Saturday, November 19, 2011

"Dengue that doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"

My brother was hospitalized because of Dengue last week and he was there for about 4 days. That was the first time when I had a first hand experience of having a member of my family's "first circle" to be hospitalized for some condition other than the likes of pregnancy or a cataract... for something life threatening. There was a twenty minute window when the possibility of losing my brother was clear and present. I can spend the next one hour walking through it second by second. But that is neither the point of this post, nor would that be rewarding emotionally or intellectually. I would rather use this space and the rarely available time to write a blog post to analyze what lessons I can learn and remember to use going forward.

  1. Dengue is one of the many diseases caused by virus. With whatever I have seen so far, a viral gives us one good head start with its classic symptom that should be perceivable without a degree in medicine. Fever and body ache. When we have this symptom, I think it would be a good idea to directly go to a diagnostic centre first and get all the diagnostic test done, and then go the doctor for consultations. I don't think we need to wait for the doctor's advice on this since his/her advice is not a prerequisite. And we are advised to be taking such tests on an annual basis.
  2. Dengue is going to decrease the platelet and WBC count. Platelets work to clot blood while WBC, as we all know, provide immunity. Once detected for dengue, doctor would advice platelet count checks on a daily basis through blood tests.At least in India, it take about two hours for the results to come in. For a healthy person the count should 2.5lakhs though, I have seen normal people with counts as low as 1.5Lakhs. Dengue has no vaccine and don't have a direct medicine for cure. 
  3. The way to combat dengue is to ensure that the platelet counts don't decrease to a dangerous level while simultaneously addressing the fever by taking paracetamol advised by the doctor. To keep the platelet count from decreasing, one has to have a lot of fluid intake like fruit juice (esp. those rich in vitamin C that improves immunity) and eating well. But eating well was a problem at least in my brother's case since there was a fluid accumulation in his abdomen that messed with his appetite. Papaya fruit and leaves is widely spoken-of for being very good at helping in platelet count increase since papaya has a lot of vitamin C and other anti-microbial properties that purges the microbes from the body. 
  4. Just to put the above discussions in context using my brother as an example, he was hospitalized with a platelet count as low as 11,000. He had to take about 6 "packets" of blood platelets. He took two teaspoons of papaya leaves crushed in a mixer, twice a day. He emptied about 300ml of papaya juice once. In addition he emptied about three litres of water. His diet usually contained a bowl of tomato soup, Spinach, dahl and mixed fruits. All this with the IV of saline solution dripping into his blood stream almost 24 hours a day, he took about three days to recover from 11,000 to 1.15 lakhs in terms of platelets. 
  5. The hospital is going to puncture the patient with needles for a twice a day platelet checks. It is usually a progressively painful routine. But an increase of  8000 to 10000 in platelet count is a very good sign. The worry is when it is decreasing and goes back to 20000 or lesser.
  6. After discharge he is at home taking rest for at least one more week, taking normal diet and medicine prescribed by the doctor.  It would be a good idea to do another platelet check after may be a week to be sure that the count isn't going down
The experience was traumatic at least for the 20 minutes, and it was one of those rare "it can happen to me too" moments. But, bitter as it may be, I should acknowledge the fact that it was a very valuable experience during which we have lost nothing more than a few tens of thousands of money, a few tear drops, but gained a lot of knowledge, more strength to take on an unexpected emergency, and last but not least, the realization that when you or your loved one is down, there are a lot of friends, relatives and colleagues who would respond to your call for help with urgency. I have heard of a saying "Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger". At least in this case, it sure was true.