The downside of living in the tropics


So I posted this photo on Instagram a few weeks ago when they were mosquito fogging in the village. This basically involves coming into every compound in the village with machines that pump some kind of poisonous smoke into the air that kills off the mosquitos. I was not best pleased about it at the time, as being Indonesia, I was pretty sure they were using DDT or something horribly toxic to humans as well as mozzies (and any other insects judging by the number of half-dead cockroaches that came crawling out of the drain).

I ran and shut myself inside when I heard them coming (the machines sound like lawnmowers) but it didn’t do much good as the smoke seeps in through any little crack and then is actually trapped inside so I had to go out anyway and be totally surrounded in white smog smelling of petrol. Nice. Maybe you can get an idea of my terror from the photo I snapped of the smoke starting to pour through the ventilation holes in the wall (kids were out with made, luckily).


Anyway the purpose of this mosquito cull was to try and curb the tide of dengue fever that’s been sweeping through our village (and the rest of Bali) recently. We’ve had an unseasonably wet ‘dry season’ this year, meaning there are a lot more mosquitos around, along with all the nasty diseases they carry. Luckily malaria is very rare in Bali but there are plenty of other horrible things you can catch.

Let me tell you a little about dengue fever. You catch it from mosquitos that bite in the daytime, rather than at night. This means that most mosquito protection such as nets and spray is useless as people only use them in the evenings (yes you can use spray or lotion any time but I tend not to use it at all as I don’t want chemicals sitting on my skin every day). You can spot the mosquitos that carry dengue quite easily as they are black and white stripy.

Made’s mother was first to go with a raging headache and fever for 3 days before we took her to the hospital to get checked out. I started feeling like I was getting unwell (achey feeling and fuzzy head) and thought it was probably the start of a cold. The next afternoon and night the fever hit me as I felt freezing cold after my shower with hot water and went to bed wearing long clothes, socks, a fleece and a blanket. That night I had no idea if I was dreaming or hallucinating half the night as I was basically delirious. We no longer have a working thermometer so I don’t know how high my temperature got but high enough to make you feel like you’re tripping is pretty common.

The fever was followed by an incessant headache that paracetamol didn’t touch, nausea, lack of appetite and a constant bitter taste in my mouth that made everything taste off. There’s no treatment for dengue fever, it’s just a case of keeping fluids up and waiting it out. I constantly chugged water from the first night of fever (I actually had a raging thirst all night and was constantly thirsty) but Made’s mother ended up in hospital with dehydration.

After the fever abates is the fun stage where you can die from internal bleeding but obviously I didn’t die. Dengue destroys your blood platelets so your blood stops clotting properly and it can be dangerous to take ibuprofen or aspirin, which thins the blood. The final stage when you’re nearing recover is the rash. Oh the rash! So by this point I’m feeling ok but i’m covered head to toe in a red rash which itches like crazy. I had to take my wedding ring off because I was scratching my hands so much, all my fingers swelled up.

Oh I was feeling so sorry for myself. Plus on top of this I had the kids to look after on my own most of the day as the rest of the family were visiting meme in hospital. This was over the time of a big ceremony and poor made had to do everything himself while I let dvds babysit the kids.

By the time you get the rash, you know the worst is over only you’re knackered and have no energy. Right on the tail of getting over the dengue I came down with a terrible stomach bug (oh by the way it also wrecks your immune system). I woke Made up in the middle of the night because I felt so terrible and he wanted to take me to hospital because apparently I’d gone completely white. I managed to fob him off until 6am when he insisted on taking me, came back with a bag of medicine and proceeded to sleep for 24 hours. No joke. Honestly I have never been so wiped out in all my life.

So there you go, that’s why I haven’t been around the last couple of weeks. Let me tell you, dengue is no joke and judging from some other accounts I’ve read, I had a very mild case of it. I’m now trying to catch up with all my work after not being able to do anything for 2 weeks and that is also no joke. I’m actually starting to feel like I’ll never catch up.

Anyway, I’m having another rethink about work as I never seem to be on top of it. I’m still working way more than i’d like and not spending as much time as I’d like with the kids. I’ve taken on a couple of interesting new writing jobs lately which involve me doing fun activities and going out and researching child-friendly things to do in Bali so I guess that will help. But i’m going to be looking at cutting things down next month – being so sick really makes your realise what’s important and I don’t want to spend every day sitting at the computer and not spending time with the kids, even if it means we’re broke forever. Once I can get our debts paid off we’ll have loads of breathing space but I think that’s a few years to come yet. Sigh.

So in other news, it is my birthday tomorrow! After several years of expecting Made to do something and being disappointed, I have come to terms with the fact that the Balinese just don’t do birthdays so I am making my own fun. Nothing spectacular but I’m planning on having a child-free day, doing no work (even though I’m miles behind) and going out for lunch with a friend. Not expecting any presents but I may treat myself to a Frankie magazine 🙂 Oh and cake of course!

We also have a fun family mini-break coming up soon, which I am very excited about!

