I don’t even know how to begin writing about January.
It was… a month.
I kicked off 2020 with a panicked phone call to New Zealand’s Healthline service at 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
I had spontaneously developed nerve pain across my body — tingling and prickling all over, and a sensation that had me feeling like my body had been both set on fire and dipped into a bucket of menthol. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, but things were about to get even scarier.
Because I was soon to learn that this is one of the first symptoms of rabies.
And I had recently travelled in India, which has the highest number of rabies cases in the world.
And I had definitely played with a whole pile of street dogs while I was there.
And once you start showing symptoms of rabies, there’s no cure.
It’s 100% fatal.
Here’s the thing: I always thought that to contract rabies, you had to be bitten by an aggressive-looking dog that was foaming at the mouth.
If an asymptomatic dog licks an insect bite on your leg, you can get it. If a dog licks your hand and you take out a contact lens an hour later, you can get it. If a dog licks your jeans and you wipe it off and later eat food with your hands, you can get it. And while I used basically an entire container of hand sanitiser after touching any dogs in India, alcohol doesn’t kill the virus — only hot water and soap do.
I had no idea.
I was advised to head straight to the nearest hospital, where I was immediately admitted to the acute observation unit in a flurry of panic. The tropical diseases specialist confirmed that I was experiencing one of the first symptoms of rabies and I’d need to be observed every hour overnight in case something bad happened. I had so many tests taken and three shots in the ass. Around me, people were having overdoses and throwing up.
Then, I had to suddenly come to terms with the fact that I could have actually contracted rabies.
I had to process the fact that I could have seven days left to live.
It was a terrifying, painful experience, and I had to be given Valium just to get me to stop shaking. Because extreme levels of anxiety is also one of the first symptoms of rabies.
Getting the all-clear wasn’t as glorious as I’d expected, as I began to develop many additional and just-as-scary symptoms — from my fingertips going completely numb to bleeding all over my hostel bed. It was horrendous to live through.
The most important thing to know, though, is that I’m okay now.
Much of my pain has dissipated, and many of the weird symptoms have faded. The nerve pain has vastly improved. I finished my post-exposure rabies treatment and after two weeks of extreme levels of fatigue and nausea, I’m finally feeling human again.
At midnight on New Year’s Day, I made a promise to myself that 2020 was going to be the best year of my life, so it felt just so painfully me to find myself hospitalised 12 hours later. January 2020 was easily the worst month of my life, but I’m convinced the next 11 will make it up to me.
What a beautiful place to focus on recovery!
I’ve been returning to Hanmer Springs, on New Zealand’s South Island, for years, but had never been all that struck by it — it was just the place where I hung out with Dave’s family. On this trip, though, I found myself with some spare time in the village on my own, and I set about seeing what was so special about it.
I was exhausted and queasy from my injections, but I still pushed myself to head out for a hike every morning, then celebrated every afternoon with a dip in the thermal pools. Pushing my body to be active and busy helped me in more ways than I could have predicted. Just having a sense of normality again was so therapeutic for my mental health.
And now Hanmer is one of my favourite places on the South Island! It felt so nourishing for those few weeks I spent there.
When my friend announced she had space at her place in Wanaka for the exact dates we had left in New Zealand, I immediately sent her a message. I hadn’t spent time in Wanaka since my enormous road trip in 2012, so I had been itching to get back.
And it turned out to be exactly what we had been looking for.
I love this part of the world, and being surrounded by nature was perfect for calming my mental state. I was able to get a little bit of work done, relax on the nearby lakeside beach, and head out for delicious meals in town each evening.
The rest of my time in New Zealand passed in a whirlwind, as we drove to Queenstown, Oamaru, Ashburton, and Christchurch, and then it was time to leave.
At the start of the month, I was heartbroken to have to cancel my regular jaunt to a South Pacific paradise, but by the end, I realised it had been a blessing in disguise.
Rather than spending my time in humid huts on beautiful beaches, alone and sweaty, uncomfortable and surrounded by cyclones, I got to spend time with Dave seeing more of his home country, and it had me promising to return every year from now on.
And then I boarded a plane to ‘Straya.
I’ve always spent my time in Melbourne in the central neighbourhoods, so it felt strange to be staying a few blocks back from the beach in Port Melbourne. I never think of this city as being beside the sea!
And I love it here! This area is full of great restaurants and cafes, and has such an unexpectedly tropical feel to it. I can’t wait to explore nearby St Kilda in a few days, too.
