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Chikundengiral: The fragility of my bones

Chikungunya creates havoc with human health Photograph: (Others)

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Sep 20, 2016, 12.39 PM (IST) Ayesha Sindhu

Who would have thought a possible brush with a mosquito could lead to a treatise on life and mortality? I say possibly because I’m still not sure of the exact antecedents of my bone-crushing malaise and, quite frankly, at this point, I couldn’t care enough to investigate. 

But, here’s what has happened this past week: I’ve been reduced to a pile of mush, a poorly functioning bag of bones and flesh, fiery to the touch and swollen at the joints. And that’s just the physical of it. Emotionally I’ve been a real treat. Fluctuating between medically generated optimism to mass producing tears because someone didn’t make the cut in the auditions of one of those reality shows. It has left me with questions about how much truth there is in what we tell ourselves, the worth of things in general and a new found respect for those with arthritis in particular. All this because a mosquito may have sucked on my blood.

The doctor put it this way: it could be dengue, chikungunya or a viral with symptoms of both. I have diagnosed myself with Chikundengiral. The good news, if it could be seen that way, is that the treatment for all three is largely the same: lots of fluids, plenty of rest and regular doses of paracetamol. 

I’m not sure of how many bottles of water it took or if it was when that nth paracetamol tablet was on its way down my oesophagus or poised for descent at the cavern of my mouth, that the absurdity of it all struck me. That an organism tiny enough to fit on the nail of my little finger and still have space enough to dance to Uptown Funk if it so chose to, had reduced me to a hobbling, shuffling, joint-massaging hot mess. In the abstract, it made me wonder if it really isn’t that bad an idea to be sweating the small stuff. Because if the small stuff can do you over in this big a way it’s only obvious it deserves more attention than we accord it. 

Everything you’ve heard about pain related to these vector-borne diseases is true. The discomfort is real. It is debilitating and confusing. The first few days of the infection brought on constriction that is difficult to describe; suffice to say you cannot move much without experiencing shooting pain in your muscles and/or joints. But, it’s the accompanying fragility that’s thrown me off completely. It boggles my mind to consider how six days with the infection has rendered my wrists and shoulders with a flimsiness that you’d associate with the very old or very young.

Even now, as I type this, I have to make frequent pauses for a quick massage to my knuckles and wrists. Lifting my laptop is painful, moving positions while sleeping is too, it is also not unlikely that you can hear your bones crack as you attempt to undo the tightly screwed on the lid of that life-giving elixir of water that someone out to get you screwed on with a vengeance. 

Humour aside, this is no joke. Especially when on day five, after your fever has finally broken and the bones ache marginally lesser, you see a flush growing along your legs and arms and then creeping up along your torso, spreading steadily like that crush on Jeremy Renner (is he really that cute to oh man he’s dishy) and reaching the point when there’s no point tracking it further because it’s now basically all over you. 

Chikundengiral is not one to let go easy. The rash may well be a sign of a waning infection but it’s got more guts than the quotient of stupidity in the humans that choose to run with the bulls in Pamplona. It will not let go easy. The rash, at least in my case, has lasted more than two days, is painful, extremely itchy and has brought with it what feels like water retention and an uncomfortable stretching of skin to my ankles and feet. 

I have deployed humour to deal with and expand on my experience with what could well be a mosquito-borne disease. But, at the risk of sounding trite: it is no laughing matter. I’ve benefitted from time off from work free of job insecurity, financial wherewithal for trips to the doctor, medication and forms of entertainment. I’ve had friends and family check on me and the services of a reasonably healthy body at my disposal. Most others who’ve been struck by the disease in New Delhi and around aren’t as lucky. 

The easiest way to not be writing your own treatise on chikundengiral is to listen to those horrible public service announcements. Wear those long pants and flappy sleeves. Spray that house with mosquito repellent and most importantly, don’t think you’re immune: no one is. 

Ayesha Sindhu

Ayesha Sindhu is a reporter and writer with WION. She has an unhealthy interest in food, (good) literature, dogs and Roger Federer.

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