'I couldn't tell her she was dying'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 July, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 July, 1999, 12:00am

GRIEVING Alejandra Domingo told yesterday how hospital staff urged her to tell her daughter she had rabies and was going to die - but she could not bring herself to do it.

Instead, as the horrific final symptoms ravaged Cristina Solano, 22, her mother lied to her that her husband and baby girl were coming to be with her.

'They asked me to tell the truth to my daughter, that she was going to die, but I couldn't do it,' Mrs Domingo said.

'I told her that her husband and little girl were coming to see her. She was very afraid, but was happy.' The anguish followed Cristina's decline over several weeks as rabies ravaged her body and doctors repeatedly misdiagnosed her.

'I always thought it was the rabies, but the doctors said no. I believed them,' Mrs Domingo said.

By the time she went to hospital, pain and muscle fatigue had spread upwards from the bite wound and consumed Cristina's body.

'She said, 'Mother, why is my head so painful, why does my stomach ache so much. I feel like I'm going to die',' Mrs Domingo recalled.

Her symptoms worsened and she was taken to Tuen Mun Hospital by ambulance.

By then, she was repeatedly banging her head against a wall.

'She was vomiting very often, every five minutes, sometimes every two minutes, even though there was nothing there because she had not had any food,' Mrs Domingo said.

'She was very afraid. She said, 'I want to cry, but I have no tears'.' Rabies was eventually diagnosed, and Cristina was transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital.

She was given a series of injections and the pain began to ease, but the virus set to work on Cristina's nervous system.

'She said she wanted a drink, but she was afraid of the water and she didn't know why,' Mrs Domingo said.

'We had to cover it with a towel so she would drink, but if the towel got water on it she got frightened again.

'She was very angry at the doctors and was shouting at them.

'She said, 'They're not saving my life, they're trying to kill me'. She thought the medicine was poison,' her mother said.

Mrs Domingo said Cristina did not sleep in the few days she spent in hospital, despite being given four tranquilliser injections at the family's request.

'She said, 'I'm afraid to sleep because I'm afraid I won't wake up again. When I close my eyes, I only see white'.

'In those last days she said, 'Mother. I can see the sea and a ship, and it's my husband coming to get me'.' Cristina became more composed in the hours just before she died.

At one stage, she asked why her mother was crying. When Mrs Domingo said it was just because she was hungry, she scolded her father and gave him $20 from her purse to go to a 7-Eleven to buy her some food.

In her last hours, the hand tremors Cristina had been suffering subsided and she wrote a letter to her husband.

She wrote excitedly about soon being able to see him and two-year-old Toengie, and said her mother had some Hello Kitty toys for the little girl.

'Strangely, she was very happy then,' Mrs Domingo said. 'She knew she was very ill but I don't think she knew she was going to die.

'But then she said to me, 'I hope you take care of our daughter. You must love her the way you have loved me'.' Less than an hour later, Cristina was dead.

'She sealed the letter and then she lay down,' her mother said.

'She made a strange noise, which sounded like coughing, and asked for water, but when she saw the water she said 'no, no, no'.

'Then I could see her mouth was bubbling, and her face went black.

'The doctors told us she still had a heartbeat, but her body was already dead. Half an hour later, her heart finally stopped.' FACT FILE Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that is almost always fatal How is it spread? The rabies virus lives in the saliva and other body fluids of infected animals and is spread when they bite or scratch. The virus can also be spread if one of these body fluids touches broken skin or a mucous membrane. In caves crowded with bats, it is possible to inhale the virus floating in the air.

What kind of animals spread rabies? the rabies virus can infect any mammal but is only common among bats, skunks, foxes, and raccoons. Cats, dogs, and livestock can also get rabies if they do not have special shots to protect them.

How can you tell if an animal is rabid? Rabid animals often behave strangely after the virus attacks their brains. Rabid animals may attack people or other animals for no reason, or they may lose their fear of people and seem unnaturallyfriendly. Not all rabid animals act this way, however, so you should avoid all wild animals.

The World Helath organisation estimates that between 35000 and 50000 people die of rabies world wide each year, most of them in India. Of the 33008 fatal cases confirmed in Asia in 1997, about 30,000 of them were in India and were mostly caused by dog bites.