Chikungunya-patient Rosalie Williams speaks out

POSTED: 03/12/14 6:02 PM

“It felt like someone dropped a brick on my foot”

St. Maarten /  By Hilbert Haar – On a Tuesday seven weeks ago, Rosalie Williams, an internal auditor at telecom provider UTS, woke up in the middle of the night and discovered that she was unable to move her right foot. She soon found out that she had been infected by the chikungunya-virus – a fate that had befallen her husband and son a week earlier as well. Rosalie decided to share her story – as a message to others, and to give a face to this weird sounding infection that has the governments on both sides of the island up in arms. She also expressed her disappointment and frustration in the lack of action from said government, but that will come later.

The focus of our conversation is simple: what does it mean to have chikungunya? “First I thought I had sprained my foot,” Rosalie says. “The doctors cannot tell you how you are going to react to it. My husband recovered much faster than I did. There is no research that will tell you how long it will last.”

In the morning, Williams realized that she had caught chikungunya. “There is no cure, no medicine, so I thought, why go to a doctor? I thought I would sit it out. I took paracetamol for the pain, but that did not help at all.”

The pain in her feet was the worst. “I still cannot walk well. It felt like I had sprained my foot or like someone dropped a brick on it,” she says.

Nevertheless, by Friday, Williams felt slightly better and on Monday, she returned to work. “I dragged myself there,” she remembers. “But on Thursday and Friday I had to stay home again.”

The next week, Williams decided to visit a doctor. “She told me that it is possible to get infected by both chikungunya and dengue at the same time. If that is the case you cannot take anti-inflammatory medication, because dengue could cause internal bleedings.”

Williams went to the French side for a blood test – at a cost of €150 ($208.50 at the current rate). It took ten days before the results came back. There were some traces of dengue, but Williams did not have severe dengue, but there was a chikungunya-infection.

“The doctor prescribed Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory medicine,” Williams said. “That cured the joint pain; I had absolutely no pain anymore. But then the side-effects kicked in.”

Those side effects affected the gastro-intestinal tract (stomach and intestines). “I had severe pain in my stomach and there was also an increased risk of a heart attack,” Williams says. “In the evening I had no joint pain anymore, but in the middle of the night I suffered severe stomach pain, and I could hardly breathe.”

The next morning Williams went to see her doctor, only to discover that she was off-island. The next stop was the emergency room at the hospital. “They told me about the side-effects,” she says. “They gave me medicine for the pain but that did not help. The ECG of my heart was good though. In the end, they sent me home with more paracetamol. The pain lasted until Wednesday. I had stopped taking Naproxen. On Thursday the stomach pain was completely gone, but then the chikungunya came back.”

To get out of this quandary, Williams thought she could beat the odds by using an anti-inflammatory cream for her feet, but that backfired. “By Sunday morning it felt like my foot was broken and I could not walk anymore. My husband literally had to carry me to the bathroom. That is when I became scared for the first time.”

After the weekend, Williams visited doctor Vialenc on the French side. “He gave me a paracetamol-like medicine that has something extra in it. After taking those pills for a week, I was able to walk again. Last week was the first time that I have been the whole week at work.”

Seven weeks and counting, Williams is far from being in excellent shape. The aftermath of the infection is still dragging her down, even though she manages to tell her story with a smile on her face. “I am extremely fatigued at the end of the day. When I get home I am not able to do anything anymore.”

While the pain is slowly disappearing, Williams still wakes up every day with swollen feet and swollen hands. It takes a couple of hours for these swellings to go down. “Getting out of bed is difficult. I have to do what I call the chikungunya-walk, and I am still unable to stand on my feet for a long time.”

Williams lives in Belvedere. “The neighborhood is quite clean but one of my neighbors also caught the virus,” she says. “My mother is 69 and she caught it too. That is scary because with age the risk increases.”

What disappoints Williams is the attitude of the government. “Because there is no cure, they do not test. But you have to do that, because we need the data. If thirty years from now we get into a different situation, we may need that information. A country needs data.”

We’ll add here that there is also a lack of action in other fields. When the Collective Preventive Services convened a press conference to announce a survey as well as a cleanup campaign on February 3, it felt like something serious was going to happen. Cadets of the Justice Academy were sent into the field to do the survey – basically an assessment of the situation in the neighborhoods – and Vromi representative Edelmiro Jansen announced that his department would go after car wrecks big time.

Jansen said at the time that the cleanup campaign had started already some weeks earlier, but that the results were disappointing. “We still see a lot of large items in yards that can hold water,” he said. He announced that people would be given a two-day notice to remove car wrecks. “After that we do it ourselves and the wrecks go straight into the shredder.”

That sounded good and pro-active, but in the meantime the property on Sucker Garden Road that collects old washing machines still has all its broken appliances on display along the road. True, these are not car wrecks, but washing machines are certainly capable of holding their water.

Editor’s note:

Rosalie Williams declined to be photographed for this story. Today respects her decision.


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