Thursday, July 09, 2009


I think you've all been very patient with me, so I think it is finally time in this post to reward you by telling the story of my trip to the hospital for what some folks feared might be MALARIA. (It needs to be in all caps because of how afraid everyone was of it. I mean, let's keep in mind that this is a disease that kills people in that area every single day, so I guess we had reason to be a little afraid.)

On Wednesday, 6/10, I woke up feeling not-so-great. I had been tossing and turning all night, apparently whimpering as well, though I didn't realize until my roommate woke me - she thought I was having bad dreams, but actually my stomach was hurting, I just hadn't realized I was whimpering aloud. Some of the other leaders asked if I wanted to stay at the hotel that day to rest, but I really wanted to visit the village. So we went to the radio station and the village, and I was feeling sort of blah the whole time. When it came time to break for lunch before going to MCM for the afternoon, I decided it was time to stop being brave and take the opportunity to rest. So I stayed at the hotel while everyone else went off to MCM, and I took a nice long nap. When I woke up before dinner, I felt much better, and I thought everything would be fine.

It was.


For a while.

Through the rest of that evening and into the next morning, I was feeling fine. I had forgotten I had even felt sick, really. I figured I was starting to get sick, but I'd cut it off at the pass by getting some rest the previous afternoon. Everything seemed great, and when we headed to MCM that afternoon, I was ready for a fun day of playing with the kids.

Note that this pic was not taken when
I was sick, but accurately represents
the feeling.
But then I started to feel a little shaky. I got that achy, tingly feeling that often accompanies the flu (because of fever), and I felt kind of light-headed and tired. Deciding to take it easy, I sat down and leaned against the wall, just watching the free play around me. But it wasn't getting any better - I could feel the aching/tingling through all my joints. Unfortunately, I knew the feeling well, because it's the feeling I always get when I get the flu (which really doesn't happen more than once every few years, but that feeling sticks with you, you know?). But I figured if I could just rest I would be okay.

By the time we left MCM to drive to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital - for our second hospital visit - I knew I was going to get pretty sick soon. But however much I didn't want to miss out on the village visit the previous day, I really did not want to miss the hospital visit. If you read my thoughts on the first hospital visit, you'll understand why I wanted a second chance to face the challenges of visiting those people - people who desperately needed a friendly visit anyway. So when other leaders asked if I needed to be dropped off at the hotel to rest, I assured them that no, I wanted to go on to the hospital.

I won't say it was a bad decision, because knowing what I know now, I'm not sure there was anything to be done at that point that would have changed the outcome anyway, and I'm glad I got to go to the hospital. We visited more people, praying with them and giving gifts where we could, and it was easier to do the work we came to do now that we weren't so shocked by what we saw. The only thing was, that aching/tingling sensation (also known as RAGING FEVER for those who are a bit smarter than I was) was getting worse, and every time we stopped moving I felt the blood rushing and feared I was going to pass out. Which left me shaking out my arms and hopping from one foot to the other every time we stopped in a ward or wing to talk to doctors - I probably looked like a raving lunatic. Whenever someone asked if I was okay, I kept saying, "I just feel so weird." Yeah, I'm not so smart. By the time we got on the bus to drive back to the hotel, I was slumped over, forehead on the back of the seat in front of me, trying not to fall in a heap on the floor. One very sweet student rubbed my back a bit and gave me the standard (but well-meaning), "It'll be okay, Miss David. We'll be back at the hotel soon, and you can get some rest."

We had a little over an hour to kill before dinner when we got back to the hotel. Roomie and I walked to our room and I went straight to the bed, crawled under the covers, curled up in a ball, and tried to nap. She said she would wake me for dinner and left me alone to rest. I promptly began sobbing. Let's face it: No one likes being sick. When I get really sick, I give in to that childish instinct to just cry and whine about it - not forever, but just long enough to get it out of my system. But combined with that normal, "I'm sick and I hate being sick so I'm going to cry about it for a little bit," I was also afraid. I knew by this point that I was sick, and not with a little cough and cold, but something bigger, something I don't experience often, something that probably would require some sort of medicine or medical assistance.

