I've been in this city two weeks now and it feels like a lifetime. I don't consider myself the kind of person who falls homesick so my longing for the cooler climes of home is based on a few things. I picked up Dengue fever a few days after I arrived or on arrival, apparently it has an incubation period of about 2 weeks so I might not have had that at all but I had all the bloody symptoms and that's what matters. Phnom Penh is hot and humid; I was shocked the first morning I woke up here; I took three steps and thought I was dissolving, beads of sweat formed instantly everywhere (and I mean everywhere) and quickly coalesced into rivulets. The temperature pretty much stays the same the whole day so imagine my shock when I woke up at 3:00 am on Wednesday morning and I was freezing! I thought I was going nuts and then the headache set in and finally the body ache (from which we get the name break bone fever). Having had my first thirty minute lesson the evening before, I was looking forward to the feedback session with the trainers but after two hours of attempting to "wriggle my big toe" I jumped on a 'tuk tuk' and headed to the clinic. A few forms later; some prods and probes, a bit of hide and seek because the kind nurse had showed me to a bed while I waited for the doctor and I got to see Dr. Velez. He was a nice enough doctor, took all my information and then proceeded to tell me that I might have dengue but that could not be confirmed until I had had the fever for a few more days. At first I thought this was hospital humour, the nice doctor's attempt at a lighter bedside manner and then I slowly realized he wasn't joking. So I asked him for the other symptoms of this fever and what treatment there was. Without flinching he runs through a top ten list of things you don't want happening to you in a strange land; nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, fever, diarrhoea, intense body ache and others. Then he prescribed me pain killers and said I should take as much fluids as I could and stay in cool places. I wanted to tell him "Dude, this is the hottest city I've ever been to; I have class from 9 to 4 and teaching practice from 6 to 8 and all in very hot rooms". After getting my bill, I really wanted to throttle someone, one visit to the doctor and I was in danger of becoming destitute in a strange land, and I had to come back in 5 days!
I managed to make it to class on Thursday and discovered that I could not afford to miss one more day or I wouldn't be able to get a certificate on completion which would make the entire course moot. I had my second teaching session that evening and it was fine. I seem to have had a handle on the sweating thing but I think that was mostly the fever. Friday morning and shit hit the fan, the pain killers seemed as effective as a fly swat against Godzilla and I felt like I had been trudging across the continent but I had to make it to class! My first weekly feedback session and my trainer Emily thinks that I'm a natural! Can you believe that? Me? A natural? I think back on all the teachers that I've had and I get the image of Mr. Okello, my primary four science teacher who used to prefix my name with an O. After pointing out areas for me to improve upon, Emily lets me go get some rest. It is sad to say that was the last day I stepped in class. The idea was to recuperate over the weekend and return to class on Monday brimming with energy. Friday was the beginning of something else; "halluciNation" is what I will call it. It all started innocently enough, someone whispering my name and giving me information about the Cambodian Secret Police and then somehow finding myself a member of it. Before I know it, there's a North Korea nuke on its way to wipe out Phnom Penh and I must do something. Then I find out that the nuke was a ruse by some ancient sect of power hungry beings, their plan is to empty the city and search for an ancient artifact that would grant them absolute power. I am the last of the guardians. I must not fail.
Anyway the weekend is full of such and the complete host of symptoms for Dengue fever. The headaches are so intense that I find myself doing the most intricate yoga positions involuntarily. At this point I haven't eaten in days, I have nothing resembling an appetite and I can't even keep water down, though I have been jumping off the Angkor Wat temples with Lara Croft. I called the doctor on Saturday to ask him for the dengue treatment since I was pretty sure I had it and I learn that the damn disease has no cure. The best I can do is treat the symptoms until the fever breaks and I'm in the clear. This news shocks and leaves me in dismay, if I'm not better by Monday then I can't go to class.....ergo. At this point I hate the smell of the city and its food, both smells seem to pervade everything here and I'm at the point of throwing up my guts. If it wasn't for the fact that I promised someone I would return, I would let this damn disease claim me. The poetic symmetry of it would be interesting at least. I understand too that the idea of going through this pain every week for the rest of your life is unpalatable and I have an idea now why you wouldn't fight any longer. I think I finally make my peace with it, strange that I had to come out here to do it and I think I know why.
Monday and the dream of going to class is no more, I cannot bend the spoon Neo, whether it's there or not. I go to another clinic, one that will not leave me trawling the streets of PP after a visit. The good doctor Sheppard takes the usual history and is concerned that I might have picked up malaria from elsewhere because of the dengue incubation period. I assure him that unless there was a stash of mosquitoes on those big aluminium birds we call aeroplanes then I have had no contact with malaria. After reaffirming that there is indeed no treatment but to tackle the symptoms, he tells me I should be in the recovery phase. He prescribes some anti nausea medicine; some oral rehydration salts (when did they start making them sweet?), some painkillers and the best piece of advice that I should have someone administer an IV from home as it would be bloody expensive to do at the clinic. He also takes a couple of vials of blood to look for different things.
My classmates and instructors are an amazing bunch and only a separate blog post will be fair to them but Amy and Lisa with whom I stay (same hostel) have been amazing. Amy has tried her best to pump me with all sorts of food and drink. Lisa willingly gave up her room with a/c so that I could recuperate and I think that did the trick. Anyway two IVs later and I can finally keep food down again, in a few more days I should be able to head on back home and plan another campaign out here. I will return you damn city, even if I have to put on a hazmat suit all the time. I will teach someone here and learn something as well.
In case you're wondering how the affair with the ancient beings and the last of the guardians ends, I will ruminate a while and see if anything comes to mind.