While growing up, the world of illnesses and diseases was reasonably simpler. Normal cough&/cold&/fever was the first step. Malaria was one step up. Hindi film industry had managed to mock it by rhyming it with a suitably coined word 'loveria'. Influenza alias Flu was more severe. Typhoid was the dreaded one.
Smallpox and chickenpox were deadly, but fifty years ago in (then) urban India, the vaccination was supposed to have mitigated them reasonably well.
Other ailments (migraine, colitis, appendicitis, diabetes, spondylitis, blood pressure) were considered to be a pain for a small group of patients and fiefdom of an even smaller group of doctors.
In the last couple of decades, four hefty thugs have completely disrupted the old disease-world order. Avian Flu, H1N1, Dengue and Chikungunya.
Of these four, I lived in mortal fear of the last three for quite a few years. Staying in Pune, there was no other option. Then I got Dengue a couple of years ago. But as luck would have it, I apparently contracted some mutated version. And believe it or not, the mutation had happened to decrease the severity. Contracting Dengue is characterized by drastic drop in platelet count, incessant high fever, hospitalization for weeks, debilitating weakness for months. Though my Dengue report was positive, I suffered neither of the aforementioned maladies. Had raging high fever for about 36 hours, got admitted to the hospital and the fever vanished. Stayed in the hospital 'under observation' for two days. And was out like Flynn.
The encounter with Chikungunya wasn't as simple.
It started with my wife contracting the disease and collapsing in a matter of hours. At 7:30 PM, she started feeling a little bit of pain in her knee. At 8:00 PM, she was unable to stand. She somehow reached home in an auto-rickshaw, and was unable to get down from it. And when she was finally carried in home at 8:30 PM, she occupied the sofa in the sitting room for straight 72 hours after that. Her right knee was swollen, burning hot and completely impervious to her commands. Her mother closely followed suit, with severe joint aches and fever, but was reasonably mobile.
The physician prescribed some aspirins, antacids, painkillers and vitamin tablets. He had already treated a dozen patients in the previous week, and had started getting a hang of the treatment. As he predicted, the blood test came negative for Flu, Malaria, Typhoid, Dengue and Chikungunya. The virus has mutated and doesn't show up in the tests; just continues wreaking havoc.
That was a month ago. Chikungunya claimed its next victim by shooting me down a fortnight ago. It was a crazy flip-flop. I started feeling shooting pain in the left knee and some surging fever around noon. I was to give a talk in the evening and wasn't sure whether I would be able to make it. Swallowed an aspirin and became horizontal. Fever vanished in less than an hour, but wrists started paining noticeably, along with the knee. No swelling. I was undergoing some dental treatment and was already on an antibiotic course.
My physician had become wiser in the meanwhile; he had added another couple of dozen patients to his list. He put me on the same regime of aspirins, antacids, painkillers and vitamins. The next day was bad. Movement near impossible, sleep vanished, pains unbearable. And next day was the worst. The day opened with pains beyond relief, typing a text message on cellphone was near impossibility. I was whining and groaning not unlike a top-loading washing machine in 'blanket' mode.
I have had a heart attack a decade ago. And I was desperately ready to sign an undertaking switching from Chikungunya to another heart attack. Even in hindsight, I haven’t changed my opinion. Heart attack necessitates a stay in the hospital (initially in CCU), no fever, no body-ache, people monitor you round the clock till you are out of danger and out of funds. But the way Chikungunya breaches the pain barrier is beyond description. Can you imagine a situation where you can't life a cup of coffee?
One feels absolutely helpless. The feeling that an overweight arthritic centurion with diabetes and a history of heart disease can beat you hands down in the 'chair to door walk' permeates your consciousness like an ink blot spreading on your favorite shirt.
Last month, at least in Pune, there have been cases and cases of Dengue and Chikungunya everywhere. Of course, the municipal corporation comes up with some immensely hilarious figures (‘58 people affected by Dengue’ was a claim; 58 people would be down with Dengue on one side of Prabhat Road!). The scary part is, there is no ‘medicine’ per se. The weakness and joint pains have to be fought with only one weapon – time.
I have three factors going for me - being a member of tax-paying affluent class, I can afford visiting a doctor and getting the medicines. Secondly, I seem to have been hit by a benignly mutated strain. I was told that walking (though incessant cursing accompanied it) within a couple of days is sheer miracle.
And thirdly I have easy access to the necessary time and space for ‘resting’.
People who don't have these factors going in their favor are surely children of the lesser god. If these people are from the economically lower strata of the society (what the great thinker and philosopher Shashi Tharoor would call 'cattle class'), who have neither the medical assistance, nor the financial assistance to get the medicines and a nutritious diet, nor a decent place to rest for a week or two, then the disease is going to cause havoc.