Friday, August 19, 2016

Puerto Rico Fights Zika!

“It’s the law of attraction,” said Lady, and I snarled immediately.

“It’s blaming the victim,” I told her, and stalked off.

Lady, it seems, does not get mosquito-borne diseases. Is it because she tends to wear long dresses, long sleeves? Is it because mosquitos find her distasteful? Whatever—two years ago, when everyone in Old San Juan was walking around with Chikungunya, Lady was peering at us through braided coils, wondering what the fuss was about.

“Well, at least you don’t have Ebola,” was the incendiary remark at the time.

And the response?

“Listen, if I had the money and the energy, I would travel to darkest Africa, find the highest concentration of Ebola victims, and share food, lodgings, blood and saliva with them. Oh, and probably cannibalism. Because at the moment, a handy little death from Ebola is vastly preferable….”

Now I have Zika.

It was supposed to be no problem: 80% of the people who contract the disease have no symptoms. OK—80% I can do. 80% on a horse? I’d definitely put my money on it.

And I would have lost….

OK—but it was going to be mild, right? You know, just a little joint pain, a little lethargy, and maybe a rash. Over and done in a couple of days, and life would go on.

Ten days ago, I woke up feeling strange. Was that the day that I was freezing cold at five in the morning? Or was it the day after? In fact, one of the curious features of the disease is that chronology becomes meaningless: I only know that I leapt out of bed, put a full set of clothes on, turned off the fan, and dove under the blanket. I was—in August, in Puerto Rico—shivering uncontrollably.

My doctor would have wanted me to take my temperature. And in days past, I would have, but what was the point? I had joined the long ranks of men and women who had come to the tropics, who had pitted themselves against the climate, the weather, and the fauna. It could have malaria, or yellow fever, or any other known or unknown tropical disease. What mattered was not the exact temperature—though I suspect it was well over 103 degrees—but the thrashing awake to clothes and bedclothes that were soaked with sweat. It’s at this moment that one knows: you are not where you are supposed to be.

You were seduced, as so many had been, by the gentle ocean breezes, by the lull of surf on sand, by the full moon glistening at you through palm fronds. But you were never meant to be here: only you, arriving at the café, are given a paper towel matter-of-factly by the staff. Because you walk quickly, striding purposefully down the street: you are still, somehow, in Wisconsin, charging through the streets to get back home, and sit by the fire. In 25 years, have you learned to stroll, to saunter? Of course not.

So the fever announced the disease: then it was the stomach. “Nausea and vomiting,” you read, in the CDC webpage. All right: double check on those. So now it’s day three or four, and everything is supposed to be clearing up nicely, since this disease can only last seven days, right? I mean, that’s what it says…..

News flash: the disease can do whatever the hell it wants….

Well, now it’s time to call my elder brother, because he has two abilities at the least: he can win Pulitzers, and he can attract the weirdest diseases known or unknown to man. So it was no surprise when my mother, years ago, called to tell me…well, wait, here she is:

“Guess what! Eric is in the hospital with Guillain-Barre!”

Indeed he was, and Eric being Eric, he had gotten the disease bass-akwards. Or maybe bass-downwards, since instead of getting the paralysis from the feet going up, Eric had gotten the paralysis from the face going down. This, in fact, was hardly good news, because paralysis is no big deal, really, until it afflicts your chest muscles. These contract, 20 or so times a minute, causing air to flow into your lungs. And so for us long-legged Newhouses, you can take a Hawaiian vacation from the onset of foot paralysis to the day of getting ready for the iron lung. But there isn’t that much time—or distance-–from the face to the chest….

“At least you’re not pregnant,” said Eric to me, and that rang a little bell, since remember, “at least you don’t have Ebola?”

No, I’m not pregnant, but I might as well be, since I am nauseated 24 / 7, have no energy, am sweating in the coolest nights and shivering through the hottest days. Oh, and I had gone off to an art gallery, and then thought to go to CVS, since I was waking up in the middle of the night, and then unable to get back to sleep. So I bought some Benadryl, and the pharmacist commented, “is that for your rash?”


