It was a border crossing day, everything was fairly standard. We awoke around six in the morning to catch our early bus from Savannakhet, in Laos, to the Lao Báo crossing with Vietnam. Around five hours later, the bus stops just over a kilometre short of the crossing itself and stubborn as we are, we ignore the offers of motorbike taxis to drive us the rest of the way, walking with our packs in the 34 degree sun instead. Aside from a very thorough immigration official, who took nearly thirty seconds of looking at me, my passport, and back at me about six times trying to find out if it was in fact me; the crossing itself was uneventful.
Upon entering the country, we made our way to Dông Hà for a late-afternoon lunch before hopping on another bus to our final destination of the day: Huê. Arriving a little after dark, we made our way to a nearby hostel and climbed the several flights of stairs to our room. Hungry again and ready to get out and see what the town had to offer, we unpacked some clean clothes and began getting ready.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I went from excited and hungry to weak and sick within a few seconds. As if some unknown vampiric force was draining me of all energy. I hobbled to the washroom to wash my face with some cold water as I could feel my temperature rising. It didn’t help. Legs shaking now, I barely make it back to the bedroom before mumbling something to Kylee like “I don’t think I feel like going out.” before falling face down onto the bed.
Barely leaving the bed for the following three days, Kylee later tells me stories of me moaning in the middle of the night and trying to get her attention, her waking to me in incredibly high fever yet not sweating. Thankfully she was there to take care of me, constantly watching me, placing cold wet rags under my arms on my head to keep my temperature down. I couldn’t imagine going through that alone.
In moments of lucidity, I remember a very sore back, pounding headache centring behind my eyes and conversations discussing how I probably just got heat exhaustion from the border crossing. Eventually regaining some strength, we headed south slowly, from town to town. Every day of travel would send my back to bed in a useless, weak heap.
Slowly, but eventually, I finally felt almost better once again – albeit several pounds thinner. But next, seemingly out of nowhere, my skin turned an odd colour. A strange blotchy mix of pale white and deep red. Thinking I was having incredibly bad luck and had now contracted something new, we went to a pharmacy to ask for advice. The lady behind the counter could offer little more than offering a choice of either expired aspirin or antihistamines. Luckily I’m not a fan of aspirin to begin with, as taking it could have exponentially worsened my symptoms – even killed me.
Unsure of what had developed, we let it go for several days more in hopes it would eventually go away on its own. Thankfully it did. It wasn’t until several weeks later, while on a beach in Cambodia, did we learn that my mysterious skin condition and heat exhaustion were one and the same. Flipping through our Lonely Planet with nothing better to do at the time, I was flipping through the tropical disease section, and when I came across Dengue Fever, it explained like a medical textbook exactly what I had experienced. From the sudden onset, to the pain and eventual skin rash. The only suggestion it had, as no vaccine or medication is available, was to get to a hospital and be monitored by a doctor.
Fantastic to learn all that after the fact.
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