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Surviving dengue in the time of COVID

By BETTINA LOPEZ OSMEÑA, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 08, 2021 4:00 pm

On a quiet Sunday morning, last Feb. 20, I woke up not feeling right. I reached for my trusty digital thermometer and it read 38.8. Of course, like everybody else, first thought that entered my mind was COVID-19. I grabbed my Aria Antigen emergency kit to check if I had COVID -19 and to my great relief it was negative.

However, I could feel tightness in my chest area and that was the factor that drove me to the ER of Makati Medical Center. I have had a history of really bad GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) attack but I didn’t want to leave it to chance and took a gamble by going to the ER.

When I arrived at MMC, I was brought to a makeshift ER facility where they gave me a PCR swab and the usual blood works. While I was there, thoughts of catching COVID in that ER were swirling in my head. The room was freezing cold, too.

After two hours they told me that everything seemed normal and I could go home. I stood my ground and asked them what about my chest tightening.

So they took my dopamine and ECG to make sure everything was okay. They came back to me and told me that I would have to be admitted because of my chest pain. Fine.

I entered the ER at 2:30 p.m. and was brought to a so-called holding room on the seventh floor circular area at almost midnight. “Holding room” is just a term for a small hospital room. You are allowed to bring a companion but your companion is stuck in that room with you. No going out.

Results came in one hour later. “You have dengue!” OMG! What’s worse, COVID or dengue? When I first entered the hospital my platelets were normal at 169,000. By Wednesday, it was 112,000.

Monday came and went. My fever was up and down. My PCR came back negative. Thank you, Lord! They swabbed me for the flu and the result was negative, too.  That’s when questions started to play in my mind.

Tuesday was a better day.  No fever the whole day and they told me that I could go home by Wednesday if I didn’t have a fever for at least 24 hours.

Wednesday came, and my doctor told me that I could go home. I told him, “Doc, if I am negative for dengue, flu and COVID, what did I have — or what do I have?”

They told me that if I wanted further testing I would need an infectious disease specialist. I chose Dr. Salvador Abad Santos. He took very good care of my husband when he caught a life-threatening virus in 2017.

Blood test pa more! Results came in one hour later. “You have dengue!” OMG!  What’s worse, COVID or dengue? When I first entered the hospital my platelets were normal at 169,000. By Wednesday, it was 112,000.

I asked my doctor, “How did this happen?” He said, “When your fever goes away, that is when your platelets start going down and it will continue to go down for 2-3 days and meanwhile, sit tight and pray it does not dip to critical levels.”

What is considered “critical levels”? “At 40,000, you can start worrying. Malayo ka pa.”  I immediately asked friends for tawa tawa and papaya leaves. I immediately started drinking both teas and prayed for the best results.

Thursday test: 101,000. My heart sank. I was expecting immediate results from tawa tawa but doctors told me my white blood count went up so much so the platelets would follow. Friday test: 88,000. Lord, ano ba ito?

My doctor who has been treating dengue for ages, told me, “My educated guess is by tomorrow, Saturday, your platelets will start rising.” Saturday: 112,000. Sunday: 136,000. Yahoo! Thank you, Lord! Hallelujah!

I was expecting immediate results from tawa tawa but doctors told me my white blood count went up so much so the platelets would follow. Friday test: 88,000. Lord, ano ba ito?

So why am I writing about dengue? Because it is dengue season and I want to be able to help when the time comes.

Lesson No. 1: Be makulit. It pays to be makulit. Why did I stay in the hospital? To monitor my platelets and to keep hydrated through dextrose. Dehydration leads to lower platelets.

My mom had dengue in 1997 and the blood transfusion machine was already at her bedside.  They told her, “One more night, if your platelets drop further, we will need to transfuse.”

I also remember my mom telling me that the mosquito bite is unforgettable. It’s a very painful bite and I remember being bitten inside my house and I even made a mental note: Gosh, I hope this is not a dengue mosquito. My precious advice to everybody is to spray yourself with an anti-mosquito repellant every day.

Stay safe, everybody.

Banner and thumbnail caption: “Death and Life” by Gustav Klimt