Wrong. Brandon was feeling worse in the morning, which should not have come as a surprise to me, since I had forced him to go on a walkabout-length trek from you-know-where the day before. It wasn’t until he complained of a stiff neck that I suddenly started panicking inside and finally understood just how sick he was. (By the by, his dad told me that, when Brandon got appendicitis years ago, they had no idea how sick he was until he actually collapsed. He’s always been one to hide more than he shows.) So we caught a trike to head to the medical clinic.
El Nido is decades behind in development. Despite it being a tourist hub, there isn’t even an ATM in the town, and the closest thing to a hospital was a placed called Medical City–a branch of a larger facility 5 hours south. It was Sunday, which meant we had to pay an emergency fee since the clinic is not open on Sundays. If I had heard the words “emergency fee” in the States, my heart would have dropped in expectation of the amount. In El Nido, the emergency fee was about $25. Because it was Sunday, the lab technician, nurse, and doctor were wearing tank tops, shorts, and flip flops. Brandon was so dehydrated that it took about 5 minutes for them to find a vein they could use. They took some blood work from him, “disinfecting” the area with a dry cotton ball. My public health heart cringed as I watched everything happening in that clinic, though I realize that they’re working with what they have.
When the bloodwork came back, the doctor sat us down and said, “I don’t like these results.” And then he told us that it looked like Brandon had dengue fever. Dengue was actually a relative relief to me, since I had been worried that he had meningitis. The doc ordered a confirmatory NS1 test but said he wanted to have Brandon on intravenous fluids for 16 hours, since his platelets were low and his segmenters high. To give you an idea of how small and ill-equipped this clinic was, I was actually sent in search of some Vitamin B Complex for Brandon’s IV. Yes, I went pharmacy-hopping to find it myself. This is a pretty-dang basic thing for a medical facility to have, but, hey, what do I know? Since the Pacquiao v. Mayweather fight was happening at this same time, finding an available trike and then a pharmacy that had this in stock was somewhat stressful.
The clinic was gross by any standard, but by health standards in the U.S., this place was just…I don’t even know what to say. When we asked for pillows (apparently these don’t come standard with a room), we were given these: There was, however, a sink in the room. We didn’t use it, for obvious reasons.The bathroom at the clinic was putrid and essentially had a squat toilet. Who thinks a squat toilet for weak hospital patients is a good idea?! There were ants and geckos in our small room, as well as mosquitoes, which I found ironic considering mosquitoes were what landed us in the clinic to begin with. The hospital bed was a flat, wood frame with a pad two inches thick on top. Apparently, the weight of an American was too much for it to bear after the petite Filipino frames that normally grace it with their presence. It broke.
I slept at the hospital with Brandon, though he didn’t sleep much at all. In addition to IV fluids, Brandon was injected with paracetamol (Tylenol) every four hours to help with his aches. They injected it into his IV port, and he was, ironically, in excruciating pain for about 30 seconds every time they did it. He ended up refusing his last dose because it wasn’t worth the pain it caused. Meanwhile, the wrist with the IV port was getting very swollen and tender.
Here’s Brandon with his nurse, shortly before we discharged ourselves so that we could catch our shuttle to Puerto Princesa where our flight to Australia would leave from the next day.
Brandon had, at this point, had 24 hours of IV fluids (=3 liters), and his bloodwork hadn’t improved. With this unsettling news and Brandon feeling only slightly better, we headed out to shower and catch our shuttle van. By this time, I think both of us were on the constant verge of tears, and all I wanted was my mom and dad. I don’t know if anything could have stopped us from catching our plane to Australia at this point. If there were an LDS branch in El Nido, we most definitely would have reached out for a blessing, but the closest branch was hours away. What I wouldn’t have given for a Priesthood blessing that day!
Since the dengue test had come back negative, we were wondering, with an unsettling anxiety, what else it could be. Dengue wasn’t out of the running, since the NS1 test is a time-sensitive test, but we had to consider other possibilities like chikungunya, leptospirosis, meningitis, some kind of encephalitis, etc. Reading the prognosis for some of these possibilities was quite scary. My sweet mother, busy as she is taking care of 275 missionaries, was in constant contact with me over text. She was giving sound medical advice, researching symptoms, looking up church contacts, contacting my Uncle Marc (our go-to doctor), and just being generally sympathetic and supportive. She kept me sane.
We headed to the terminal, and I ran to pick up prescriptions for Brandon. We were running low on cash at this point. What a terrible feeling it was when the total amount for prescriptions exceeded the amount of money we had left. With no ATM within hundreds of miles and no vendors accepting cards, I had to buy less than what was prescribed. Thankfully, I had had the forethought to keep some American cash in my wallet, which I later exchanged at a pawnshop to buy snacks and water for the coming drive. Brandon was ordered to drink 2 liters of oral rehydration solution (ORS) everyday. I was curious, after all my research on ORS, how it would taste. It was a strange mixture of sweet and salty. Strange bad, not strange good. Our shuttle ride was crazy. It was 5 hours of seat-gripping driving, with constant sharp turns and bouts of pounding rain. It was also beautiful, mercifully. I’m so glad Brandon’s aches weren’t quite as bad, since the jarring shuttle ride would have been agony for him if not. Once we got to Puerto Princesa, we cleaned up and headed to get something to eat. Brandon’s appetite had returned somewhat, so we went to find some food, passing through the shopping center (NCCC), and ending up at an Asian fast food place called Chow King. We keep it classy. Don’t judge us too harshly–when you’re dealing with a tropical disease, local cuisine gets crossed off the list mighty quick. We then went to a hospital for more blood work. Thankfully, this hospital was much more of what you’d expect from a medical facility. They did the blood work, though, and handed us the results in passing, without so much as a, “These look good/bad.” We ended up paying for a doctor to consult with, and she let us know that his results were looking much better. He did, however, get an infection called phlebitis from the IV site. His hand was swollen for a few days, and his vein is still rock-hard to this day.To celebrate his improved blood work results, we went to get donuts and a mango shake before heading back to the hostel for some sleep. All told, our costs for Brandon’s bout with who-knows-what were less than $300. The next day, we took it easy in the morning until our flight out. In a shocking turn of events, our flight to Manila was delayed. I genuinely wonder if any flight in or out of Manila is ever on time. I highly doubt it. I’m also fairly certain our pilot was tipsy.
We had a 5 hour layover in Manila. To give you an idea of how truly awful MNL airport is, those five hours were barely sufficient for us to make our next flight. Even though the next flight was predictably delayed, I wasn’t too mad, since we took off during the most fabulous sunset. Because we were flying with the sun, the colorful part of the sunset lasted for a good hour and a half. And it was breathtaking.
It looked like we were flying through fire. Thankfully we weren’t. However, the coolest thing may have been that our next flight was ON TIME!!!! Our only on-time flight out of 12. You go, Malaysia Airlines, and you go, Kuala Lumpur airport! It was so surreal to know I was going to see my parents when we got off the plane. For the first time in two years.