Dear Chikungunya: I hate you.

Hate’s a strong word. I usually reserve it for only the absolute most deplorable realities on this earth: war, racism, social injustices, fanny packs. But it’s official: I HATE Chikungunya.

I haven’t written about this yet even though it’s been nagging on my advocacy conscience for weeks. I’ve posted what others have written in an attempt to spread some awareness but I haven’t written myself because I haven’t had it myself. I have no personal experience to speak from on this. And because of that I have IMMENSE guilt. I am one of the very few people in this country who has escaped the grasp of this demon-from-the-depths-of-Hell virus thus far. And yet, what I’ve seen it do to my friends absolutely tears me apart. Everyone I know has had it, many of them twice now. It has no regard for race or gender or age or number of shots you have on your yellow card in your passport. And I’ve been hesitant to write because I know that expressing empathy could almost seem insulting to everyone else in this country who have had to actually live through the pain and the suffering and the despair that this illness throws one into. But the fact is, I know it’s just a matter of time. I haven’t had it yet, but I know it’s just waiting until next week when I have two mission teams overlapping each other to host when the evil monster will decide to debilitate me and reduce me to the useless, whimpering semblance of a human being that I will undoubtedly digress to under such a disease. So, before that happens, I just want to publicly express the deep and sincere hatred that I hold in my heart already for chikungunya.

I HATE IT!

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There is really not much point in expressing this hatred beyond bringing as many people as possible into the suffering in this country that so many people have been victim to. There’s nothing that can be done about it. Some preventative measures can be taken, but unless you’re going to live under a mosquito net 24/7, bathe in deet, and eat only garlic and onions, for anyone on this island, you’re probably going to get it sooner or later. And once you do, there’s nothing you can do but manage the pain and suffer through the torture until it goes away. It probably won’t kill you, but it will make you wish you were dead. The Haitians use the nickname “The Bone Breaker” to refer to the fever because that’s what it does inside you. They also call it “Shaking Right Now” because that’s what the name sounds like in Kreyol and it rattles your entire body, as well as your mind and spirit with pain when it hits you. Outrageously high fevers, extreme bone pain, rashes, seizures, delirium, exhaustion, and every other worst possible feeling that you could possibly imagine, it’s in there. Again, this isn’t speaking from experience, then I might have a better way to describe it, but there are plenty of other accounts out there and they aren’t getting near the attention that they deserve. THIS THING IS THE WORST!

It’s not just some flu that’s going around. But that’s what most of the world that hasn’t experienced it seems to assume about it. It might sound kind of cute and exotic, like something you’d order at the Chinese restaurant downtown. “I’ll take the sesame seed chikungunya with white rice, please.” With a side of absolutely unbearable misery! This is an all out emergency state that is being mostly ignored. It’s being ignored for a lot of reasons but it Haiti especially it’s just one more in a string of unfortunate situations that the country has had to deal with, so people take it with a grain of salt. Oh, there goes Haiti having another problem again. But this is not just like malaria, or cholera, or dengue, or tuberculosis, or (fill in name of any disease that has broken out in Haiti the last 5 years). This is the most widespread, fastest acting, least treatable, pain inducing health emergency that this country has encountered for a long time. It seems to spare no one, as much as I like to imagine that it’s going to forget about me. Anymore I feel like I have to get it simply as an act of solidarity to everyone else in this community and country.i-hate-you

It may seem like I’m being extreme in describing this. Doctors and researchers and journalists who like to talk about it with science and statistics and whatnot may not get across the severity of the real issue at hand. But if you ask anyone who has had it they will tell you that the coverage that this is getting in the media is so insufficient and underrated that it’s offensive. So yes, maybe I’m ranting on about a situation that cannot be improved by my rant, but I want people to know how real this is. No matter how many people read this blog and no matter what resources or skills or expertise or connections they have there will still not be anything that anyone can do except take more ibuprofen and lie in bed and cry some more.

