Our Son's Story of Dengue, Blood Transfusions, and Recovery
“There is nothing he couldn't have achieved! But just one mosquito killed all his dreams..." Never had I understand this particular mosquito spray TV commercial as well as I did when my husband and I sat outside the ICU where our son ill with dengue.
Just a month prior to the illness in August 2015, our son, a PGP 2nd year student at India's top B-school IIM Ahmedabad, was in high spirits talking animatedly to us about how he planned to make his CV very impressive so that he would get a good placement in January. All this made us feel good, too.
August rolled into September. The mosquito menace was widespread as it was monsoon season in India. It's another matter that the rains were scanty in 2015! That's when our son received an invitation from juniors to deliver a lecture at his alma mater: National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh. Happy and excited, he decided to drop in at home first in Indore before proceeding there. Also with the destination being only 190 km from our place, he was already clear in the mind that he would take the car. This way, he could stay overnight there, meet friends and return the next day.
Everything seemed nice and perfect, straight out of a dream, but there was a snag! At night on the train, our son experienced a headache, stiff neck and difficulty in breathing. "I couldn't sleep a wink," he complained. He also felt bitter in the mouth.
Not a very good sign, I felt. But there was no way we could stop him. The phone calls had already begun coming from Bhopal.
He is healthy, I reasoned with myself. Seeing the symptoms of loss of appetite, I asked him to eat fruits. Thankfully, the fruits were there at home! In addition to all this, I prepared Tulsi (Basil) leaves extract (boiling leaves in water till half) for him. I also made him sleep for good two hours. He felt much better. "Take care of yourself. Avoid roadside food. Drink buttermilk, if you can," I spoke out of motherly concern.
Still Not Well
After delivering the lecture as also meeting friends and teachers, our son returned home the next day in a happy mood. However now he had high fever coupled with a headache and bitter taste in the mouth. Seeing his reluctance to see the doctor, I once again turned to my trusted home remedies. I also gave him Crocin tablet to bring down the temperature. He felt a lot better. None of us at home were keen on sending him to Ahmedabad that night- this included my physiotherapist daughter who had come from London for some official work. She insisted on a blood test. "It can be anything. Even viral has a way of coming back if you don't take rest," she said firmly. But that moment, all our son could think was college and his assignments. Normally, I don't succumb to pressure. But, that day I don't know why I did not act tough. I wish I had! He just needed a bit of convincing. The college would have always accepted his medical certificate, which they sure did later on.
Thus, despite not feeling very good, he left that night by train. Monday and Tuesday passed slowly with rain showers both in Ahmedabad and Indore. On both days he rang us up in the evening. He told us that he was taking care of himself.
It was on Wednesday evening that our son told us on the phone that he had his blood test done and the platelet count was 57000/cumm.
What Are Platelets ?
Until then we had absolutely no idea about platelets. But after our son told us about his low count, we decided to check on the internet. That's how we came to know that platelets are blood cells that help the blood to clot. "If the platelets fall to 100,000/cumm or less, it requires medical attention," we read on one of the sites.
While we were still thinking about what to do, our son informed us that he would fly home the next day. We were greatly relieved. Here we knew all the hospitals. Further, we were mobile.
Our son took the first available flight to Indore the next day and landed at the airport at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon. It was Thursday. He really looked sick. We rushed him to our ever familiar hospital. Our daughter had already done the talking. This was the place where our daughter had worked. And this was also the hospital where she had given birth to a baby girl. Overall, the place had good memories and naturally we felt at ease. Our son was straight admitted to ICU.
The blood test was done once again. His platelet count was now 27000/cumm. Over the next two hours, this was to come down to 15000/cumm. He had also tested positive for dengue.
The only silver lining being, the chest was clear and the 2 kidneys, spleen, gall bladder, etc. were fine. His hemoglobin too was about 15.5 gm. Also, there were no traces of parasites in the body. However, a slight inflammation was detected in the liver. “The entire metabolism gets affected in dengue,” the ICU doctor said. Besides, our son had only survived on chocolates and potato chips, the previous two days!
