A volunteer doctor gets a reminder to follow his own advice

By Medical Observer Opinion, published on 21 May 2018

Dr. Daniel Lean


While volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation in the Pacific with my wife, Jane, we celebrated her birthday and our 25th wedding anniversary.

We spent time on one of the outer islands of Vanuatu, where I encountered presentations I had not seen in Australia.

We also experienced and enjoyed life in the tropics, eating fish and listening to late-night story-telling by the elders, accompanied by the laughter of the children.

The trip was during the wet season in late February and it was particularly humid.

Following one night of island feasting, Jane noticed more bites than usual on her legs.

After a week back in Brisbane, and still on doxycycline, we attended a church service.

At almost the same moment, we were both overcome with exhaustion. We even had the same pale hue.

Ever the romantics, we felt it was a sign we’d been too busy and we would feel better after an arvo nap.

But the nap didn’t have the desired outcome.

During the following night,  we experienced fevers, delirium and frontal headaches.

As usual, I maintained a positive view and espoused the benefits of paracetamol.

When the next night brought more fevers and a metallic taste in the mouth, we decided blood tests were needed to elucidate the exact cause of our dreadful state.

Despite where we had been, it came as a surprise when the pathology lab rang 24 hours later to confirm a diagnosis of dengue fever.

Thanks to the climate, the close living and our slackness in applying mosquito repellent, the virus had broken through.

As a doctor, I go to great pains to explain the importance of malaria prevention to others, including sleeping under nets and taking chemoprophylaxis.

However, Jane and I failed to practise what I preach.

Our ordeal lasted about three weeks. As well as providing an unwanted souvenir, it was a salient lesson for doctors and anyone else travelling to the Asia-Pacific region to keep this arbovirus in mind.

Insect repellent is already packed in anticipation of our next journey there. Once bitten, twice shy!