When Ashley (not her real name) contracted dengue last November, never did she imagine that it would land her in hospital, much less in the intensive care unit (ICU) with her life hanging in the balance.
The 50-year-old business development manager had experienced a sudden bout of dizziness and breathlessness at home but brushed off the symptoms as stemming from her generally low blood pressure.
As a precaution, she also took an Antigen Rapid Test for the Covid-19 virus which turned out to be negative.
Ashley saw a doctor for her symptoms which later included body aches and fever, but no blood test was taken as it was nearing the weekend and the laboratories were closed.
Instead, Ashley went home to “monitor and take paracetamol”.
When she didn’t get better by Monday, she returned to the doctor where she got tested for dengue.
“The doctor called me that night to confirm that I had the virus,” the infection spread by the Aedes mosquito.
However with an infection such as dengue, there is no cure nor medication to make it go away.
Admitted to ICU, suffered complications that affected kidney and lungs
When Ashley still felt weak, dizzy and breathless the next day, she decided to visit the A&E in the late afternoon and was admitted the same day.
And it was a good thing she did, as Ashley ended up being wheeled into the ICU within the next 24 hours.
“I had low blood pressure and a low blood count When I was admitted it was 90,000 but it went down to below 50,000. It was quite a dangerous point for me,” shared Ashley.
A typically healthy person is expected to have platelet levels of between 150,000 and 450,000 per millilitre, according to the SingHealth website.
Ashley also had thalassaemia minor — a genetic condition where the body does not produce enough red blood cells — which complicated matters.
To her surprise, she was also told that this was her second bout of dengue, though she had no impression of ever contracting the illness.
Ashley was in the ICU for five days and also suffered from other complications which affected her kidney function and lungs.
Doctors even prepared her family for the worst. The married mother-of-two shared:
“I was intubated as I couldn’t breathe properly. My blood pressure wouldn’t go up and the doctors told my family that they weren’t sure if I had a chance to live on or not.”
Ashley added: “I was conscious but I was too weak to talk. My hands and legs had rashes and were swollen.”
Thankfully, Ashley turned a corner and she was discharged after close to two weeks in hospital, on her 49th birthday.
“Doctors told me that if I were double my age, I might not have made it,” said Ashley.
Even after returning home, it took time for Ashley to heal completely.
“I still felt very weak and I experienced breathlessness and couldn’t walk too fast or walk too long.”
The breathlessness in particular, lingered on even after her month-long medical leave.
Ashley also grappled with “scary” hair loss during the recovery period, which made her contact her doctor in a panic.
However, she was assured that it was a normal post-dengue symptom, which for her, lasted for more than a month.
Looking back, Ashley still shudders at the memory of her experience.
Till today, she is unsure of how she contracted the viral infection.
“I never expected that dengue would be that bad until I experienced it,” said Ashley, who’d been staying in her Woodlands estate for more than a decade.
However, she knew that the area was a dengue hotspot with several clusters emerging at the time.
Ashley thinks she was simply “unlucky” as she’d taken all precautions to prevent the mosquito-borne virus in the home.
She expressed in exasperation: “I just thought, why me?”
Dengue triggered urinary incontinence
Like Ashley, Sheila (not her real name), 43, contracted dengue which also landed her in hospital.
And even though it has been a decade, the memories from the traumatic experience still linger.
Sheila had assumed that she had caught a “normal flu” as she did not experience symptoms she thought were commonly associated with dengue such as rashes or bleeding gums.
She had a persistent low-grade fever but self medicated until she ran out of paracetamol and saw a doctor for more.
Similar to Ashley, Sheila felt general discomfort.
“It was quite bad as the fever made me feel tired and I couldn’t do anything.”
However, this was coupled with a debilitating headache which plagued her daily.
Her fever went on for five days until she decided to head to the A&E on a weekend. Within an hour, she was diagnosed with dengue.
“I was quite surprised as I didn’t have typical symptoms such as skin rashes,” said Sheila, who shared that she lived in a Toa Payoh HDB estate that had been established as a dengue hotspot.
Once she was admitted, her symptoms steadily worsened.
That was when nausea and vomiting hit and she was put on intravenous drip that very night.
Sheila experienced violent gagging which triggered involuntary urinary incontinence at the same time.
“Whatever liang teh (herbal tea), water, or whatever [I drank], everything came out. It was very ‘pai seh’ (embarrassing) as the nurses had to change the bedsheets.”
By then, her fever had spiked to about 40 degrees and lingered for several days.
Sheila was hospitalised for a week in total.
Her symptoms took her by complete surprise.
“I didn’t have much knowledge about dengue then,” said Sheila.
She also didn’t know anyone else at the time who’d contracted dengue.
Unsure where she contracted dengue
She recounted that some friends had even thought that dengue was contagious, which spoke volumes as to how ill-informed the general public were at the time.
“They asked if I was isolated and told me that they’re sorry for not being able to visit because it is contagious,” she shared, acknowledging that public awareness about dengue and how it is spread is much better now.
Upon returning home from hospital, Sheila recalled feeling as though she could finally “see the light”.
“I felt so gloomy while in hospital and kept thinking, ‘How can one lousy mosquito make me feel so bad?’,” said Sheila, lamenting how she was only in her early 30s then and should have been in peak physical health.
But even after she recovered, her bad headaches did not go away. Wary that the virus may be attacking her brain, a doctor advised her to undergo a CT scan, which thankfully didn’t turn up anything unusual.
Just like Ashley, Sheila is not aware of how she could have contracted dengue.
She shared that following her discharge, officers from the National Environment Agency had gone to her flat to conduct a check for possible mosquito breeding grounds but found nothing.
Sheila, who works in the finance industry, reflects that it was a good thing that her husband had persuaded her to be admitted despite her not-so-severe symptoms at the start. She added:
“I can’t imagine if I didn’t go to A&E that day what would happen. Who would expect [the symptoms] to be so bad?”
Want to find out how much you know about dengue as well as the prevention measures? Head over to KnowDengue.sg for more information.
This sponsored article by KnowDengue.sg reminded the writer to not ignore any ‘buzzing’ sounds and thoughts she encounters.
Top images via Mufid Majnun on Unsplash, and KnowDengue.sg