Nov 5, 2018

Fall, the Flu & a Fiasco or Two....

Yes, it's that most wonderful time of the year when the monsoon clouds recede and breezy, balmy, mild, and dry days prevail. The tourists arrive to enjoy the spectacular weather and the festivities of the Hindu and Buddhist high holidays. What could possibly go wrong??? Read on for the rant!

You know it's October when you can see the mountains again here in Nepal. This was the glimpse of the Annapurnas from our backyard last week. Gone is the fetid, festering heat and humidity of the Monsoon season. Unfortunately, the agricultural burning starts in October and continues through March. The influx of tourists bringing microbes from around the world combined with the persistent smoke lead to a host of respiratory problems.

And so it happened that the Sheikh (my husband) came down with the nastiest flu. What started with simple allergic rhinitis (a runny nose) gradually escalated to an acute viral respiratory infection. High fevers (103F/39C) alternating with chills, cough, headache, and horrendous body aches. So I sent the Sheikh to clinic to get blood work done. I wanted to make sure he wasn't having a typhoid relapse (we are all due for a typhoid vaccine booster and typhoid is endemic here ) and rule out a secondary bacterial infection or pneumonia. An executive blood panel includes screening for dengue, malaria parasite, leptospirosis, and four strains of typhoid. The bloodwork came back fine but the physician on duty at the clinic wanted to admit him due to his high fever. We decided to try the clinic's new home health care option. Most westerners do not realize that if you are hospitalized in South Asia someone is going to have to bring your meals to you, buy your medications at the pharmacy, and buy/bring any supplies such as bandages or syringes. They don't send you a bill at the end of your hospitalization like in the US, it is more a "pay as you go" sort of system. So the home health nurse came to our house and installed the intravenous port in the Sheikh's hand as you see in the above photo.

The home health nurse arrived by scooter, looked to be about 20 years old, and wore a hoodie over pajamas. Not the most professional of presentations. She proceeded to take the Sheikh's temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. She never washed her hands, used a hand sanitizer nor wore gloves. The home health care physician recommended a triple whammy cocktail of antibiotics, lots of paracetamol to bring down the fever, and the antiviral peramivir. (I was surprised they even had peramivir here - I guess they're thinking the next permutation of Swine Flu is going to be truly vicious.) I thought the triple antibiotic regimen was overdoing it but I was glad they had the antiviral. So then the pajama-clad nurse looks around and asks where the pole to hang the IV is. I replied, "You didn't bring a pole or anything to hang the IV on?" Whatever. Above you see Bibi's "jugaadi" (make-do or hack) IV rig. A sturdy clothes hanger affixed to the curtain rod over the sofa. The clips on the clothes hanger can also be used to hang the patient's chart. The cord you see the drip suspended on is the drawstring from a pair of my salwars (trousers).

Oh, I love a parade! (Except when it is through my living room.) This is actually the Indian Border Securities Forces Camel Cavalry in the Republic day parade. Camels and pompoms- what's not to love?

Culture Clash: If you are sick in South Asia you can expect a parade of well-wishing visitors possibly bearing fruit or fruit juices as gifts. It doesn't matter if what you have is dire, deadly, and or contagious. It doesn't matter if you really don't feel up to having visitors. You must invite them in to sit around you, express concern,  and cheerfully chat up your morale. Your medical chart may be passed about for all and sundry to peruse too. I don't know about you but the last thing I want around when I'm spiking 103F/39C fevers and am miserably ill is any sort of guest.

And you are obliged to serve those well-wishing visitors tea, coffee, and snacks. So in addition to caring for the Sheikh whilst he is miserably ill - I get to be hostess, barista, and chaatwala. The type of tea and coffee served here both require boiling milk and must be served scalding hot. This means you can't stray far from the stove while making them lest the milk boil over. No drip machine for the coffee and the tea leaves are boiled separately.  The snacks are easier to manage as they're usually just packaged biscuits and chaat mixes placed on a tray. We averaged about 20 to 30 guests a day.

The Ongoing Melodrama of the Maid: On the second day of all these harried happenings the maid announces that she is leaving for 15 days to Kathmandu. Why? Because she's pregnant and is going to have "treatment." Congratulations and goodbye was all I had to say. I know I sound like a heartless, entitled, and overprivileged meanie. But this maid has just had a 50 day paid holiday this Summer whilst we were on vacation. Then she said she was taking four days off for Dashain and she was gone for seven days. Both times she has asked for cash bonuses and raises. She hasn't even worked here for 8 months yet! She's only here for 2-3 hours a day and usually washes the dishes, cleans the floors, and makes the beds. We are already paying her twice the going rate for a maid. Many households also require their maid to do laundry and cook but I do that myself. Sigh.