And I was in a third-world country.

I cannot tell you how much that scared me. Maybe that makes me snobby or something, but all I know is that my worst-case-scenario planning was not looking good - getting violently ill in the middle of one of the most impoverished nations in the entire world did not strike me as exactly safe. I was definitely afraid.

My roommate came in a little while later and asked if I had any sort of appetite. I said that I did, so she brought me a little bit of chicken - don't worry, all our meals were cooked very thoroughly by the wife of one of our Malawian hosts - and potatoes to eat. I did, but it took a lot of energy, and when I finished I immediately lay back down. By this point I had put on two sweatshirts, with hoods pulled tight around my head, and was covered with blankets and quilt. And yet still, I was shivering. A lot. Roomie asked repeatedly if I wanted her to ask a fellow hotel-goer - part of a group of Irish missionaries we'd befriended - who was a doctor to come see me. I assured her that I would be fine with some rest, in spite of my fears that this was not true. But what can I say? I was worried about being trouble, about being a burden to the group, no matter how silly that is. She came to get my plate and left again, looking unconvinced when the bundle of covers mumbled, "I'll be fine," at her repeated question. Ten minutes later, I heard her enter the room again:

"You can be mad at me later," she said, very no-nonsense, "but I've brought a doctor."

Doctor S. was a very nice woman, probably early 30's, who mainly asked me about my symptoms. I told her the general timeline of my sickness thus far, and what I'd been feeling. When asked what I thought it might be, I said, "It feels like the flu, I just haven't thrown up at all." (Because flu for me normally comes with some sort of throwing up.) She listened carefully, nodding and prompting as needed. Then she gave her advice:

"Well, these are definitely symptoms of flu. Unfortunately, they're also symptoms of MALARIA. You almost certainly don't have MALARIA - it would be very unlikely - but you definitely don't want to have MALARIA and not get it treated." She turned to my roommate, saying, "But the bottom line is this: No one should look like this [indicating me in my bundled-but-still-shivering state] in the middle of Africa." We had to admit she had a point, and she recommended taking me to the hospital, so we prepared to go.

The main leader of our trip, Mrs. S., and one of our Malawian hosts, K., took me to the private hospital near our hotel (pictured here). I have to say that after having been to the state hospital earlier that same day, the stark contrast was fascinating; having yet another comparison, however, with the Stanford Hospital here in America - where I've been on a few different occasions, most notably for my depression - I can say the contrast there was even more fascinating. It was like seeing the worst of hospitals, an absolutely mediocre hospital, and a fabulous hospital, all side-by-side in my mind. Also, at this hospital, we had to pay for everything in cash before anything could be done. Need a blood test done? Pay first. Need a shot? Pay first. Need a medication regimen? Pay first. Very weird.

When the nurse took me back to a room, she weighed me, took BP, and took my temperature. Temperature was 38.9, to which I first responded with massive confusion and a firm belief that the thermometer was broken. Then I remembered - right, the rest of the world uses Celsius. Damn, what's that in Fahrenheit? I didn't know until I got home a week and a half later and looked it up online: about 102. YIPES. No wonder I felt like crap. They gave me a shot right away, both to help with my aches (especially headache) and to reduce my fever. From there, time for a blood test, to check for... MALARIA.

Of course, the lab had to be all the way across the hospital on the exact other side, as far as it could possibly get, so I shuffled along in my half-conscious state until we got there and then I slumped in a chair again. Only to find out we had to go all the way back to pay before coming all the way back again to get the test. Finally I let someone stab me with a needle - yes, it came from a sealed package, brand-new, etc. - and take a blood sample to test me for MALARIA, and to take other assorted statistics about my blood.

