Punta Cana, Chloroquine, and My Spring Break from Hell

In March of 2008, I was a senior in college and about to embark on the first spring break trip of my college career. While my friends had traveled to various exotic locations as undergrads, my strict parents insisted I wasn’t allowed to go on spring break until I was a 21-year-old senior. Oh, how I wish they had held their ground for one more year.

My four roommates and I decided on a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic; the flights were cheap and the hotel was all inclusive–what could go wrong? We were pumped for a week of sun, sand, and Miami Vices. But a couple of weeks prior to our trip, we received an email from a friend who attended Boston College and was also traveling to Punta Cana; BC was requiring all students traveling to the area to take an anti-malarial medication, as there was an outbreak of the disease currently taking place in the Dominican. A bit concerned, I forwarded the email on to my mother, who forwarded it on to my pediatrician. He advised that my friends and I take the medication and prescribed chloroquine, a well known anti-malarial drug taken once a week for six weeks. On the Wednesday prior to our departure, my friends and I all took our first dosage.

We arrived in Punta Cana on Sunday, and the first three days of the trip were filled with lounging in the sun by day and dancing by night. But on Tuesday night, I noticed a small lump on my forehead and being the hypochondriac that I am, made all of my friends feel it. I was assured it was nothing; just a small reaction to the sun. No words can describe the feeling of shock I experienced when I looked in the mirror the next morning. The bridge of my nose had swollen to three times its normal size and my eyes seemed to be located frighteningly close to my temples. As my friends will describe, my looks could only be compared to those of Sloth from the Goonies. My alarmed roommate called the concierge who directed us to an onsite doctor, which I thank my luck stars for to this day, as we were able to avoid a trip to a local Dominican hospital. Upon seeing me, the doctor recognized that I was having a severe but very common allergic reaction to the anti-malarial medication, likely brought on by sun exposure. After three shots of steroids to my behind, and several doses of a diuretic that would leave me urinating for hours on end, I was sent on my way with directions to stay out of the sun and avoid alcohol. I spent the rest of my spring break hauled up in our hotel room, alternating between calling my mother crying, having panic attacks, and watching Spanish soap operas. I left the Dominican with a hefty cell phone bill, no tan, and a resolve to never travel to a foreign country again.

Though there is little I am grateful for about my vacation from hell, the shining ray of light is that I would not let my friends photograph me in my Sloth-like state. Hopefully, the mental image of my deformed self will one day fade from my memory, though it is unlikely my friends will ever let me forget it.

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