On November 11, my Supervisor called me into her office and told me that one of the other teachers was going to be gone for the coming week. She wanted to know if I'd be able to come in and monitor her class -- not teach, because she knows I'm not trained in educating children. But while this teacher was gone those teenagers would raise Cain unless someone was there to monitor them (my Counterpart, who teaches another set of children in the same room, would be responsible for their lessons). I said Sure.
Monday morning, I awoke to a familiar feeling: a slight tingle and puffiness on my lips. Oh, great. A fever blister. Well, I couldn't complain much because it had been nearly two years since my last one, though this was hitting at a socially awkward time. But, happily, it turned out to be fairly small, and my wonderful new goatee was able to cover it up nicely. So I went in on Monday and prepared for my role as "watch man."
The kids were.... crazy. Realizing their regular teacher was gone, only to be replaced by this soft-spoken guy who can't beat them, they went on a rampage. In truth, it was only a handful of the boys who were the real problems, though, fighting with each other over trifles, stealing things, wandering around during homework times, and the whole works. I made it clear to them on the first day that I wasn't there to punish, just observe. Any punishment they received would come from their teacher when she returned, because at that time my counterpart and I would have a handful of behaviour reports for her. But, being teens, they couldn't see that far ahead and their behaviour was horrendous. So horrendous that a couple of them were kicked out of school for the rest of the week. The upside to that was that the job got easier as the week went on.
But! At this same time, probably from one of those kids, I contracted a cold. Mind I was suffering from a fever blister already. This cold came with sniffles, runny nose, and a light cough. It was nothing out of the ordinary at all. As the week wore on, the cold receded, but the symptoms became a minor sinus and ear infection. By week's end, the 18th, you could say I no longer had a cold, but had secondary infections.
Saturday night a whole bunch of volunteers got together with some Embassy folks for a Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn't go, not because of the illnesses, but because I had simply run way too low on funding. I might have been able to squeeze some life out of those last thousand dollars, but I wasn't sure when I'd be paid next and certainly didn't want to run out of money. So I elected not to go. One volunteer even called on Saturday night to say she missed me at the party -- that was nice. But it was a good thing I didn't go, because Saturday I got sick.
It started around 11 pm: the room started to feel a little cold, and I noticed a rapid decrease in energy, seemingly centered on my leg bones. I realized I was getting a fever, so I just went to bed for the night. Turned out I was very right. The chills came on strong, accompanied by 100 degree heat radiating from my skull and shoulders. My bed was damp with sweat. Wracked with quivers, I lay there whimpering uncontrollably and talking to myself in a semi-delirium. I remember talking to myself non-stop, but I don't really remember what I was talking about... something about Dengue Fever and declaring war on mosquitos, I think. Gradually I was being convinced I had come down with Dengue. A feverish scouring of the medical manual only seemed to confirm this, as I had all the symptoms. Of course, I had all the symptoms of a lot of things, but for some reason Dengue seemed right at the time. For no reason at all, of course.
I finally managed to fall asleep in the worst of it, then woke at dawn to find the fever breaking. It was followed by an amazing increase in sweat. At last, by early morning, I felt fine, if tired. I even took some time to sweep my floor as my landlord came to put the remaining bars on the windows of my apartment. Then, on Sunday afternoon, the fever returned and sent me back into my bed, although this time blessedly not accompanied by chills. There was never any vomiting. Yay!
This time the fever lasted a lot longer, but by Monday morning I felt good enough to go back to work again. It was a new week, and a different teacher was out. This time I was to actually teach the kids, though, so I started with some remedial reading lessons. That morning New Amsterdam had been blanketed with clouds that emitted a very Seattle-like, steady light rain. But a harder rain in the wee hours of morning had filled the trenches and swelled the puddles, and power flickered out across the whole town. So a couple hours into teaching we sent the kids home. (Rain usually means no school in Guyana, in part because kids seldom show up, and in part because many of the schools have flooding problems.)
That day I noticed cold symptoms coming back. Again. So I took it easy and rested that evening, watched a movie, and went to bed earlier than usual. In the morning when I woke up, I found I was getting another fever blister. The small one before had just healed. And here, just over a week later, was a new one.
It's a familiar feeling, by now, and anyone who gets these things can tell you, it's an unmistakable one. I groaned and went into the bathroom to survey the damage. It didn't look good. My immune sytem had taken such a battering over the last week-plus that it was unable to hold back the rushing tide. I plaintively called our PCMO. All I wanted was the all-clear to take a few days off. "I want to see you," she said instead. "Pack an overnight bag." I did so, though I had to pack dirty clothes in the hopes of washing some here, and caught the next ferry. And here I am.
The PCMO sent me to a doctor at St. Joseph Mercy. He took some blood, though he doesn't think anything unusual is wrong -- just, like I suspected, a battered immune system that needs some recovery time. I was fortunate to bump into another volunteer who was also in town, for various reasons. She and I are very close, and I am quite comfortable in saying she is one of the only volunteers I feel a connection with. Surprise! She was staying at the same Peace Corps-contracted hotel, so we were able to spend the evening catching up over ice cream and watching television, and just generally enjoying some great conversation. We each had such stories to tell.
Well, she's gone and I'm still here. And I'll be here for the next two days until the blood tests come back (negative). Some of the volunteers from Georgetown and surrounding areas invited me to a function tomorrow. My recently COSed GUY 14 friend will be there, as will, apparently, several members of the Miss Guyana contest from a couple months back. Sounds great, right? But... fever blister.