Then we shuffled all the way back again to wait for results and consult with doctor. Apparently I mumbled through a fairly long and detailed conversation with Mrs. S., though I remember very little of it. Eventually, the doctor showed up to let us know that I did not have MALARIA. Or rather, I tested negative for MALARIA. But unfortunately, I was taking MALARIA-prevention pills, and wouldn't you know it? Those pills could have produced a false negative. If I hadn't been on those pills, and I'd tested negative for MALARIA, they would have been all, "Yay! You don't have MALARIA!" But as it was, they were like, "Yay! (We think.) You (probably) don't have MALARIA! (But you might.)" Awesome. So we talked for a long time and our options came down to this:

Option #1: I get treated for MALARIA, even though I almost certainly don't have it. The treatment is a series of pills, and if I don't have MALARIA, they won't harm me in any way, but if I do have MALARIA, they will treat it before it gets really dangerous.

Option #2: We do nothing, because I probably just have a flu virus or something, and almost certainly do not have MALARIA. I am probably just fine, but on the off chance I do have MALARIA, I risk dying.

I'll bet you can guess which one we chose, smart people that you are. I am not, by nature, a risk-taker, but I am definitely not a risk-taker with my health in a third-world country when an easy treatment is available to me at a feasible cost. We picked up the pills from the pharmacy, along with a prescription for some pills that I swear someone called "Pinato," but Google doesn't agree with me - whatever they were, they were to help keep my fever down and act as pain reliever. With those in hand, we headed back to the hotel.

K. had offered to take me back to his house, where he and his wife could look after me and I could sleep more soundly (it would be quieter), but I wanted to stay at the hotel. I was terribly worried about the kids - I mean, can you imagine their little teenage minds worried to death because Miss David had to be taken to the hospital? I wanted them to see that I was all right, and then I could get some sleep. So we arrived at the hotel, and the kids were all in the meeting room, having a sing-along with the Irish group previously mentioned. (I am so bummed that I missed out on that, btw. Of ALL the nights to miss...) With my sweatshirt and hood still snugly fitted - I was still a bit cold - I shuffled in to say hello before getting some rest.

The whole room shouted in excitement to see me alive: "YEA-" followed immediately by an indescribable part-shock, part-concern, part horror sound at the state in which I stood before them: "ueggh..." Apparently, I looked "topply, and just generally terrible," as one student put it. But still, I was alive, and (probably) without MALARIA.

Over the next couple days I took my regimen of pills to treat the (probably non-existent) MALARIA, and was back to normal by the end of a restful weekend at Lake Malawi. A weekend I will tell you about in a later post...


Jenny, the Bloggess said...

I'm pretty sure that's MALARIA. You can tell from denial.

Mocha said...

Lordy, girl. That's a roller coaster ride of a story. My stomach hurts from reading it!

Stop. scaring. me.

tpiglette said...

Since this is the third or fourth time I've heard this story, I feel like I can laugh now. Mainly from the way you told the story, not the content itself, of course. Anyway: Hahahahaha. I love you and your probably-not-MALARIA-but-it-could-be self! (And I definitely love you for not being MALARIA in other ways...)

franz the mouse said...

A group of high school students from the U.S. goes to an impoverished, ex-colonial African nation. Their purpose (I think) is to serve God by attending to the sick at a state hospital and to the children at a mission and also by observing what is around them. One of the teachers is infected with something that may be malaria. Because she is from the U.S. and so has way more money than any of the locals (perhaps more than all the locals have combined), she can go to the private hospital and get immediate high-quality care.

Can you imagine the students in the class trying to write a what-I-did-this-summer essay on this trip? I mean, this kind of thing is pretty deep.

Once you're deprived of the protection of ignorance, there's no telling what you might end up doing with your life.

BetteJo said...

I say it WAS MALARIA. They gave you a choice but stressed you probably DIDN'T have it because it just wouldn't be cool for an American visiting their country to become ill like that.

But, maybe it wasn't. :)

Regardless, I'm glad you made the safe choice!

Still Jill B said...

On the up-side, my friends who are third-world travelers claim that Malarium pills cure a world of problems.