Travelling with kids: A son with dengue had my temperature rising

Just 10 days before we caught our flight to Hong Kong, my son Calvin had gone down with dengue in spectacular fashion

Disease vector mosquito known for dengue, yellow fever and zika virus
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We were on our way to the immigration counter in Hong Kong International Airport last weekend when airport staff began handing out leaflets.

Our 15-year-old son Calvin grabbed one without breaking stride, glanced at it, grinned and waved it at me.

"Mum, check this out. Ironic, huh?"

"Dengue: what you should know", said the type on the glossy green brochure. I couldn't help but blanch, because 10 days before we caught our flight to Hong Kong, Calvin had gone down with dengue in spectacular fashion.

Bangalore is a green city of lakes in southern India, and we had been living there for about five months before disaster struck. Our teenager ended up with the mosquito-borne disease despite having taken every precaution. I would force him to slather himself in mosquito-repellent lotion before going out. Strong-smelling lemon-grass coils were lit at our doorstep every evening, and the special meshes on the windows to our home were always locked in place.

Then one wet afternoon, Calvin came home from school complaining of a headache. Within an hour, he had a temperature of 41°C. By evening, neither paracetamol nor cold compresses had worked, so we desperately bundled him up (as much as it is possible to bundle up a gangly 172cm-tall teenager) and carted him to the hospital around the corner. The blood work confirmed our worst fears.

We fully expected he would be admitted to the intensive care unit, but the doctor shook his head, and assured us that we would be able to catch our flights to Hong Kong without worry.

"Dengue is a viral fever like any other," he said, calmly. "What your son needs is rest and fluids. And bring him in for intravenous drips morning and night, because he's not going to take a morsel of food.

“The infection will run a seven-day course. If he’s as strong as he looks, he’ll be up and about on day eight,” he added.

That was a long and arduous week. Battling high temperatures, Calvin fainted at least twice. The biggest challenge was getting him to drink the requisite four litres of fluids every day.

Drifting in and out of the fever, fretful about the IV catheter taped to the back of his hand, he resisted every attempt I made to feed him.

I learnt a lot that week. I found out that Gatorade makes a good substitute for water, and that he would finish off a 500-millilitre bottle if offered his favourite flavour (the vile blue one). I found out that there is wisdom in the old South Indian custom of feeding ill children soothing yogurt and rice. And I found out that, in a pinch, threats still work with uncooperative teenagers, just as they do with obstinate toddlers.

Calvin did find his feet on the eighth day. He dropped six kilograms, but has been eating steadily ever since, especially here in Hong Kong, where he is on a mission to try every kind of dim sum available. And he has a new name for me: Super Mum Infinite Worry. I wonder why.


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