With no maid, I now have to do all the dishes for not only our family but all the guests' teacups and whatnot myself. And I'm starting to get low fevers, chills, and nasty body aches too. UGH. Surprisingly, I never seem to get as severe a case of whatever flu is going around anymore. Not sure if that is due to getting the US version of the flu vaccine for 20 years or my sturdy constitution. I didn't spike the high fevers like the Sheikh did. The body aches were so severe I felt like I'd been hit by a truck, even the bottoms of my feet hurt.

Germs? What germs?

As you may surmise, due to this cultural practice of visitation during illness all of our valley now suffers this nasty virus and local clinics and hospitals are filled to capacity. Why does this cultural practice persist despite modern notions of contagion? Well, you will find throughout Asia that they don't truly believe in the "Germ Theory." Illness is believed to be brought about by changes in weather, dietary indiscretions, and cleanliness is considered more of a spiritual matter. Yet despite these erroneous beliefs South Asian physicians prescribe antibiotics like they're handing out candy. Is there any wonder that New Delhi is the birthplace of the latest antibiotic-resistant superbug?

Curiously, there is a commonly held belief here that drinking chilled water or any other cold beverages is unhealthy and can cause illness. Given the lack of sanitation here, I can see where drinking water that has at least been boiled is safer. Conversely, taking a cold shower or bath is preferred and considered good for health. Nepalis believe that a hot shower or bath is bad for the skin. Apparently, this is idea derived from the Nepali practice of pouring boiling hot water over a slaughtered goat or pig to make the skin bubble off. The variety of ancient traditional medical systems here like Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha probably accounts for many of these practices. Living in Asia has taught me that culture supersedes education, religion, and common sense.

About three days into his illness the Sheikh decides our living room needed refurbishing. Suddenly, amidst the throngs of felicitous guests, he is embarrassed about our worn out 12-year-old carpet and ratty sofa. 
Why now?!? 
The old carpet looked manky when we first moved in 12 years ago and has suffered water damage from an indoor flood (the drains on the roof became clogged during a severe storm and water came streaming out the electrical outlets) and the cats have shredded the edges into oblivion. The sofa has had a hole ripped clean through one end by our cat Spotty for about a year now. We are currently building a new showroom in a new hotel so the Sheikh asks the carpeting crew and upholsterer to stop by. Above you see two of the carpet samples I was shown to choose from. Pretty amazing selection. eh?I believe there was a solid burnt orange sample too but I chose the boring solid brown you see in the background. South Asian home decor has been stuck in stodgy 70's earth tones since forever. So in between serving guests, I managed to dismantle the 3 huge bookcases in our living room so the carpet could be laid. The hole in the sofa has also been repaired so people can sit on it too! Woo Hoo!

And that was the week that was.......
We are all slowly on the mend here now, THANKFULLY.  I eventually convinced the Sheikh to turn the @#$%! phone off so that people would quit coming and he could get some rest. I'm still going through the 700+ photos I took of the wedding in Kashmir- hope to have a post up on that soon. If you made it this far, thank you for listening to my rant! Hope your week went better than ours did!

How are you all faring with the flu and cold season in your area?
Be sure to load up on zinc  and vitamin C to support your immune system!


  1. very glad to hear that you both are on the mend!! sending all my best wishes!
    oh my!! you must be totally exhausted. what a rollercoaster of a week.....
    no flu here so fare - i had the last one in 2015 i think. did sleep them out in 14 days with the help of ginger and herbal tees from my garden and tons of apples. and chinese mint oil for the aching joints and back. and i try to keep the BW (he has a weak immun system) away from little children when its flu season - kindergartens are the breading stations for all kinds of germs.
    cant wait to read the wedding post(s)!!!
    the view of the anapurna is breathtaking - esp. for a mountaineer at heart like me! <3

    1. Hi beate,
      Thank you, is has been quite the week!
      I'm convinced airplanes are incubators for these nasty viruses- get one carrier on the plane & with that recirculated air everybody gets sick. Most tourists arrive by plane here in Nepal bringing whatever is going around in their country. We deal mostly with tourists so we are usually the first to catch the new bugs.
      I switch to fresh ginger & black pepper in my chai when the weather gets nippy.

