By Heang Sokuntheary,
I almost lost my life when I was only eight years old, suffering from dengue fever and more. My story started in an afternoon during the rainy season at my hometown in Kompong Chham.
The day it happened was actually a sunny one. My school was having a vacation period, so I was sitting in a hammock at home, reading a fourth grade Khmer textbook. I enjoyed reading so much, and I remember sitting there for many hours. At some point, I felt a mosquito biting my right arm. I glanced at it, and it was so big that its lower body was bright red from my blood. I hit it with all my might. Catching it, I exclaimed to my mom, who was sitting nearby, “Mom, I caught a very big mosquito here!”
I don’t know how many hours had passed after that, but I clearly remember that I was shivering with a high fever at around 4 pm in the evening. My mom thought it was only a normal fever, so she gave me an aspirin.
But it didn’t get any better. My body temperature hit 39 degrees Celsius at that point, and soon after, I started to loose consciousness and couldn’t recognize anyone. My family called for a doctor to come to my house to check on me, but nobody said they were available. There were only two people in the district who knew a little bit about medication. The hospital was so far, and it was late. We didn’t have a motorbike back then.
“A day later and I would have died.”
Fortunately, my neighbor was treating her illness at home too, so when the doctor came to treat her in the evening, he was able to come and see me. I took a blood test, and we were told that I got dengue fever.
The doctor prescribed me some medicine to take after meals, and also put me on an IV drip a day later. I got better day by day. After one whole week, the doctor said that I had recovered and was back to normal. I was so happy that I finally no longer had to lay in bed all day like the past week.
But my happiness didn’t last long. Two days after the treatment ended, I started to have a high fever again, and suffered even worse than before. My family called the doctor, and he said that I had a relapse. Again, I was treated by him, this time for so long that I can’t remember exactly how long.
As days went on, my sickness got even worse. At night, my stomach hurt so bad, and I would vomit all the food I had eaten during the day. The pain was unbearable. The doctor was always treating me with the same method, and nothing had improved. Later on, he would make excuses and only come to check up on me once every two or three days. One night, I vomited blood, and my family became alert that my condition was serious.
That time, my mom was also pregnant with my sister. In the same night, I remember sleeping next to her while she screamed in pain. My dad wasn’t home that night. It was raining, and my mom was about to deliver my sister. Our house didn’t have a mobile phone back then, only my dad owned a small old-fashioned Nokia.
After realizing my mom’s situation, my grandmother rushed outside to ask for help from our neighbors. Outside, the rain was getting heavier and the pained sounds from my mom made me feel both afraid and worried. The delivery women got to my house after an hour or so, and my dad was on his way after getting a call from our neighbor.
Many hours passed as my mom went into labor. Meanwhile, I felt like I was dying. Then, after my mom delivered my sister, people started to notice me. They suggested my grandmother take me to the capital of the province, since my mom was safe now with dad’s care. So around 4 am at dawn, my grandmother and I took a motordup to the port five kilometers from our house. Luckily, we got the first boat to the Kampong Chham downtown.
“Doctors must not be careless because if they are, the price would be paid by a person’s life.”
During the four hours on the boat to get my sickness treated, I felt so tired and hopeless. I was in terrible pain and still vomited, and nothing could stop that. Upon arriving, both my legs already felt like feathers. I couldn’t lift my sick body or even walk. Some men on the boat helped carry me off, and later on to go to the hospital. I felt more than ever like I was dying on the spot, there and then. I was unconscious when I arrived at the hospital.
I woke up a day later feeling something on my hand, an IV drip. Yes, I was treated. I remember getting three injections a day, a series of check-ups, and a number of pills. I met a doctor who treated me every day, and every day he said I was so lucky, indeed so lucky. I later found out that because the fluid that was given by the doctor at my hometown was too extreme, it had entered my liver; he used the medicine and fluid wrongly to treat me.
Moreover, the doctor said I wasn’t fully recovered when the doctor in my hometown stopped treating me. Besides having dengue fever, I also suffered greatly from typhoid fever. He said if I was only a day or two late, I wouldn’t have survived. Sometimes, during my stay there, he would insist on my grandmother taking me to Phnom Penh to get treated because they were afraid they couldn’t. But we didn’t have any close relatives in Phnom Penh back then. Plus, my grandmother was old and didn’t have enough energy herself. I spent horrible, terrible, and painful days at that hospital for almost one month. It was the bitterest and happiest time of my life. I finally survived and could live like other kids. If I was a day late, I would have died.
After almost two months of being ill, I lost a lot of weight. Because of this illness, I would later suffer from frequent headaches and would easily get sick. My mental strength also dropped.
In Cambodia, dengue fever has been one of the main causes of death among children for many years. Dengue fever is a disease that comes from mosquitoes. The virus is transmitted by the female mosquito when it bites or comes into direct contact with human blood. Because the early symptom of the disease is having a high body temperature, like a flu, many Cambodians tend to neglect the effect and take aspirin to cool down the temperature. But that’s not a good solution to it. The only safe option here is that, if we suspect it’s dengue fever, the person who got infected must be taken to the hospital immediately to avoid any serious consequences.
In 2007, the disease had infected almost 40,000 people and had killed a total of 389 people in Cambodia, most of whom were children. As of recently, in the first three weeks of 2018, around 316 people got infected by the virus, with one reported death. Compared to the same period last year, this is a 130% increase. Actually, since 2012, the number of people infected by dengue fever had been decreasing overtime, but this year the case appears to be worsening again.
With the high amount of cases, the Cambodian government must not take the situation lightly. There should be more convenient medical centers and hospitals, especially in rural areas, so that people could easily get access to health care and urgent treatment. Moreover, for people who have high fevers and suspect that they may have gotten infected by the disease, please hurry to the hospital near you because dengue fever cannot be healed, and even worsens, when using aspirin. Another way to prevent the infection with dengue fever, is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes at all cost. More importantly, get rid and be careful of water-filled containers such as jars, potted plants and rain gutter because mosquitoes breed in them.
After what I have been through, I realized that a doctor that treats one’s illness is responsible for that person’s life. Doctors must not be careless because if they are, a person might pay the price with their life. So to those doctors out there, please have mercy and treat people with a kind heart and care.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.