‘A mosquito bite nearly killed me’
I COULDN'T stop shivering. Even though it was sweltering outside, my teeth clacked together and I shivered so hard it was like I was standing in a snowstorm.
My bones throbbed with a dull ache and nausea rolled through me like waves.
"I hope I didn't contract some awful tropical disease," I thought miserably as I waited for my ibuprofen to kick in.
As I lay crying in my dirty hostel bed in a small border town in Laos, I wondered if I'd made a terrible mistake deciding to travel alone.
Solo travel is an amazing way to develop confidence and self-reliance - which is good because you'll need every bit of it when things go wrong.
With my husband and family all on the other side of the world, I dragged myself from bed and bought a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. If I did have a mysterious disease, I wanted to see a doctor in a richer, more developed country than Laos.
As soon as I arrived in Thailand, I checked into a hostel and ordered a taxi to the hospital.
It was a comfortingly modern facility, with sparkling clean surfaces and gently smiling nurses. Their uniforms were so prim and pretty they looked like they'd stepped straight out of the 1950s.
The doctor took my temperature and, because I didn't have a fever, she sent me back to the hostel with paracetamol and an order to rest. The news came as a huge relief. I just had the flu!
But the relief only last a few hours. Before long, I was back in bed, shivering, sweating, and feeling like death.
The next morning, I saw a different doctor but he, too, told me I was fine.
Thanks to Google, I was now armed with my own diagnosis.
I insisted that he test me for malaria.
He laughed condescendingly. "Is there anything else you want me to test for?"
If I hadn't felt so weak, I probably would have punched him in the nose.
Luckily, being a foreigner with medical insurance meant I could have any tests I wanted.
I spent the next hour being handed from nurse to nurse as they poked me with needles fed me into a series of mysterious scanners. Finally, the doctor called me in.
"You have malaria," he said.
I was too ill and scared to take any joy in being right.
He explained using the little English he had that I had two separate strains of malaria - and they were the two worst ones. To make matters worse, he said the hospital hadn't treated a case of malaria for years. They were checking around at the hospitals in the area to see if they could find the right medicine.
For the first time, it occurred to me that I might not be OK.
I could picture the over-the-top headlines back home. "Deadly mosquito slays Canadian tourist in Thailand."
After that, things became a blur.
A team of nurses, who spoke no English at all, dressed me in karate-style pyjamas. They took me to a modern private room and I climbed into one of those adjustable hospital beds that would be a lot of fun if you weren't sick.
Five hours later, they finally found the medicine I needed. I chocked down an avalanche of the bitterest pills I had ever tasted. Then the nurses installed an IV in each hand and put a heart-rate monitor on my finger.
Once I was tethered to my bed, unable to move because of all the tubes and wires, everyone left, closing the heavy door behind them.
After months of travel in the constant chaos of South-East Asia, the silence of the ward was eerie.
That night was the weirdest I've ever experienced.
I tried to go to sleep but instead … well, it's a little hard to explain.
When I closed my eyes, the world around me dissolved. I was completely alert but seemed to be skipping through time and space. I shifted in and out of other people's lives, an unseen observer to their lives. Disjointed snatches of conversation floated in and out of my brain. Eventually, I left the human world altogether and entered outer space, zooming along dark tunnels and floating through silent space.
The next morning, the doctor told me that the malaria medication acts like an amphetamine and also causes hallucinations.
People would pay a lot to do this drug recreationally, but as a hospital patient, it would have been good to know that I was going to spend the night tripping.
Despite the strange night, I did feel a little better.
The next couple of days I steadily improved. Still connected to my IVs, all I could do was watch Netflix and buzz the nurses every time I needed a drink of water, or to use the bathroom. It never took more than 30 seconds for them to respond to my calls.
After three days, it was finally time to check out. Though I was still extremely wobbly, I felt ecstatic to be leaving. Thank you, Ubon Ratchathani, for your excellent medical care, but I hope to never see you again.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FALL ILL ON HOLIDAY
• Make sure you have the right travel insurance before leaving home.
• Don't delay a trip to the hospital. If you think you have more than a cold, get to a doctor.
• If you need treatment, call your insurance company right away. They may have to pre-approve your procedure.
• Make sure to keep friends and family updated about your situation. Via FaceTime and instant messages, I kept in touch with my husband and parents. They helped me double-check that I was getting the right treatment.
• Allow yourself ample recovery time. After I was released from hospital, it took about a week for me to feel stable and I'm still working to get back to normal.
Follow writer and adventurer Jane Mountain's travel adventures on her blog My Five Acres.