On August 1st, our little family channeled our pent-up wanderlust and set out on an adventure to explore Singapore’s southern islands. Singapore is technically composed of 63 distinct islands, of which three are home to actual residents. There’s Singapore proper, home to over 5 million, Sentosa (known as “The Island of Fun”), home to roughly 2,000, and rural Pulua Ubin, home to a meager thirty eight individuals. Many of the remaining sixty islands are pint size and/or off-limits to visitors, but a cluster of five islands off Singapore’s south coast are open to visitors and one even provides the option to camp overnight. We were not equipped with sufficient gear or patience to try camping in a tent with two small children, so we booked tickets on the 9am ferry and decided to make a day of it.
Our primary destination was St. John’s island. Somewhat ironically, this landmass had historically been used to house quarantine facilities during prior pandemics and plagues. Now it’s equipped with picnic tables, bathroom facilities, and pristine beaches.
Connected to St. John’s island by a land bridge is Lazarus island, home to the most immaculate beach I have seen in Singapore. It’s the only place I’ve been where you can see sand and sea without a single shipping barge in sight.
The remaining two southern islands are Kuzu Island, home to a turtle sanctuary, and Sisters Island, which is technically a cluster of two distinct islands, which is a destination for snorkeling. We did not get to explore these yet.
The ferry to the Southern Islands costs $15 and makes four round trips each day. St. John’s is the primary destination, but you are can reboard the ferry to transfer to other islands. The ferry ride alone felt like an adventure after months spent landlocked on the 710 square kilometers of Singapore. The only issue was that I had begun contending with some nausea after the taxi ride to the ferry terminal. I don’t usually get motion sickness and as a result, my kiddos are used to me reading them stories in cabs. But I had begun feeling off halfway through The Pokey Little Puppy, and being aboard a boat was not doing anything to mitigate my queasiness.
The ferry trip was roughly thirty minutes and once we disembarked and checked in via SafeEntry, we were free to explore. Our kiddos were eager to get their toes in the sand, and I tried to suck it up, thinking that if I got sufficiently far away from the “crowd” and removed my mask for a bit, I might rebound.
We started with a proximate, but empty, beach and had some quick snacks. I found fresh air made my nausea subside a little bit, but I had begun to feel achy all over my body. Seb tried to peg it on the workout I had done that morning, but it was a routine strength session, and nothing would explain the way it seemed as if the ache was coming from somewhere deeper than my muscles. I drank nearly all the water I had brought with me and ate some of the kids snacks, which didn’t help much.
Seb was eager to walk over the land bridge to Lazarus Island, where the most beautiful beaches were rumored to be. The walk was on a paved path, and we quickly wished we had brought the umbrella stroller because it was am ambitious trek for tiny legs and there were many sections with no fencing between the land and the sea.
One silver lining for Seb was that on our walk we got to see some of the fighter jets and helicopters practicing their routine for the upcoming holiday, Singapore’s National Day. My husband has always loved cars and planes.
By the time we made it to our destination, I began petitioning to take the earliest ferry back. My symptoms were only intensifying and while I had no cold symptoms, Singapore would not take it lightly if I inadvertently spread COVID-19 in my effort to tough out a recreational holiday.
The ferry back was far less direct, with a long wait for passengers to alit from other vessels and a stop at adjacent islands. It was also Harper’s naptime, so she fought sleep until fighting sleep was no longer possible and she crashed in my arms. A delightful big kid started eavesdropping on the story time I was having with a wide-awake Penny and distracted me by telling me her life story when we ran out of books. The entire time I was reluctantly coming to terms the the fact that I was feverish on top of my aches and queasiness and needed to get home more quickly than I could possibly.
By the time we made it home, I began to feel certain that what I had was actually dengue fever. My bones began to throb in a way that made me feel like they were splintering. I had no appetite whatsoever. My fever clocked in at 102. I don’t remember much about the rest of the day as my fever continued to rise and I became increasingly unable to sit upright.
The next 48 hours were spent completely crippled by the fever, but once paracetamol was able to dampen it sufficiently, I made an appointment for a dengue blood test. To my shock, the rapid test came back negative, which left me bewildered as to what else could be ailing me. The doctor and nurse both seemed convinced I still had dengue and said that I should come back 48 hours later for further bloodwork. I muddled through two more bed-ridden days of digestive unrest and high temperatures, but it was this second round of testing that confirmed that I did indeed have dengue fever.
Dengue is transmitted by mosquitos and has four distinct strains, increasing your risk of successive bouts with the virus. Severity varies with some individuals being asymptomatic, some able to persist through the illness from home, some requiring hospitalization, and some actually perishing. It has no treatment. The biggest risks are dehydration and crashing platelet levels. My platelets never got too low and rebounded within ten days. I guzzled water in a desperate attempt to prevent hospitalization.
Dengue numbers in Singapore have soared this year to record heights, partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. While our building conducts weekly spraying of noxious chemicals meant to discourage mosquito breeding, we live right in the middle of a massive cluster that now includes nearly 300 confirmed cases.
The best thing for me about a positive dengue test was that I no longer worried about infecting my family. While an Aedes mosquito could theoretically bite me and then bite them, passing along the disease, the risk of this in our twenty-fifth floor apartment was negligible.
Right when my fever broke, my entire body started breaking out in a telltale rash which then began to itch, most egregiously on my palms and heels. It shifted my mood from fatigued and febrile to incredibly irritable and took far longer to go away than my googling prepared me for. After two weeks, I felt normal enough, but still lacked the energy to sufficiently parent small children. Within a few more days, I began to function like a human again.
Having battled dengue, I’m now eligible for a vaccine, which apparently requires multiple doses over the course of a year and is only available to individuals who have had the virus before. I definitely will take a few jabs to ensure I never experience this again, especially considering subsequent bouts tend to be progressively severe.
Neighbors have begun teasing that they can detect my family approaching with their noses, as we have all intensified our application of citronella based bug creams. If we can make it till May without anyone else in our family contending with this, I will consider it a victory worthy of celebration.