Saturday, July 10, 2010

chicken pox saga

I went to the doctor last month because there were some unusual blisters in my body. The doctor examined my mouth ,ears, back and forth and gave the verdict.

I was down with chicken pox. Well that was a bad timing, I had to rest in bed while my friends were busy working on group projects , workshops and assignments. I wanted to be recovered as fast as possible. But, well bad timing, I got chicken pox in the wrong era. Suddenly I found my family a group of very devoted followers of the God called Papola.

When I said that I wished to get the chicken pox shot, they were against me. Until that point to today I was tormented physically and psychologically by them.

Ah wait, behind them, there was another powerful figure.

That is called the CULTURE, the culture of myths.

While the culture of myths was slowly killing me, I was googling from the bed to find out an easy cure for the disease. There were many, but to my dismay, all were against “our way” of doing it.

I was fighting against this “our way” of my aunt, but it was not a success. She won. And as a result I spent a very unpleasant time in the bed.

Now its the time to take revenge. I will tell you the story.

At the end, decide whether you are going to kill the “culture of myths” for me or not.


My decision to take the Chicken pox shot was not entertained by the family. They said that the coming of blisters should not be disturbed in any way. They should be allowed to come & disappear naturally. Blisters come because your body is hot. More blisters mean that the hotness in your body is being evaporated. So, it is better to have more blisters.

Well, chicken pox is just another viral infection. Blisters are a side effect of the virus. The idea of the hot and cold is a common belief in the ayurveda. I have no idea, what it has in connection to the chicken pox.

According to the traditional beliefs, a person gets chicken pox, mumps and measles when is is subjected to the anger of the Gods. So they are called the diseases of the Gods. Taking medicine to cure the decease is similar to going against the Gods. So, the people would pray to the gods and make vows to go the temple and make offerings when the disease is cured.

Speaking of medicine, there is Acyclovir tablet and the vaccine for chicken pox. (Read the hand out issued by the government on treating chicken pox in IDP camps)

I wanted to get either one of them and my father and aunt were totally against it. When I asked why they had plenty of stories to tell me about the people who got big blisters due to the vaccines and girls who never cured their marks, got bad side effects due to the pills. It was interesting; they didn't knew a single success story of a person who minimized the effects by taking medicines.

In my case, all the stories I have heard were positive. In fact, my friends were telling me stories about people who got well within a week thanks to the pills / vaccine etc, but, it was sad that none of my relatives believed them

But they were helpless when it comes to the point of the tablets given to me by the doctor. What he gave me was Panadol, Piriton and another drug which looked like the old round shaped Panadol. I didn't know what it was. But I took the prescribed drugs despite of the strong opposition of the adults.

Food given during the period was second only to the kiri hodhi & rice I had to eat when I had my first menstruation. Turmeric powder for food was totally prohibited. Meat, fish, dry fish, eggs etc were taboo. Fried food too was prohibited. Only 'good food' for chicken pox, as the adults said, was cold food. The idea of the cold food would have probably come from the belief that the chicken pox is a hot disease.

Despite of the cold food I was given, I had a problem of pooping. I felt that my digestive system had dried up. So I asked for papaya. In fact, I felt an strong desire to eat something watery like that because it was very difficult for me to eat hard things as I had blisters in my mouth. In Sinhalese, papaya is "papol" ( පැපොල් )and the sinhala name for chiken pox is "papola" (පැපොල). So my aunt said that eating papol when I have papola was not good. So I was not permitted to eat papaya. Instead I was given ambul kesel, which was again considered to be a cold fruit.

Although eating turmeric powder was considered bad, they diluted some of it in water and sprinkled all over my room and the house. When I asked why, they said that it was to kill the germs. My next question was “Then why don't you eat it? It will kill the germs inside the body?” For that question, the simple answer was “Its the tradition not to use turmeric in food”. So ultimately, when I was able to poop it was grayish, something like ash colored clay. At the first time I saw it, I was afraid of the unusual color, but after few minutes, it occurred to me the reason.

As soon as the news of my sickness spread in the university, many friends called me and asked me to sleep on margosa leaves (කොහොඹ කොළ) and alu kesel leaves. One friend even had taken the trouble to meet my father and give him some margosa leaves. I was first pissed off at the idea. But I could not lie to my friend saying that I was sleeping on margosa leaves.

