Last week I didn’t feel awesome. Nothing specific, nothing severe, just not awesome.
I attributed it to a busy clinic schedule, staying up 28 hours straight once or twice a week while I’m on call, plus the usual not-awesomeness I feel from my anti-cancer medicine.
Thursday night as I was trying to find a comfortable sleeping position in bed, I realized that all my joints were achey, like I was coming down with something. But it couldn’t be malaria, right?
On Friday morning I felt even more not-awesome. I asked another PA in the clinic if she would write me a prescription for CoArtem, the medicine that works best for malaria here in West Africa. I went to the pharmacy and got the medicine, then went back to clinic and saw patients for the morning.
By lunch time, I finally conceded that I was sick and needed to lay down. I slept for most of the afternoon. Then I started throwing up. Then, sometime in the evening, on my way to the bathroom, I passed out.
One of my roommates found me and called the hospital (which is less than 100 yards away from where I’m staying in the compound). They sent a golf cart and some nurses, who picked me up and drove me to the hospital.
They started an I.V. and sent blood work. The results came back a few minutes later — my malaria test was positive. Which means at some point, in spite of the fact that I’ve taken anti-malaria pills faithfully every day since I got here, sprayed my sheets and my skin with bug spray every night before bed, and have only seen two visible mosquito bites on me — I was bitten by a female mosquito who injected her parasite-riden saliva into my bloodstream. Gross.
That night, I threw up some more. My blood pressure dropped to 70/40 (normal is 120/80). I felt achey and clammy and all kinds of not-awesomeness. I got anti-malaria and anti-nausea medicine in my I.V. I got Ibuprofen and Tylenol for the deep ache in my joints, especially my SI joints, in my low back.
The whole weekend is kind of a blur, but I did have some very vivid dreams, including a dream in which I wrote my story into an award-winning Broadway musical comedy called Malarious. In a surprising-but-genius casting twist, Nathan Lane played my character. The dream didn’t last long enough to iron out all the other details, but I’m pretty sure I’m onto something big.
On Saturday afternoon, the nurse came to move me to a private room. She brought in a male Togolese nurse’s aide to help me out of bed and into a wheel chair. I was wearing long pajama pants, which I’d rolled up to my knees because I was so hot.
As the aide was pushing me to my new room, I suddenly remembered that in Togolese culture it’s considered immodest to let a man see your ankles. And this guy was not only seeing my ankles but my kneecaps. What a bummer, I thought. And also, Of all the things I could be thinking about while I’m delirious from malaria, why do Nathan Lane and kneecaps top the list?
I was in the hospital for two more days. Finally, I stopped vomiting and was able to hold down fluids and pills.
I was discharged, and an older couple who lives on the compound drove me from the hospital to my apartment on their golf cart and fed me homemade turkey noodle soup. I showered and climbed into bed, where I’ve been most of this week.
Almost everyone who works at the hospital has had malaria — some of them have had it three, four, five times now. They all say the first time you get malaria is the worst. After that, you have residual immunity that makes the subsequent infections not quite as severe.
It can take a few weeks to fully recover — which means by the time I fly home in a little over two weeks, I should be back to normal. Kind of.
I’m pretty tired, and I’m really missing home right now. I don’t have any deep thoughts or metaphors or anything else to say at the moment. Just know that I appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers and encouragement — not only this week, but also through this whole Togo experience.
And I’ll write more as soon as I have the energy.
(And as soon as we’ve wrapped up production on Malarious.)