The Nicaragua Series: Chikungunya

Chikungunya.

You’ve probably never heard of it.

Let me tell you, I never had either. Until a little over a month ago.

I had briefly heard of the space-age-sounding term on our previous trips, and I heard when we first got to Nicaragua this time that it was a disease. It sounded awful, according to what other missionaries and locals said, but truth be told, I didn’t really care from that point on or give a second thought.

But about 6 or 7 weeks into our trip, I began to feel extremely fatigued all the time. I also had some mild-moderate joint pain. I truly thought I was having a growth spurt. But the fatigue couldn’t be rationally explained, as I had just been energetic and completely fatigue-free the week before. But again, I didn’t give a second thought to it. I was too busy.

I continued to feel fatigued and sore until about a week later. We were walking through town and I began to become very exhausted. It wasn’t because I had walked a lot – we normally walked 7 to 8 miles a day (and that’s mild). I had only walked 2 or 3 miles.

Then my back started hurting from my uke. And my joints started to hurt. I felt like an old woman.

We decided to walk over to Yum Yum, our American friend’s donut shop in Matagalpa (check it out when you’re in town). As soon as we arrived, I stumbled up the stairs and into the forever-open door. I then collapsed into a chair.

I wasn’t used to being this way in Nicaragua, especially at Yum Yum. Normally, when we walk into Yum Yum, I run straight to the donuts. And this time, I ran straight to a chair. I was baffled at my own self.

I laid my head on the table. As my parents came to sit with the donuts, I began to feel those waves like you feel when you get the flu. They envelope your whole body one wave to the other, from head to toe. I was again, confused. But I was still feeling good enough to gobble a donut up. I then laid my head on the table again, unable to explain the flu-like feeling I had.

Then a raging headache started. And my mom said I had a slight fever. I began to feel so awful I felt like crawling upstairs and into the beds they reserve for groups of missionaries they bring in. But I had a strange sense that I needed to get home. So I told my parents that I needed to get home.

We stood up to go when Pastor Raul of La Fuente rolled up in his truck. He offered to take us to our place in Larreynaga, the neighborhood of the city of Matagalpa we were renting a house in.

So my mom crawled in the passenger seat as my dad and I jumped in the bed of his truck. We picked up another woman, this time a Nicaraguan missionary to her own people in everyday situations. What we do is very similar, except she is Nicaraguan and ministering in her home country.

I barely had enough energy to close the door behind me in my bedroom and crawl in bed. I began to freeze before I knew it. I had severe chills and a high fever.

I wasn’t sure if I had the flu, or something more dangerous.

So I called my mom in my room and had her get my laptop out of my backpack.

I was quite sure I didn’t have the flu. I had had the flu many times before, and this didn’t feel like it.

So I researched other diseases. I remembered that Zika is supposed to be like the flu, and that mosquitoes that carry Zika are present in abundance in our area and that Zika cases had been reported from Matagalpa.

So I researched Zika symptoms. What I read wasn’t matching my symptoms, but it did reference dengue as a possible option. As I read through the dengue article, I concluded that I didn’t have dengue, but it was similar. And then I read the note on the bottom of the dengue page.

It read that dengue and something called chikungunya are very similar and are often confused. It recommended that if you thought you might have had dengue but your symptoms didn’t match, read up on chikungunya.

So I did.

As I went through the symptoms, one by one they matched. I read about what medicines I was supposed to take and not to take. (NSAIDs are outruled.) I studied and studied. And then I remembered that Nelson’s whole family went through chikungunya last year. One by one, they all came down with chikungunya. I also remember him saying that it was awful.

I shut down my computer and began to think. I couldn’t do anything else, so I didn’t. I fell in and out of sleep, but it was very hard to sleep. I would always wake up either roasting and sweaty from a fever breaking or freezing with a fever.

When I woke up, I nagged my mom to send out a prayer chain. She made Messenger groups and got the news out. She then called our missionary friends who don’t have Messenger. One of the immediate responses was from a beloved interpreter who said I may have chikungunya. So I crawled back in bed, exhausted from the exertion of walking to our living room.

As we looked for non-NSAID pain medicine in the house, I began to feel worse.

As the day faded into the afternoon, my joints began to hurt even more than before. My right knee began to shoot, burn, and stab all at the same time. It was like an R-rated movie happening in my knee. (Get it? Shooting, burning, and stabbing? Ha ha.)

Soon the pain was too much to bear.

Now, many of you know I have a crazy pain tolerance. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It means I don’t care up to a certain point. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let people hurt me. If someone hurts me accidentally, I’ll let them know. If someone hurts me on purpose, I return the favor. If someone doesn’t have my best interests in their mind and hurts me on purpose, they’ll find themselves crying on the ground. When anything on my body hurts (unless it’s my scalp or it’s a type of pain I can’t handle) I generally stay calm.

But this time, it was almost excruciating. It escalated to a point where I knew that if it escalated more, I would scream. I was groaning and tears were silently falling off my face. I barely had energy to speak. Then the pain radiated up and down my leg. Then my hip started the same type of pain. This lasted for hours until the evening came. It began to calm down right about the same time I downed some Tylenol.

I had a rough night of trying to sleep. The next morning, I stumbled into the hammock. I guzzled Hi-C lemon tea all day. And I played ukulele.

I still felt awful, but I had improved a tiny bit. As I laid in my hammock, Nelson came for a visit to help cheer me up.

Now, this may sound weird to Americans. But to Nicaragua, this is normal. People visit people when they’re sick. The only reason more people didn’t come is because they all knew American customs or were too busy to stop by.Personally, I like my peace and quiet when I’m sick, but I figured I was in Nicaragua and needed to keep custom.

So I did, and it wasn’t that bad after all! But I still like my peace and quiet.

After this improving day, I went back to bed and got up and walking the following morning. I even went into town with my dad for street ministry for the day!

Ever since, I’ve been battling fatigue. Chikungunya normally runs its course, and then plagues the victim for the next weeks, months, and even up to a year with fatigue and joint pain.

But praise the Lord! My case was much better than most. Most times, the patient is in bed for about a week and is then tormented with the aforementioned joint pain and fatigue. The name chikungunya means in an African language “that which walks deformed.” This is due to the joint pain. But I was sick for only three days, and other than fatigue, I have been healed by the blood of the Lamb!

Hallelujah!

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