Photographer, Founder of Hungry Walrus

This post is the second installment of a handful of stories about close calls on the road less traveled. The first was called Tavarua Free Fall, about a traumatic experience including a life-flight from Tavarua to Australia. This one is about getting leveled by an insect with a hypodermic needle for a face.

Worth it? Maybe so. Photo: John Maher

I scored some good waves on Lombok before getting bit. Photo: John Maher

A few years ago I contracted the dengue virus while crashing in a shack on the beach at Desert Point, Lombok. I was lucky enough to make it to Bali during the diseases incubation period, a few days before my body showed any signs of infection.

The initial symptoms were funky. I woke up with breath that tasted like a feral cat crapped in my mouth.  An hour after trying to scrub the stink off my tongue, I came down with an excruciatingly painful backache. I felt as though my lumbar was struck with a baseball bat.  A few hours later a high fever and cold sweats began.

That night I started convulsing violently. The convulsions were accompanied by a psycho headache and joint pain. My entire body locked up, which made it too painful to leave the bed. Dengue hemorrhagic is known as “bone-break fever,” because in serious cases it literally feels as if your bones and joints are swollen and fractured.


The headache felt like fishing weights were hooked into the cords that connect my eyes to my brain and were dangling and bouncing around, tugging at my eyeballs and frontal lobe. I became delusional, which prevented any sleep.

The next morning I became ultra sensitive to any light, and it was unbearable to look left or right because of joint pain. On the third day I came down with a red and itchy rash that covered my entire body.

On the fourth day, my gums began to turn dark purple and bleed. Forced to stay on my back, the blood was dripping down my throat. Big purple marks that looked like bruises accompanied my body rash, which I found out later was caused from leaking blood vessels.

At that point I was still unsure of what was wrong with me. Even though I had contracted a mild case of dengue fever while working in Fiji years before, the pain was nothing compared to what I was going through in Indonesia.

Paranoid, dehydrated, and worried I would lose my vision permanently, two friends suggested they escort me to a doctor.  We ended up at a little clinic close to our place in Jimbaran where I was given shots and blood was taken. The muslim doctor misdiagnosed my condition, assuming it was malaria. The nurse (in full burka attire) injected me with drugs that I had an allergic reaction to, causing my existing rash to swell up and itch even more. I ended up back at the house worse off than when we left. My friends were awesome, checking on me regularly, but I was petty oblivious to anything happening around me. I stayed alone, bed-ridden in darkness, without eating or drinking anything for days.

After riding-out the virus in darkness for a week, I started feeling much better all of the sudden. I felt like I had a remarkable recovery through the night. My fever subsided, and I felt good enough to get on my scooter and drive a few miles down a steep hill to the store for noodles and water. That turned out to be a bad idea. On the way back to my room I came across a horrific scene.  There were dead bodies everywhere.

One of the dumptrucks hauling stones down the hill from the Bukit near Uluwatu lost its breaks, flipped over, and slammed into stand-still traffic.  The truck dragged bodies and scooters across the pavement before coming to a stop on the sidewalk.  Many of the cars that were hit rolled through shop windows.

I arrived on scene a few minutes after the accident, as the injured were being loaded into the back of a pickup truck and rushed to the hospital.  The dead were scattered around the street with rings of locals surrounding them. I did what I could to help, but the condition of the dead rendered my EMT skills useless.

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