Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sick in Paraguay

Being sick in Paraguay is an interesting experience. I guess being sick is always an interesting experience, as one never knows what to expect or when he/she will begin to feel better.  All last week I was sicker than I have been in a very long time—the cultural differences, being in a semi-rural site and having a caring family made for a very interesting experience.

If you have been keeping up with my postings you will recall the posting titled " The King", in this posting I described how many of the people and families that I know have always treated me wonderfully—in fact they have always treated me like a king. Well, during the time I was sick I really wished that I was a peon—or at least I wished they would have treated me like one. On Monday of last week I awakened at 5am with every symptom you can imagine: My whole body ached like one feels with they are about to come down with the flu, I had a pretty high fever, my sinuses felt like they were about to explode, I had a massive stomach ache, I felt as I would pass out when I stood up and worst of all, I could not stop trembling.  To add to all of this, I had to get up every 30 minutes and run to the bathroom with reoccurring diarrhea. I crawled to my handy-dandy-super-duper Peace Corps health kit and begin taking some of the drugs found there. Noticing that I did not get up, the young girl from the store next door (owned by my family) came to check on me. Not being terribly concerned at first, she simply prepared some tea for me and left me to rest.  By about Noon I decided to try and get up and go to the bank. I made it to the bank and was strong enough to make it to the clerk. However, just before I was tended to by the clerk I felt an unbearable rumbling in my stomach and lightheaded and I left the bank running home. It was too hot and I couldn't make it. I stopped at a gas station and fearing using the restroom there, I purchased some bottled water and sat down at a table.  In no time I found myself asleep at the table.  An hour went by and I slowly pulled myself back together and made my way back home. Upon arrival I went straight back to bed.

By 8pm that night (not having left the bed or eaten anything…this last fact seemed to alarm my family) the young girl from the store became scared and called Dr.Miguel (a family member of mine here in Paraguay who is a bone and joint doctor—Don't ask me to remember what a bone doctor is called in English) who quickly came to see me. I was awakened when he removed  the blankets from over my head. I noticed that behind him and standing over me was Cirila (the girl from the store) Marite (my host mom that lives next door), Justina (a 10 yr old that lives with the owner of my house) and Juanho (Marite's grandson) who just wants to see what's going on.  Dr Miguel began poking  around on my stomach and back, took my temperature and promptly prescribed something, quickly sending Cirila to the "farmacia"  to purchase the drug. After coming back with the pain killers and detailed instructions on how to take them, I was eager for everyone to vacate the room so as to escape the reality of being sick by once again falling asleep. Little did I know, I was in for the worst.

Upon the Dr. Miguel's exit my symptoms took a turn for the worst. I began trembling uncontrollably and broke out into a very cold sweat. Don't ask me why but I assumed that, like many other bugs that one catches, all of this would pass by morning and I would be able to go back to work. Consequently, I didn't call the Peace Corps doctor in the capital.  In my vain attempt to fall asleep again, I was bombarded by text messages from each and every family member and relative asking about how I was feeling and if I was feeling better.  My initial notion was to turn off the phone. However, after rethinking this, I decided not to as my family may think that I had gone into a comatose stage or died and would have came running to my room. Needless to say I didn't rest the whole night.

When Tuesday morning finally arrived, along with it came an army of people (my family) to check on me and see if I was okay.  Cirila (who is studying to be a nurse) came in with recommendations of what to take, Karina (who studied medicine but never graduated) came with her suggestions, Marite (the senora who claims to have experience because she's older than the rest) came in with a glass of carrot juice, swearing that it would make me feel better, Dr. Miguel (the bone doctor) called with another prescription of what to take. Fatima (Cirila's best friend) shows up to "see what's going on" and Felitsa (Marite's empleada) comes into to chat with me. If you can imagine all of these people in my room all telling me what I should be taking, you can get a glimpse of the chaos. What made matters worse is that each one was arguing with one of the others about why the other was right about what to take and what to do.

If that wasn't enough, each time someone left my room and was gone for longer than 30min to an hour they would feel the need to text me or call me to see how I was feeling. If I didn't answer their phone call or text them back, I would get and good scolding when they came back to my room an hour later. To top everything off, my room became the place to hang out. Of course, the excuse is that everyone wanted to be "available" in case I "needed" anything. I found myself listening to chit-chat and local gossip as everyone carried on with their personal conversations in my room—the new lounge. This continued most of the day until about 8pm.

 When the last person left the room I was excited about trying to get some rest and managed to get a bit of rest until about 9:30pm that night, when I heard a knock (not a knock of request of entrance, but a knock of warning that someone was coming in.) at the door, and in came walking in Karina. Karina's sister, on her way to visit her mother, dropped Karina off to check on me. Knowing that I had not eaten at this point for 57 hours, she brought me 2 pears and more medicine that she suggested I take for my stomach. My guess is that Karina planned on staying for a few moments to check in on me and that was it. However, when Karina spoke with her sister at 10pm about her whereabouts she responded saying that she was watching a good movie with her mom and would be by to pick up Karina shortly. After enduring 2 and half hours of falling asleep and being woken up by a "Hey, Hey Marcos….." only to continue with whatever nonsense story she was telling me, Karina's sister finally arrived at about 12:30am and  I was able to get a bit of rest—as much as one can with the symptoms described above.

At 6:30am on Wednesday morning (still feeling horrible) I decided that I needed to go into the capital, Asunción, to see the Peace Corps doctor. After speaking with my friend Jesus, another PC volunteer, he decided that he would go to Asuncion with me.  Jesus arrived after walking a mile from the bus stop in a downpour.  Upon entering my room Jesus was taken aback by the number of people hanging out in "the lounge" (my room).  After deciding to go to Asuncion we had to call the bus try to convince the driver to deviate from the usual route (a few blocks) to come and pick me up. Although willing, because of the rain, this particular bus line was not running.  Having a nice family, Don Mario agreed to drive Jesus and me the one mile to the main road to catch the bus.  Jesus and I boarded the old car of Don Mario and headed down the road toward the main road, when suddenly the car began jerking and lurching back and forth finally coming to a dead stop in the middle of the road.  Don Mario exited the vehicle with a can of gas and added less than a quart of gasoline to the tank, all the while explaining that if he added too much it would all leak out of the tank. He turned the key and the car started up once again. This time we made it less than a block and the car stopped again. This time no fiddling, or tinkering would get the car to start again. Though in the middle of the rain, Jesus and I thanked Don Mario for the effort and exited the car to begin the long walk to the main road. As Jesus tried to walk as quickly as possible in order to make it to the road before missing the bus and also trying not to leave me far behind in case I passed out, I dizzily followed along.  Thankfully we finally made it to the main road and boarded the bus.

Once on the bus I was able to get some rest…don't give a sigh of relief yet, my phone continued buzzing as my family wanted to check in on me and every member felt it necessary to try and get a hold of me. I kept my phone on in case the Peace Corps doctor wanted to get in touch with me for whatever reason. Once arriving in Asuncion and making my way to the Peace Corps office I was finally able to get some good drugs to knock out the pain and get an idea of why I was so sick. According to the doctor I had come in contact with some type of stubborn stomach bacteria.

Once I made it to the hotel it was like heaven to be able to rest and turn off my phone for 2 days. Though I didn't do much, I was able to watch the first game of the World Series and watch some classic American movies (Top Gun). This was enough to make me feel (for a short time) like I was back in the states.

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