I can’t believe I have drivelled on for 1000+ words about my tropical illness. Bet you are all riveted! Till next time 🙂

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16 Responses to “The downside of living in the tropics”

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  1. cathy sharp says:

    Hi Rachel, sorry to hear you’ve been so ill. I had no idea it was that bad, sounds horrendous 🙁

    I’m completely with you when you talk about spending all day at a computer and not really seeing the kids. Summer hols this year have mainly been about me working and trying to fit in fun stuff with kids. Deadline after deadline, relentless. Going away for 4 days in scotland next week but looks I’ll be working right up til moment we get the car. Need a holiday to get over the holidays.

    Enjoy your birthday 🙂 xxx

  2. Rachel says:

    Hi Cathy 🙂
    It wasn’t too much fun but I think I got off lightly considering. Most people end up in hospital with it.
    Great that you’re getting away for a few days! It always looks like you’re doing so much fun stuff on Instagram. Working hard and playing hard? 🙂 Will it be easier when the kids go back to school? I’m hoping to start Maya back at school after her birthday – she stopped wanting to go to her old one suddenly and mysteriously but it was only ever supposed to be a stop gap anyway. Now I have the fun of trying to find a new and decent place for her that doesn’t cost too much!

  3. Angelica says:

    Rachel! I’m so so sorry you were so sick. I can’t even imagine, especially with taking care of the kids :/ I’m really glad you’re feeling at least somewhat better, and I hope your rash goes away quickly! Please have fun on your birthday and do something to pamper yourself 🙂


  4. Junette says:

    No wonder you’ve been gone…. Dengue is a buzz kill. One of my friends had it and she was in the hospital for about a week and a half and she can go on and on about how dreadful it was.

    I’m so glad your fine and I’m glad you’re back!

  5. How terrible! I had to go get checked for malaria last week but it turns out I was just pregnant… Hah! Happy birthday!

  6. Brandee says:

    Happy Birthday!!!

    My husband is from Ghana and his family doesnt celebrate birthdays in any way. It’s still weird!!

    It must be so scary having to experience that spray! The top picture though is still beautiful! Scary but beautiful!

  7. Rachel says:

    I don’t care if he doesn’t want to celebrate his own birthday but just acknowledging mine would be nice! Oh well!
    It was pretty terrifying i’m telling you! I was alone at home too, argh!

  8. Rachel says:

    Hehe, well hopefully this pregnancy won’t make you ask sick as malaria would 🙂 how does that work btw? can you still take anti-malarials if you’re pregnant?

  9. Rachel says:

    Thanks 🙂 Yeah luckily I wasn’t so sick with it – seems like half of made’s family was in hospital with it over the last couple of months!

  10. Rachel says:

    Thanks Angelica! The rash is gone already, thank god! It was driving me crazy! BTW I absolutely adored your Iceland photos – really made me want to go back there! I think I had a loading issue when i was trying to comment when you first uploaded them so i’m not sure if i ever got around to commenting on your blog 🙂

  11. Marichu says:

    Hi, Rachel. Oh my, poor you the past days. I’m so sorry to hear you were sick. I had dengue too when I was fourteen. I remember the endless headache and chills. 🙁 In Manila, this kind of fogging happens, too, in certain areas deemed by health officials to be mosquito breeding grounds/communities. Yes, the smoke is absolutely dangerous to health, I agree with you. I’m hoping you’ll fully recover the next days. Our health as moms is precious for many depend on us. : )

  12. Rachel says:

    Thanks Marichu 🙂 Luckily I am feeling much better now and the rain seems to have stopped, there are not so many mosquitos around now. I thought that I wasn’t getting as much as I used to when I first arrived here but I read that your body builds up a tolerance so if you do get bitten, you don’t always get an itchy bite or a bump – this makes sense as both kids would sometimes get bad mosquito bites as babies but they seem to rarely get them now. Damn those mosquitoes!

  13. Rachael says:

    Sorry to hear you weren’t well. Dengue sounds bloody awful! Sounds like you’re struggling with the life/work balance. I was given some advice recently (after feeling guilty for the same reason as you – always on the computer) and it’s helping me a bit – a friend suggested that on the days when I absolutely have to do some work on the computer and I have the kids, rather than work solidly for a couple of hours, to stop every 20 mins or so and get up and run around with the kids for 5 mins, throw a ball around, draw something, put the hose on – anything that’s fun and will have the kids laughing. Then once they’re happy again, do another 20 mins work, then get up again and play! It’s been helping me a little (not always) so thought I’d share the advice. x

  14. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the tips but I’ve found I can’t really work at all if I’m alone with the kids. Maya is pretty good at independent play now, especially if I set her up with her play food or colouring sheets or something absorbing, but Kiran just wants my attention all the time. If I open the laptop he either slams it shut or steals the keys (seriously! Major apple design flaw!) so usually I don’t even try. I don’t think the toddler years are as bad as everyone makes them out to be but i’m still looking forward to the time when they can play happily together with minimal intervention from me! Also Balinese homes are so dangerous for young kids – they can normally entertain themselves running around the compound but if i’m not concentrating, maya will let herself out onto the road and kiran will climb all over the temple and fall on concrete – everything is hard and has sharp corners. Poor kid had bumped his head a ridiculous number of times! I swear he’s probably got multiple skull fractures 🙁

  15. Eszter says:

    So good that you did not die.
    Where we live in Thailand it is nothing as bad…

  16. Rachel says:

    Yeah I think only about 5% of people get it bad enough to be life threatening, I was just being dramatic :p Really? No dengue in Thailand?