Countries visited: 2
Australia and New Zealand.
Places visited: 8
Ashburton, Christchurch, Hanmer Springs, Melbourne, Oamaru, Queenstown, Tekapo, and Wanaka.
Distance travelled: 2,294 miles
Highlights of the Month
Not dying: There’s nothing like a somewhat-near-death experience to get you feeling grateful to be alive. Despite all the additional trauma I had to battle through since being discharged from the hospital, I feel happy and light, and ready to get my life back on track. Maybe this will all end up being a Good Thing in the end?
Nesting in Wanaka: It was the perfect way to spend a week in New Zealand: getting back to nature, cooking paleo meals, and recovering from the panic of the first couple of weeks of the year.
Lowlights of the Month
The stress of everything rabies: Something I’ve learned in recent years is that my body does not cope well under stress. Being faced with the prospect of only having a week left to live was more than a little taxing and I’ve been suffering from the side effects ever since.
My autoimmune condition reared its head with a chronic pain flare-up after a year of being free from its symptoms and I also started suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for the first time in two years. I contracted an infection and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in a year. Argh! It was such a disappointment to have to deal with three issues I thought I’d finally managed to get under control.
Obviously, rabiesgate was a bit of an edge case that I don’t expect to experience again, but it was a big reminder to ensure I’m keeping stress levels as low as possible in my everyday life.
A ridiculously hot day in Melbourne: It’s not shocking that Melbourne was dealing with searingly-hot temperatures when I touched down in Australia, but man, I had somehow managed to forget how hot this city can get. On Friday, we had plans to hit up the Australian Open with Dave’s cousin, but when it was 36°C at 9 a.m., causing us to flag a morning walk to St Kilda, and then 43°C when we were thinking about heading to the tennis, we decided to sit in the pub instead.
Cancelling so many planned trips: I was so traumatised by my rabies experience that I ended up cancelling my South Pacific island-hopping adventure and my planned road trip around Western Australia. The new coronavirus also led to me delaying my return to Southeast Asia — I want to monitor the situation there a little longer before jumping on a plane to Thailand or Vietnam.
I had so many exciting exploits planned for this three-month trip around the world, and I’ve had to skip out on quite a few of them.
Incidents of the Month
Feeling like a paranoid loon on my flight: Is anyone really going to be surprised if I confess that potential pandemics freak me the hell out? Fortunately, Dave and I still had our N95 masks from our three weeks in Rajasthan, so when we needed to fly to Melbourne, I lathered us up with hand sanitiser and placed our masks over our faces.
We were definitely the only people doing so and it made me feel like I was being more than a little ludicrous. Still, better to be safe than sorry, right?
A night out at the Ashburton Rotary Club: When Dave’s dad sent us a message to tell us he was giving a presentation at the local Rotary club and asked if we wanted to go, I knew we couldn’t say no. When we entered the room and were greeted by a sea of grey hair and trifles, I realised was the youngest person there by about forty years. And yet, it was quite possibly the most wholesome evening I’ve had for a long time.
I kept my disposable underwear: My rabies scare shook me up and as I was facing down death, I found myself thinking about all the time I’d wasted worrying about things that didn’t matter; all the things I had been too scared to do; all the time I’d spent hating myself. It was a huge wake-up call to make a change in my life, and I wanted to ensure I didn’t immediately slip back into old habits.
I therefore decided to collect a bunch of souvenirs from my hospitalisation in the hope that keeping them close to me would prove to be a vital reminder not to sweat the small stuff. So yes, I am currently carrying around the disposable underwear the hospital gave me.
My Next Steps
Last month, I had no idea where I would be heading in January, and I’m feeling much the same about February.
I wouldn’t say that I’m freaking out about the new coronavirus but… it seems like a smart idea not to make any travel plans right now in case things get a little more intense.
My original plans were to spend time in Da Nang and Hue, in Vietnam, hit up some brand new islands in Thailand, then check out Goa and Kerala in South India — or some combination of those. I think I’m going to wait and see what happens before booking my flights out of Australia.
So now, I’ll unexpectedly be in Melbourne for the vast majority of February. I’m making a concerted effort to do as much as possible while I’m here.
I’m currently staying in Port Melbourne, but I have tons of plans to explore as many neighbourhoods in the city. I’ll be hopping around to check out Collingwood, Carlton, Williamstown, Richmond… basically spending 3-4 days in each spot in order to get a feel for the best areas to visit in the city.