It was dusk. The time had come. Instantly, the sound of laughter was replaced by groans of fear and the scurrying of feet. The inhabitants sought refuge in their dwellings, hoping it would protect them from the predators. The oldest child took out the ointments and oils to rub the elders. The legend was that the scent protected you from their attacks but there were many victims who told another tale. Yet they rubbed and rubbed, because even an unlikely chance of escape was better than facing the inevitable. They all laid covered under their sheets, double protection against the impending attacks. Still they prayed, because despite all their efforts everyone knew only God could protect you from chikungunya.
So there I lay, rubbed down in greasy citronella scented petroleum jelly. Covered from head to toe with a blanket and of course a few minutes away from boiling point. Yet I would not give in! I would not succumb to the thought of flipping off that blanket, rubbing off this awful greasy substance and facing the black and white enemy. Man can condition himself to brave any storm or foe, so what is eight hours of discomfort? That is child’s play!
Less than a month in, I was sprawled across my bed with no ‘repellent’ or blanket. The temperature did not permit for any double layering. So I called for divine intervention to help me beat this beast. I was on summer vacation and I had an itinerary and sick in bed was not one of the activities. Get Thee Behind me Chikungunya!
I guess my prayers worked. Since August rolled in, and no one in my neighbourhood had it…yet. Then the news came to me. My neighbour’s family had it…fever, swelling and joint pain. This was no surprise since the mosquitoes had increased their troops. You couldn’t sit outside in the evening without being attacked by droves of big mosquitoes with painful stings. I was now in panic mode. Walking through town searching for any type of repellent proved futile. The shelves were empty and those left were extremely expensive…[Side note: say what you want chikungunya has been good for business]. I was pissed but still confident that I would return to Barbados, ‘gunya free.
Then a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave, it hit home. My eighteen year old brother was down and out. All the symptoms were there, rash, headache, fever, body pain. Moments later my father started complaining of joint pain. We then realized that my grandmother had never left her bed, and soon after my other grandmother started to complain about a waist ache. Yes people, it was a household epidemic. I must admit that by this time, my family was fairly late in being affected.
At this point, the hospital had to deal with many cases of chickungunya. Some worse than others. From limping to immobility and even seizures caused by the high fever. Nonetheless, most of the extreme symptoms were foreign to me until I saw them manifested in my family members and of course myself. Exactly one week before I returned to school, I went to bed with excruciating chest pains. Honestly, a heart attack came to mind before chikungunya because never did I think a virus could cause so much pain. Next day I was in bed, my body was in pain and surprisingly enough, so were my eyes. Like so many people in the Caribbean, I was now a victim of the ‘gunya. The left of my chest was swollen, as were my hands. I had pain in my ankles and knees. I also had no appetite, partly because my mouth tasted metallic. This was all accompanied by a scorching fever which was so high that I felt like I was freezing. So I covered myself in a blanket because I felt cold, but unwrapped because my body would then feel hot…and so the never ending covering and uncovering lasted during the night. Even though I feared this virus, I must say that it surpassed my expectations. I felt miserable, I looked miserable, I was miserable. This is ‘gunya! (To be said like ‘This is Sparta! c’mon play along). However, despite my pain I could not help but think how great it must be to be in the painkiller business right now. Since the only medication which could help was paracetamol.
Yet I must admit that I was partly responsible for this situation. In hindsight I realized that my family and I were not proactive enough. Yes, a few months before we had all turned into the William sisters or Federer killing mosquitoes with our electric rackets, but this could have come a bit sooner. Yes I know, there is no assurance that insecticide and repellent will prevent it, but some form of protection is better than none. In addition, how many of us are covering water containers in our yards or throwing out rubbish which are breeding grounds for these mosquitoes? This is one measure that can help you and your entire community. Furthermore, we should educate ourselves…No! It is not contagious but with so many of us who suffered and are suffering from this virus, we should know as much as possible about it. Don’t be in denial like me, no one is immune.