Inside view Society

Why this Dengue Di?

When Dengue takes over life

When Dengue takes over life   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar

Life in the time of Dengue

Greet people you meet with the stock question, “How are you?” and the responses you get are no longer the standard, “I’m fine,” “I’m ok,” or the trendy “I’m good” (a reply that often makes me itch to ask why they are praising themselves). Instead you are treated to a litany of ailments and illnesses troubling them or members of their families. Fevers head the list with dengue being a popular sub-division.

I went to an office the other day to find empty seats welcoming me. “Dengue,” said a wan-looking human who was wobbling past. He pronounced it, ‘dengu.’ “Dengi”, I couldn’t resist correcting him. “Den-goo”, he emphasised, reviving sufficiently to lengthen the second syllable with some spirit. “Den-gee”, I countered, not to be outdone.

He looked at me as if I was an idiot who needed everything explained. “Madam, those people are on leave; they have the den-goo fever, dangerous fever. I also had it. Don’t you know about dengu?”

Ha, don’t I know? I had it four years back, before it became a household word. I recalled how I had intermittent fever for a few days and finally consulted the doctor when my temperature decided to stay put at 103 degrees. Once I described the symptoms — fever, headache and body ache —he recommended a blood test.

The report confirmed his suspicions. “You have dengue,” he declared in a solemn voice.

Whee! Dengue and me? I couldn’t believe it. I thought dengue was an exotic fever that select people got. I had always been content with colds, coughs, flus, viral fevers and on one special, colourful occasion, measles. How come I had got promoted to the privileged bracket?

“Don’t worry,” the doctor reassured me, looking at my woebegone face. “You came here on time. Your platelet count is not dangerously low. Do you feel very tired? Do you want IV fluids?”

“I want to go home,” I sniffed.

“Drink lots of fluids, then, and have paracetamol tablets symptomatically. Your fever ought to go down tomorrow. Take complete rest. And when I say complete rest, I mean complete rest. Stay in bed,” he said in a stern tone, detecting the restless gleam in my eyes.

I was too full of my aches and pains to protest. I had dismissed the illness as just a bout of flu until my bones began to clamour for attention. Every bone in my body ached like crazy, as if someone was pressing each one individually with iron clamps with the diabolic intent of breaking it. Choice medieval tortures could not have been more painful. I didn’t realise I had so many bones in me. “My bones, all 216 bones of them, are aching,” I complained to my husband who replied diplomatically, “Of course, 206 must feel like 216.”

The next day he asked me, sounding quite excited, “Do you know what another name for dengue is?” I didn’t think it was the right time for a quiz, especially after the bones blunder, but it turned out to be a rhetorical question. Before I could hazard a muddled guess, he said, “You described the symptoms perfectly. It is also called ‘break-bone fever’.” I was so pleased with the praise, I hugged my aching bones, all 206 of them.

“Why this dengue epidemic?” I asked myself once the fever and the aches subsided. Forced to take rest in bed and full of fluids, I had plenty of time to think profound thoughts, centring on fevers, mosquitoes and garbage. Dengue, chikungunya, malaria, filariasis and Japanese encephalitis are all mosquito-borne diseases that children don’t need to prepare for spelling bee contests to spell correctly, so common have they become.

Take precautions, the authorities say. Use mosquito nets and repellents; don’t get bitten. But that’s not the issue. If you make the environment ideal for mosquitoes to breed, why censure the deadly carriers?

The city’s garbage problem is largely to blame. What has gone wrong with our lovely, clean city that it is fast transforming itself into a gigantic garbage dump? Will it be “smart” enough to apply the brakes on the fever epidemic? Why the dragging of feet? Shouldn’t this emergency situation be tackled on a war footing?

I was lost in my thoughts when the man repeated, “Don’t you know about dengu?”

“I’ve had it,” I replied.

“You can still get another kind. There are four different strains of the virus,” said a smart-looking chap standing nearby.

“Thanks. Very comforting,” I mumbled, squashing a mosquito that had landed on my hand.

khyrubutter@yahoo.com

A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 4:50:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/life-in-the-time-of-dengue/article19278895.ece

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