    2. oh yes - planes. i forgot because i used one last time 4 years ago. but i always catch a bronchitis there.
      tourists - are they a plague or a blessing? both? we live in a tourist region and i´m not sure what to think about.....
      big best health wishes!! xxx

    3. Tourists comprise about 30% of Nepal's revenue- so yes we need them very much!
      Unfortunately, these fast mutating, easily spread viruses are the price we all pay for our new 'global' society.
      Best wishes to you too!

  2. Oh dear, I'm sorry for your woes and send the Sheikh plenty of get well wishes.
    When we used to travel to India in December it was peak tourist season and we caught a cold every blinking time! Now we go in January we seem to have avoided it (touch wood!) although we both went down the environmental bronchitis when we went to Kerala a couple of years ago.

    1. Hi Vix,
      Thank you. By January both the flu & the tourists seem to dwindle - smart move to visit India then!

  3. Glad to hear you are both on the mend. When I read accounts of other people health care systems I bless our NHS for all that it does for us - even though it's almost on its knees...I thought your IV stand was brilliant! Recycling all the way!

    I tend to get cold sores (yuck, I have one now) instead of colds. I'm not sure which is worse, to be honest. As for flu I've only had it twice two years running in the mid 1990s and it laid me low for at least week. Next birthday I qualify for free flu vaccinations and shall be taking them up.

    Hope your week improves...

    1. Hi Vronni,
      Thank you.
      The health care 'system' here is a bit ramshackle but meds are cheap.
      I highly recommend the flu vaccine- it may not seem like it is working right away but long term benefits are worth it.

  4. A happy Diwali to you and family,

    It must have been awfully hectic for you with that deluge of guests. I wish your husband speedy recovery and health. There was a time when October and November were known for festivities. Now, it is known for flu and pollution. My late mother used to get sick with chest congestion and asthma and had to be hospitalized during this time. Diabetics had weakened her body. The house nurse reminds me of the path lab technicians who took blood samples of my mother for blood sugar tests without gloves.

    For years I have been trying to find an effective response to this seasonal malady called flu. I have turned towards homeopathy for the solution. Homeopathy often has no side effects and is safe even for children. This year, at the first occurrence of runny nose and itchy throat, I took ten or fifteen drops of the homeopathic solution with half cup water and it miraculously stopped the infection, body ache and potential fever in its track. I took it four times for two days and got rid of all effects of flu. I learned that flu often cannot be stopped but you can delay its onset and even wiggle out of its grip. Very inexpensive and safe solution. I did work for me fantastically well. I just wanted to share my experience with you.


    1. Hi Apple,
      Happy Deepawali to you & yours!
      Well, on top of the Sheikh's illness, my nephew wrecked our car yesterday (he is okay, the car is not) and I had an allergic reaction to something that stung me & my left eye swelled shut.
      The Sheikh decided to make a divine appeal by sacrificing a goat & donating the meat to the poor. Hopefully divine favor shall be incurred.

    2. It was an unusually quiet diwali this year. Nobody in our apartment burnt crackers and so was the case in our neighborhood. However, it was not the same everywhere. We like good citizens adhered to the orders of the Supreme Court.

      You need a maid urgently. I cannot imagine how you are coping without one when both of you are sick.

      BTW, I wish to share the name of the wonderful medicine which I took for flu and fever. It is Dr. Bakshi's Bakson B1 drops for Influenza and Fever. You can get it online or from a drug store that stocks homeopathic medicine. You may find it useful to nip such infections in the bud. Just a friendly recommendation.

  5. Oh golly, what a nightmare time you have been having. Flu is such a nasty ilness. I'm glad to hear you are all on the mend now.

    It sounds like you need a new maid...

    1. Hi Mim,
      It was quite the week! I am training a new maid right now. Thank you for your well wishes!

  6. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for everyone. Flu is no joke- I caught both strains last winter. Try putting up a quarrantine sign on the door and see if it scares people off thinking it is worse than flu ;)

    1. Hi Goody,
      Oh gosh Goody- two strains in one season, how miserable!
      No one even knows what a quarantine is here, they really aren't familiar with the flu either. Thank you!

  7. What an awful way to get a new carpet! And what a way to spread the flu...

    Sadly, we've had one death from 'flu already in Indiana. Too many people attempt to "power through" and continue their daily routines, spreading the bug at school and work. An added complication: some doctors, including my own, are noting the "strong, multi-strain vaccine" is NOT a good idea for anyone who already has a cold. Yikes.

    1. Hi Beth,
      These flu viruses seem to be getting nastier each year. I have read the multi-strain vaccine is not working as well as expected. I think "globalization" is responsible for these fast mutating, virulent strains.


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