I couldn’t have picked a better place to have dengue. Affiliated with Bangkok Hospital, Royal Angkor caters to foreigners; unfortunately, most Cambodians, with an average annual income of only about $800, can’t afford the rates. The staff and doctors speak flawless English. The private rooms are clean and large, with bathrooms, balconies, cable TV and phones. Most importantly, of course, the care was superb.
For the next five days, nurses tended to me every four hours like clockwork: taking my temperature and blood pressure, changing my IV, administering compresses, Tylenol and sleeping pills and offering reassuring words and pats. They responded to call buttons within seconds. They brought in delectable-looking Asian meals (catered by a nearby hotel) and gently prodded me to eat. But since I’d developed a characteristic bad taste in my mouth and had no energy, I ate nothing. They took blood daily, and my Thai-trained doctor came promptly at the appointed hour to review my chart and examine me.
With a much better bedside manner than the admitting physician, this doctor patiently answered questions and outlined the course of the disease; he assured me that plummeting blood counts notwithstanding, my recurring fevers would abate in a few days, my strength would eventually return and I would fully recover. What U.S. hospital could boast such a reliable, attentive, knowledgeable and organized team of medical experts? Certainly, none for the price: less than $600 a day.
Throughout my stay, my family heroically handled paperwork and sat with me for hours on end, making occasional forays into the city and to temples. Truth be told, my boy was quite content to watch unprecedented amounts of TV in air-conditioned comfort, ride tuk-tuks back and forth to the hotel and help me maneuver my IV instead of traipsing among the ruins in the heat. For the most part, he refrained from making fun of my “piggy eyes” — fluid retention being yet another unpleasant symptom of dengue.
I was released after five indistinguishable days, marked only by calls from my sister and the presence of my spouse and kid, flipping channels and playing games. When my fevers stopped and my platelets began to rise from a frighteningly low level, the doctor declared that I was on the mend and could fly home. I asked whether I could do something to show my gratitude to the fabulous nurses. He said decidedly not; they were just doing their jobs.
Back in the States, I quickly regained the 10 pounds I’d lost. My lethargy and headaches gradually resolved after a few weeks. Shockingly, my insurance claim of $3,000 — documented with meticulous detail in the records I was given upon discharge — was also resolved within weeks; although I’d bought traveler’s medical insurance, my own primary insurer deemed dengue an “emergency” and covered the bill.
For a follow-up with my primary physician (who understandably wasn’t very familiar with dengue), I waited hours for a blood test and four days for the results. They were delivered in a 30-second voicemail, later followed by an incomprehensible letter: The gist was that my liver function was nearly back to normal.
Just when I thought that I could finally put my dengue experience behind me, two months after the first fever in Laos, my hair started falling out — a common side effect that no one had mentioned. More significant, if I get dengue again, my odds of getting hemorrhagic complications increase dramatically.
Now my mantra is, “Next summer in Maine.”
Rosenberg is an environmental consultant and writer in Washington.