Chik virus.  I knew enough about the illness to be concerned, especially because there were a few mosquitoes milling around the closed examination room with us. I asked the staff to get some OFF for me and about 1 hour later, I was able to spray myself, but during that interval I continued to see patients.

I returned to Grenada and  did not think anything of it again. About 7 days later, I started to feel mild joint pains. I thought to myself that I probably was exposed to the virus during my day trip to Carriacou, but I rationalized that since I only experienced slight joint pains, I would probably not develop the full blown syndrome.  It is truly amazing how well we humans try to rationalize things. I still sent a blood sample to the lab to be tested for Chikungunya antibodies, just in case. Unsurprisingly, the test results are still pending one month later.

Needless to say, on Friday 29th August, I started to feel very tired and  less energetic than usual. Of course, I reasoned that it was the end of a busy week, and so my body was just pooped. The next morning, after a full night's sleep, I still felt drained. Ever, the good doctor however, I  proceeded to care for my patients as usual. By 1 pm I was done with my last patient, and I had just enough energy to  eat my lunch, shower and get in the bed. The aches got very intense all over. The next day was much worse. I developed a fever during the night and the aches progressed to serious pain, especially under my feet. It was so bad, I could not get out of bed and walk by myself. I had to wear thick fluffy slippers and my children had to help me hobble to the bathroom. The pain was a ten out of ten.  All that Sunday, I kept saying to my family that I still had to go to work the next day. They humored me. I felt so ill. I cannot recall feeling so ill in a very, very long time.

I was able to make it to work, despite the pain. I drank lots of fluids, ate fresh fruits and rested as much as possible, just like I advise my patients with this viral syndrome.  I went on to develop a generalized, mildly itchy rash and lymphadenopathy. Both of which have since resolved. The most disturbing thing to me was the achiness I continued to feel, especially first thing in the morning. As I opened my eyes, I would not feel the normal revitalization after a good night's rest, but I would feel fatigue, listlessness and not in the mood to exercise or get on with my day.   It is one month later, I am still plagued by body aches. The original areas of pain have gotten better. For the last week, my left arm and hand have become moderately swollen, and  very painful, especially when I move it; which is all the time, since I am left-handed. I am hopeful that this too shall pass.

This personal experience has surely given me a new perspective on the Chikungunya virus infection. I had been treating a few patients with it prior to my succumbing to it. I knew from what they said, how they moved, and behaved, that the illness was serious and painful. I always try to be sympathetic and empathetic to my patients' feelings, but truly, it is only by experience that one can get a true perspective on the  severity of a situation.

Sickness is not something that I would wish on anyone, but it really does remind you what is truly important in your life.  All of a sudden, all the mundane things fall away, and your only concern is your health and getting better.  It is a very vulnerable and frightening position to be in, no matter your profession or station in life.  Illness is a very humbling experience and the great equalizer. 

I must admit, this experience of being a patient, has reminded me of how important  my role as a doctor is in many people's lives.  I am humbled by it, and I hope it will serve as a reminder to me to continue to be as loving and caring as I can be in the face of my patients' vulnerability.

Yours truly, 

In health and wellness,

Kecia Lowe