Copenhagan and My Own State of Denial
Riverdave’s Journal - 12/14/09

This past spring my wife and I spent three weeks exploring the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. On that trip, an unusual personal experience provided me with valuable insight into the human response to climate change.

We carefully planned a getaway with lots of direct contact with nature. From an indigenous outdoor guide, we rented an idyllic small cottage nestled between rainforest and sea. I felt confident that all our bases were covered with affordability, elegant simplicity and safety.

On the third night of our adventure, my wife awoke stating there was an insect trapped inside our sleeping net, dropping fluid on her head.  I drowsily arose and trained a flashlight on an inch long critter clinging above to the bed netting. 

As is my general policy for bug removal, I collected the insect with a cup and released it outdoors. Returning to sleep, a sense of deja vu percolated up from deep Inside my mind.  The unique shape of that insect with its long proboscis resonated with something I had seen before.

Awakening in the morning to an enchanting chorus of tropical birds, the night’s bug event flickered back into my consciousness.  I prepared a cup of coffee, opened my laptop computer and searched using the key words “Costa Rica tropical disease vectors.”  The results floated up on the screen like a phantom.

One image particularly caught my attention.  The Triatoma or kissing bug photo I saw on the screen looked very familiar.  I recalled seeing the same image in an article about Chagas disease, also known as American Sleeping Sickness, in the April edition of the Economist Magazine just two days before we left for Costa Rica.

I thought to myself, this surely could not have happened on such a carefully planned trip!  After all, I did not make a positive identification of the bug in the dark.  And even if it was a kissing bug, there is a chance that its deadly parasite might not have fallen into my wife’s eyes, which I read was the normal route of transmission.

Several days later I mentioned my fear to my wife, trying not to alarm her while still protecting the myth of our Garden of Eden adventure. Still clinging to our vacation investment, we chose not to seek advice from a nearby government health clinic. Subconsciously we entered a state of denial. We were not prepared to face the possibility that we could be in real trouble. 

We did not discuss the matter again on our trip and no symptoms of Chagas manifested.  But the dogged appearance of a crying black hawk on a number of our rainforest walks seemed to be an ominous sign. I had dreamt of such a bird only a week before we left on our trip.

Two days after we arrived home in Durham, the symptoms of acute Chagas disease came on fast and strong for my wife.  Three private clinics diagnosed her swollen eye as an infection - orbital cellulitis.  My wife was convinced that she had an allergic reaction from sweeping up pollen on our porch the day we returned.  I wanted to believe that scenario as well but an inner voice told me it was Chagas.

Finally, staff at the UNC Infectious Disease Clinic took seriously my hypothesis about Chagas disease and tested my wife.  She was positive. It had been five weeks since her initial exposure so there was no time left to research our usual preferred path of herbal cures.

Now, after a three month course of a harsh pharmaceutical Nifurtimox dictated by the CDC in Atlanta, my wife seems to be recovering. Because her treatment began in the acute phase, there is a very good chance she has been cured. But like many other parasites, one can never be sure.   

Since returning from Costa Rica, my wife and I have repeatedly asked ourselves, “Is there an underlying significance to our Chagas experience?” What now stands out to me is the numbing effect of our personal denial mechanism. I am also keenly aware that our Chagas experience has chronologically paralleled the approach of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagan.

This important conference has drawn us all deeply into the process of  defining where we stand on this issue - individually, locally and nationally. I find my newly obtained awareness of my own denial mechanism allows me to see a parallel denial mechanism operating in our response to the looming crisis of global warming.

As citizens of the planet’s wealthiest nation, we continue to covet the consumptive American lifestyle we inherited from previous generations, blessed by both civic and spiritual leaders.  Our denial mechanism refuses to acknowledge modern culture’s disregard for Mother Nature and that we may have unleashed a nightmare of destructive forces that could severely compromise life on our fair planet.

Do our representatives at the Copenhagan gathering have the inner fortitude to remove their blinders and take a hard, honest look at the consequences of the widespread collapse of ecosystems that support the intricate web of planetary life? When will humanity finally admit the reality of the over population of the human species?  Have the religions of the world lulled us into complacency with a belief in a last minute divine bailout?

And finally, can we acknowledge our collective denial mechanism and make the difficult sacrifices necessary, such as a flat tax on carbon, that just might steer our planet  away from potentially disastrous consequences? Or are we resigning ourselves to live the low life of parasites ...
Photo by Chagas or Triatoma Bug