Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chikungunya - The Bite

I am sitting on the steps outside the Bill Rice Clinic in LaGonave.   We had just had a great training with the matrones and community health workers.   Spirits were high and the children I had known so well, were gathered around me.  Kenel, from Henche was translating for me and was there too.  It felt perfect.   The children scream "Sarah" and swat a large mosquito who was biting my leg.  It is huge and stripped.  Blood goes everywhere.  It is not like any other mosquito I had ever seen before but I did not think about it.  We returned to our laughter and chatter.

Minutes before "the blood meal" they take pictures of the matrons and agent santes who attended the training. 

The good, good woman who helps me there comes over to us. She is walking with a stick and is all bent over.

"What happened?" I ask her, with concern.  She looks in so much pain.

"A mosquito."

I beg her not to help me.  I'll be fine I tell her but she shakes her head and smiles through the pain.  I remember that smile.  The smile that comes through the pain.  The need to be distracted and to keep moving so the body does not freeze.

Later we sit out back while everyone prepares for night.  Fires our built. Water is gathered.  Girls fix each others hair.   They try to fix mine.  Kenel is on the roof with the midwives; laughing and looking down at us.

I did not, could not know that the virus was beginning to take hold in my body.  The mosquito that bit me was dead but four days earlier she had bit someone else with chikungunya.  Its how it is passed from person to person.   It was first described in 1952 in Tanzania.  It made its way to the small mountain village of Haiti where I rested in days end.

As I laid down, under a veil of mosquito nets, the virus was invading healthy cells and reproducing.  Outside people were talking in the dark; telling stories and letting their laughter drift over my body.

Tomorrow we would work on the mobile clinic bags, create a pharmacy list and do Helping Babies Breathe with the whole staff.

Inside my body, my immune system was beginning to mount its defense against the invader.   I had several things working against me. I was older and had only nine months earlier had radiation for breast cancer.  My immune system had already taken a beating.

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