Why Dengue is Dangerous
Dengue mosquitos like to bite at the ankle or feet. Once the virus is inside the body, it stops the bone marrow from making platelets. There is no allopathic medicine for dengue except for paracetamol. The patient is put on saline so that he or she remains hydrated. The doctors sometimes prescribe ayurvedic medicine for increasing platelet count, which they did for our son too.
Seeing the platelet count drop to 15000/cumm the doctors on duty took the decision of blood transfusion. They also checked our son for any sign of internal bleeding. At first, they felt three units of blood would suffice.
This was a very difficult moment for all of us since blood transfusion involves a lot of risks. But, we had no choice really.
Thus, three units of blood were administered to our son the next day, which was Friday. We will always remain grateful to our friends and well-wishers who came forward to give blood. Our daughter gave blood, too.
Our son's temperature came to normal soon after. The situation too was much under control. By evening, the platelet count was 18000/cumm. But the doctors were not willing to take any risk. So, the next day which was Saturday, the doctors advised two more units of blood. After this, the platelet count began rising.
The Best Diet While Experiencing Dengue
The hospital where our son was admitted ensured a healthy diet. This included Dalia (broken wheat) and fruits at breakfast. The meals consisted of chapattis, vegetable, and dal (lentils) - packed with required amount of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fiber and proteins. He had tea in the morning and evening. Thankfully, our son had regained his appetite. And this made us happy. At every step, we got help from somewhere or the other. A very new acquaintance rang me the day our son was admitted to the hospital. She told me the benefits of papaya leaves extract. On our part, we just had to ring up the residential society gardener and he got us the leaves within minutes. In addition to this, I saw to it that he had coconut water and pomegranate daily.
My Son's Mental Condition While Suffering From Dengue
Confined to bed in ICU, our son was angry and bitter. He feared that he would miss the campus interviews.
Both I and my husband were nervous. I had before me the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, whose hair had turned white overnight when it was announced that she would be hanged.
Indeed, they were the most difficult moments of our life! Once a while, we saw a patient going into the ICU on a stretcher. He would also get discharged later. But our son was still there.The kith and kin of the patients would inquire in Hindi, apparently out of concern, “Your son has still not come out?” But for us, each word appeared a jibe. I only had sincere prayer on my lips. “Oh God, please be kind this time. I’ll be tough henceforth. I’ll also guide others in a similar situation.”
Finally Discharged from Hospital
And finally it happened!
There was truly a feeling of victory when our son got discharged on Tuesday, the following week. I even commented, “This is a far bigger victory than the competitive exams that you've passed so far!" His platelet count having increased to 50000/cumm, he was clearly out of danger. After many days, we saw our son smile.
For a week, he stayed at home before returning to college. The entire week, I was strict about his diet. I made sure that he ate good food and lots of fruits. I continued with coconut water. By the time he left, his platelet count was in lakhs.
Health Insurance—a Must
Dengue treatment is very costly especially if the patient is hospitalized. In our case, the hospital bill (blood transfusion included), came to approx. ₹55000 which is roughly $827.75 US dollars. In metros, the treatment could be costlier.
Our Experience Post Dengue
God was truly kind. Our son was able to sit for campus placement in January 2016. In fact, he was among the early ones to get placed. We attended his Convocation in March.
But it was also a big lesson for us all—namely, not to take health matters lightly. Dreams are too precious to be allowed to get washed away thus!
The memories of our son's illness will haunt us always. I cannot forget how my husband did the running about for blood. Yes, this was a situation we could have easily avoided.
Health is Wealth
Amidst responsibilities and daily challenges, we end up sidelining health- which includes nutritious diet, exercise, and timely medical attention. It is often observed that high-achievers take their health for granted and abuse it to the maximum. Ironically, it is these men who need to take care of their health first. For, it is not possible to achieve anything in life without good health.
© 2016 Sulabha Dhavalikar