So I got the them washed, waited till the water evaporated and spread them on the bed. Believe me, it was super cool. Ah, I forget to tell you that I was sweating a lot. It was very difficult to stay in bed when I was sweating. I felt as if my back was in fire. But with the coming of margosa leaves between my body and the bed spread, I found it more comfortable. I felt as if they were sucking the bloody burning sensation from my body out. In simple words, sweating on margosa leaves were more comfortable than sweating on the bed spread.

That was one of the good things I found in the traditions.

This is the most dangerous and the horrible part of the story. In fact, this is what nearly killed me.

According to the traditional beliefs, it was necessary to abstain from bathing for 14 days of infection. Then, after the blisters had dried up, a seven day bath is compulsory. This seven day bath should be started on either a Saturday or a Wednesday which are called the "kemmura days" or the days of the Gods. As the tradition says, the bathing should happen before the sun rise. Before having a bath, it was necessary to apply a mixture of blended margosa leaves, turmeric and coconut all over the body; including hair in order to sterilize the body from chicken pox germs and to erase the scars.

Imagine my plight, I was to stay about an hour till that pack dries on my body and then have a bath before sunrise continuously on seven days!!

I strongly opposed the idea.

Meanwhile, I tried to get the back ground story to this from my aunt.

When she had got chicken pox, on the 14th day of infection (forgot to ask whether it was exactly a Wednesday or a Saturday :p ), she was taken to the near by river by my grand ma. Then, grand ma had prepared the mystery pack with margosa, coconut and turmeric and had applied it on aunt's body. Aunt had sit on a stone in the river till the pack dried off and then she was bathed. All this happened before the sunrise and mind you continuously for 7 days.

I do not know how she endured that, but aunt vehemently insisted on the fact that the scars go away only if you have a bath like that.

For her era, it was OK. They had no running water at homes those days. The only source of water was the river. If they get late to go the river people will be there and the patient as well as the care taker would have to answer the questions of the villagers. On the other hand, when it gets late, the water of the river gets polluted. For instance, the people in the upper side of the river may wash their clothes, clean their cooking pots etc and if the patient bathes such unclean water, it might result in another infection.

Since I felt good, said that I would have a bath on a Monday. But my aunt disagreed. She called this friend, that doctor etc and said it was not OK.

I had huge arguments with my aunt over the bathing time and finally agreed to have “the bath” on a Wednesday at about 10'o clock.

On Wednesday, day it was rainy and cold. Not even a healthy person would have a bath on such a day. I said that I cannot. But all my oppositions were in vain. She wanted to have the ceremonious bath on that cold rainy day. The rainy weather continued and so was the bath. I bathed continuously on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. After the bath, I was given cold things like kola kanda, saw kanda and thambili.

I insisted that I want to go back to the university on the next Monday. So I went to the doctor to get a medical certificate. By that Sunday, I had taken 16 days of leave. Doctor said that he couldn't give a medical for 16 days for chicken pox. As the law says, it should be just 14 days.

That was a huge contradiction. As the tradition, you should stay 14 days in the bed, then have the 7 day bath and go to work. In total that is 21 days. But the medical certificate says that all that bed resting and bathing should be finished by 14 days.

So, on Monday I went to university. I was asked to have a bath in the morning before going into the university. I agreed to that. Then, as I was trying to eat some rise and curry, my aunt came up with a kola kada (a drink made up of green leaves). I had to drink it because, well, because she was such an annoyance. So I drank the kola kanda as my breakfast and got into the bus. As I was getting off the bus, it was raining. My shoes were soaking wet when I finally made my appearance in the faculty. I finished lectures at 4.30 pm that day and came home around 5.30 pm. It was still raining and my tooth with a broken filling was hurting like hell.

What I wanted as soon I saw my bed was to have a sound sleep. It was cold and using hot water to have a wash was prohibited a long time. In consequence, I had go for a cold water wash.

By 8.00 am next day, I was shivering with fever. i was rushed into the medical center of the university from where I got to know the reason for my fever.

The doctor at the health center was suspecting that my fever was a symptom of pneumonia for several reasons. I was having continuous baths in the rain, I got caught in the rain..soo many rain and water related things.

That is where the tradition becomes the killer:(

I was suffering from fever for another week and that was a great loss when it comes to academic stuff.

I have one request to make from all of you. never resort to traditions if they seem irrational !!