Friday, 9 September 2016

Bested By A Virus: Busted Joints!

Date: 7th August 2016
Time: 1:45 am
We are to leave our home town Pune in India and go back to Nairobi in a matter of hours. Our 'Home Leave' is over and my son's school will reopen in a couple of days. It feels strange to say 'my son's' instead of 'the children's school', but my daughter has graduated and is heading to college soon.
Our luggage is scattered all over the hall floor. I kneel down, with one knee pressing against the cool marble floor of our living room and the other knee pushing down the rough plastic lid of an overflowing suitcase, even as my daughter firmly snaps the locks in place. We are finally ready to leave, having made use of every single kilo gram that the air line allows us.
Time: 2:15 am
A quick shower later, I finally hit my bed in India for what would be the last time for a few months at least. It has been a long and tiring day with last minute shopping, packing, visitors dropping in to say bye and then I had to go and clear up my classroom. Barely fifteen minutes later I start shivering. At first I attribute it to fatigue and the fact that I have to be up in less than four hours to get ready for the drive to Mumbai airport, through heavy rain and crumbling hills.
Time: 2:30 am
My knees start to lock completely, even as I am lying down. My first thought is that maybe I pressed down on the suitcase too hard, damaging a knee part in the process! Then I think I have been infected with the Chikungunya virus that has been doing the rounds of my city, thanks to much needed heavy monsoon showers which have resulted in an increase in the population of mosquitoes that spread this disease. My next thought is about how I am going to sit through a four hour car journey, a long wait and a longer walk at the humongous airport and then a six hour flight. I fall into an uneasy doze...
Time: 6:00 am
I am up and barely about. I am only able to hobble around. I wake the kids and then have a quick shower. ( Indians brought up in India will NEVER travel without showering first!)  The warm water brings temporary respite to my rapidly swelling knees.
I stumble down to my parents' house, unable to even eat any breakfast. Our taxi driver has been kind enough to come up and get every suitcase down to load into the car, as I am completely helpless. We depart. A quick call to my mother's aunt, who is our family doctor, results in her giving a couple of medicine names which I stop and buy from our neighbourhood pharmacy, limping through puddles... My children, observing me from the taxi, tell me they cannot bear to see me like this because usually I walk so fast that they have to run to catch up with me!
Somehow we make it to Mumbai. I'm downing anti fever medication every five hours because I know I have high fever. The children ask if I need a wheel chair but I staunchly refuse, saying it has to be booked beforehand. The flight is uneventful and I weave in and out of sleep brought on by fever and knee pain. We make it to Nairobi, luggage and all, and yet another shower later I am finally in bed by midnight, Kenya time. I have very high fever.
The next morning brings with it another revelation. ALL my joints, not just my knees, especially the smaller ones in the hands and feet are swollen and horrible painful. My sister in law calls to tell me that she just read an article in the newspaper about a virus affecting people in Pune which mimics the symptoms of Chikungunya. I definitely seem to have caught it! The fever ranges high, unabated.  I am completely bedridden for the first time in my life. ( I was up and about even on the days my children were born, but that's another story altogether!)
My son has school the next day and for the FIRST time since my daughter started school fifteen years ago, I do not get out of bed. I cannot.... My daughter and husband manage to send him off to school. Mercifully it's a half day so he will be home for lunch that my daughter cooks with instructions from my sister in law over a Whats App call! I fade in and out of sleep, clutching a hot water bottle to painful joints.. For the first time in my fourteen years overseas, my house help makes and serves me a cup of tea...Yes, I prefer doing everything on my own but now I am immobile and totally dependant! To make matters worse I break out in a bad rash and in a couple of places my skin looks as if it has been burnt. It begins to feel as if there's no end in sight.
I never realized we had so many joints in our body and that they could hurt so much. A task as simple as clambering out of bed every morning takes on a new meaning that spells agony. Every step causes shooting, jolting pain and it does not end there. The bathroom presents newer challenges. Joints are needed to turn on the faucet, to twist open the toothpaste cap, to squeeze the tooth paste tube, joints that suddenly refuse to cooperate and cause severe pain if they do...
My respect for senior citizens goes up a hundred fold. As someone who never even comes down with a cold, I have always been slightly impatient with other peoples' ailments, though I've never expressed it out loud, of course! Suddenly Assisted Living, Full Time Nurse, terms that I have only heard, begin to make sense. They have to, when you are unable to hold your own tea cup, because that too, needs those tiny finger joints!
The fact that my daughter's college opening day got postponed and she came back with us, seems like a blessing in disguise. She is a huge help especially as we have visitors from overseas and for the first two weeks I am even unable to stand without support, much less walk. I do make it to the Open House in school though, as I am determined to meet my son's teachers at the start of the new academic year. I pay the price by spending the next two days in debilitating pain.
I start cooking in the second week. Every day, within thirty minutes, my feet joints begin to burn and stabbing pain means I rush back into bed as soon as I finish, leaving my daughter to clear up. This pain brought on by prolonged standing continues for a number of days till it finally recedes a bit. But I was determined to cook myself and so I do it. This way I ensure my husband and son have fresh, home made food for their tiffins.
My Skype students too are waiting for classes to begin and I postpone it by a week and then crawl out of bed every day long enough to sit and teach and then I'm flat again, nursing my knees and ankles. Driving the car seems like a distant dream and my wrists and feet are in such a bad shape that I feel as if I will never be able to drive again. I idly contemplate selling the car, like an eighty year old would.. But in the third week, I need to take my daughter to the clinic for a test that is mandatory for admission to college. It is a five minute drive and despite a super smooth power steering, my left wrist protests loudly and painfully..Result: A crepe bandage has to be wound around my wrist for the next twenty four hours.. My husband asks me to sign a cheque but I have to refuse because I am unable to even grip a pen and the bank will surely say the signature does not match! I feel a hundred years old.
A dear friend sends me an article from the newspaper that talks in detail about this weird virus and I read that this virus targets only upper class, upper middle class and middle class women and working professionals! A virus that checks your bank balance before it attacks?!! Wow!
Recovery is not complete yet. Stiff knees, shooting, shifting pain in various joints, still characterize the fact that I am not back to normal yet. But life must go on...hobbling, stumbling, with the least bit of exertion causing set backs...It will be a while yet until I go back to walking eight kilometres every day but  that day will dawn too...


  1. Had the virus had some special powers , it would have deposited a big amount in my account! And then attacked me.well written! A terrifying and painful description but well written.

  2. What! A painful experience ma'am. BY TANISH.


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