So yes, there it is, a maculopapular rash, which was all over by arms, and then my chest, and then my back, and then—unbelievably—in places where body hair would seem to make a rash unlikely, if not impossible. And that meant that I was itching unbearably even in my two arm pits, as well as in….well, I leave it to you to imagine the third area….

So that meant a trip to the pharmacy, since the pharmacies in Puerto Rico are looser, more generous, less anal. Which means that while they may not give you heroin—you have to cross the plaza for that—they will give you hydrocortisone cream, without the need for that fussy little piece of paper. Though in fact, the pharmacist recommended calamine lotion, which, if nothing else, would take you back to your childhood. Remember that? A time when mosquitos bit—OK, that’s fair—but never left you clinging onto the ledge between life and death.

That’s not fair.

So I buy two bottles, and the calamine seems to have changed, since it is no longer pink, and no longer smells. So is it psychological, my belief that the stuff is useless? Because I am itching like crazy now, and I am seriously contemplating: for a couple of months, I suffered agony from a broken back. Movement was torture, and so I lay in bed and counted my breaths up to ten, and then back again. It was hell, but was it worse than this constant itching? As long as I didn’t move, my back was only throbbing. But the itching is fierce, and constant.

“Have you been seeing a lot of these rashes?” I ask the pharmacist, because the world is definitely, well…diverse. Obama has, a couple weeks ago, gotten on the airwaves with a special message to Puerto Rico: take it seriously, guys. Lather up on the mosquito repellent, and empty those flowerpots after each rain. So I’ve done my utterly scientific polling to see if the message is getting through: I have walked through the café and asked everybody if they are wearing insect repellent.

Blank stares….

But wait, Lady did have a response: “I don’t intend to get pregnant….”

Oh, and then there was Jack: “think this has to do with the Fiscal Control Board…”

Zika has, in fact, proven itself able to spark the conspiracist theorists in us all. Montalvo posted on Facebook: Zika doesn’t come from mosquitos, it comes from a substance from…wait, I ran over to Snopes to check it out:

But now a medical organization is challenging that connection, saying that the chemical larvicide Pyriproxyfen is instead to blame.

Snopes pooh-poohs the whole idea, but who knows? And then it was Gary, who sent me this:

DEET is just one part of a binary chemical weapon system that is right now being deployed against the American people... a weapon system engineered to cause mass fear and confusion while even achieving a "behavior modifying" effect as you'll soon see.

And so here I sit, busy trying not to scratch, and contemplating the fact that health authorities are telling pregnant women to avoid a 1.5 mile stretch of Miami, since a fearsome five cases of Zika have been detected there. That’s interesting, since two cruise ships are in the harbor, and that means at least 5,000 passengers and God knows how many crew are strolling an area considerably smaller than 1.5 miles. And then it occurred to me: what’s happening elsewhere in the Caribbean? So here it is, from NBC:

The U.S. is interested in how Cuba responds to medical emergencies like Zika. Two new cases have been reported in Cuba since March. Two thousand cases have been reported in the past week in nearby Puerto Rico.

Cuba, you see, knew just what to do. To start with, the got the “neighborhood committees" out to turn over the flowerpots and ditch the used tires. The neighborhood committees—remember those? Those committed ideologues, working in secret but very effectively, that ensured political correctness and homogeneity for all those decades! And then they got the military out, to lend a hand as well.

Well, it was a pretty picture: all of those neighbors cleaning up the ‘hood, as the Cuba military trained the AR-15’s on them. And presumably, just to keep up the ánimo, they were singing the Internationale and Guantanamera as well!

But we’ve hardly lagged behind, because here, from the head of the Manejo de Emergencias y Administración de Desastres (Aemead) (Emergency Management and Disaster Administration) comes this!

I rest my case….