But that might not be completely true either. There might not be anything medically that can be done to prevent or cure this despicable disease, but there is also the psychological side of it that isn’t being addressed. I’ve seen the mental toll that even a day or two of this sickness can have on people sending them into depression and keeping them from living their lives. I’ve seen saints turn into monsters overnight once they contract this sickness and rays of sunshine crawl into dark sad holes of despair. I’ve also seen a lot of really important work left undone because the people who could be doing it are incapacitated. I’ve seen students missing out on weeks of school right at the end of the year when they have to take their exams to make it to the next grade. Mothers who depend on their weekly trip to their market to make enough money to feed their families have to skip their business day because they can’t get out of bed. This virus is not just making a few people uncomfortable for a few days. It is bringing many parts of life here in Haiti to a screeching halt.grinch

So, if I’ve been successful at dragging you down into the depths of hopelessness where many in Haiti currently reside, maybe you’re asking what you can do about it all? Here’s what you can do: Be aware of it and increase your support of those you know in Haiti because of it. I don’t only mean support as in money. But support as in emotional support. Whoever you know in Haiti that might be dealing with this right now, be checking in on them, let them know that you’re thinking about them and if you know someone who does have it, pump up the encouragement even more. Don’t give them advice, or ideas on how to heal, just encourage them. Let them know that there are people there who care about them and want to see them get through it. If you know expats currently living in Haiti be aware that they are dealing with this on top of everything else right now and no matter what else, this is the most urgent and important thing that they have to deal with at the moment.. If you are able to offer you service from where you are to help them out with their other responsibilities, now is the time to do it. If they have it or have had it recently, you can be sure that the last thing they want to do right now is lead some program or initiative or project. And if they don’t have it, know that they are helping carry the burden of those who do and are under extra stress. Help them to have the space and time that they need to take care of themselves physically and mentally. Also be aware that any other local staff or leaders for programs that you’re involved in are also dealing with this for themselves and their families. If they don’t have it, their kids have it or their siblings have it or their spouses have it. Understand that everything will take more time while everyone goes through this. As soon as one team member gets better the next one will be crying out in pain. And that makes everything seem impossible to get done. And yes finally, do send money. Don’t send money to Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders in this case because there’s nothing they can do about it either. But send money to people you know in Haiti. Their finances are extra strained right now as they buy more pain meds and care for themselves and their loved ones affected by the virus. Everyone is having at least a few days now and again when they are unable to work and that can be devastating to families and individuals who already struggle to make enough to survive. And the only other thing you can do, if you pray, pray. I don’t usually use my blog to ask people to pray, and I won’t even tell you who to pray to, but in this case, the only way that this situation seems it will get better is through some intervention from some higher power. So if you know one, we’d all appreciate you asking them if they can do anything about chikungunya in Haiti.

BECAUSE WE HATE IT!

Thank you.

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6 comments

  1. Sending prayers and hugs and more hugs and stay strong. Can’t imagine. Please hug the guys from me, especially Gaby!

  2. We got back from Haiti June 20. My son had it and it was shocking bad. Most sick he’d ever been. 7 days later he was a normal teenager again. Thank God for Advil & Xbox to pass those days!

  3. I live in the US and wound up getting chikungunya on a trip to turks and caicos. I loved reading this post because it’s so insightful. I would say that the second most debilitating symptom of this virus is most definitely depression/emotional disturbance (second to wrist/ankle pain). I’m a strong and resilient person normally, a happy-go-lucky newly married girl in my late 20’s, and, quoting you, I definitely was a ray of sunshine that crawled into dark sad hole of despair for a solid 6 months.

    And I absolutely agree that this is not getting enough press. Although it’s not commonly life-threatening, it can bring a very healthy person to their knees (both literally and figuratively) in a matter of 4 days after being bitten. Whether you exercise, whether you eat right, if your pulse is in its 50s and your yearly blood panel is perfect, it will destroy you for months. I hate chikungunya too!!!!

    I blogged my experience on wordpress — https://chikungunyablog.wordpress.com/ — and I devoted a lot of time writing about the psychological effects I experienced. Thanks so much for putting this out there, this was an awesome read.

    Best,
    Chris

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