Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bad Air

Twenty-plus years of total immunity didn't prepare me for this event. Hoooo-yay, did that plasmodium get me good! I'm talking about malaria, that putrid parasite from hell. This disease is beyond nastiness- of all the ailments I have ever had this is the only one that I would gladly trade for a full-technicolor effects aches-and-shakes migraine headache.

Like most absurdly healthy people, I am an absolute horror when sick. Stoic to the point of stupidity, I spent at least two days reading up on malaria when someone suggested it might be the cause of my stomach ache rather than go to the hospital. After all, it never happened to me, right? Right. I even had the gall to sweat through my liver exploding- twice- rather than admit that I might have to go for a simple. Fricking. Test. Because it doesn't happen to me, right? Right.

Let me tell you what it feels like when those little buggers explode out of your liver. It feels like maybe you have a mild stomach ache at first- kinda like a gas bubble, right up high by your diaphragm. Then it brings The Pain. The Pain is like a supernova has gone off inside your body. It's a cross between the evillest period cramp on earth and a sword thrust through your gut. It's like being vivisected without anasthesia. I was soaked in a cold and clammy sweat, but the high pain threshold withheld the mercy of passing out. So did I heed the advice I was given? No, because I don't get malaria, right? Right.


Well, this story pretty much ends with me availing myself of Tanga's private clinic services on a fine Saturday morning. I threw in the towel, went to get tested and endured what has got to be the slowest and most disinterested medical service on the face of the planet*. Four prescriptions and 25,000 shillings later, it was time to ponder the wisdom of my health policies. What I learned is this: no sane person actually lets their liver explode twice. And: sweet Jesus, children under five are the most vulnerable to this fresh hell? Oh no :(

And finally: thank God for modern medicine. I love it. I love the little yellow pills that take the pain away, and I love the fat white pills that take the pain and the fever away. I love my cantankerous doctor who didn't even check if there were contra-indications with the drugs I told him I was using to treat the stomach ache that wasn't a stomach ache, even though combining them might have killed me (he neglected to say stop using the other ones). I love the slow-ass pharmacist who took forever to get me the pills. The happy, happy pills that took all that pain away. I love the impressively patient people who cajoled/bullied me back to health. I love the trees, I love the air, I love hearing music even though I think I might still be missing a few tones because something went funny when I started taking the pills. I love life, even if my limbs are too weak to do much for the next week or so.

You want to know what love is? Love is the absence of pain. Simple, but true. And that's a lesson I got from malaria. I guess I love malaria too. This might be the delirium talking.

*I am ashamed to say it, but at one point I was ready to elbow a sick old lady and a couple with an evidently feverish child out of my way to get to the doctor before he disappeared for yet another tea break or whatever the (expletive deleted) doctors on duty do when they aren't treating the people who have been waiting for them all (expletive deleted) morning. It got that feral.


  1. There is no other experience in Bongo that makes me feel as vulnerable as a confrontation with medical service providers. Patients have no rights at all- it's an experience I wouldn't wish on my bestest worst enemy.

  2. Pole sana Elsie, sounds dreadful.

    And you could add that one of the biggest challenges with the health system is reliability of testing services. We (Daraja) sent 10 healthy volunteers to get malaria tests in 10 clinics and found that not even one of those clinics was giving reliable test results. Clinics give "positive" results in order to sell drugs, or perhaps to keep patients satisfied that they're getting treatment.

  3. in days bygone, getting "omushwago" was the order of the day! and the remedy was nothing near modern...they would start you on something called "omubirizi" then if the nasty plasmodia persists you were upgraded to the dreaded "enkaka". my face gets contortions whenever i reminisce about enkaka! as part of the preparation one had to have a cooked sweet potato "ekitakuri/enfuma" so that its sweetness could wipe off the bitter taste of the enkaka that had a nack for lingering on the tongue ages after ingestion!The best anti malaria was the enkaka that would start fresh as green and later on after three days in a bottle would turn pink or red...damu ya mzee!! The stuff is so bitter I'd bet if the babu in Loliondo was dishing out anything resembling that no one would have the cojones to go there!!!!

  4. Pole sana! Hope you are fully recovered.
    As others have noted, the state of health care is sad. I am struck, though, at the poor service you got even at a private clinic!! Although,i had the same experience with Miss E several years back at MM. Our poor health system is another important explanation for the phenomenon of Babu wa Loliondo

  5. Part of the reason I avoid hospitals is that it seems doubly cruel to be treated thus at your most vulnerable, when you are in pain. Our health workers might start out compassionate but they seem to develop a fine streak of sadism with time. Makes me crazy.
    Ben- that's distressing news to say the least! The implication is that people's real ailments aren't being treated?!
    Mzee wa Bukoba- yes, I might have encountered one of those concoctions as a kid of eight. that's the last time I may, or may not, have had malaria. I had a horrible stomach ache, my cousin (who had picked up some herbal medicinal training from grandmother) boiled me up a small potful of what looked like swampwater. one mouthful and i had to be held down for the rest. If it was indeed malaria that ailed me, the cure was so fierce as to cure me within hours and scare off the disease for another two decades. I would definitely recommend that Babu Loliondo include it in his cup... :)

  6. I'm very sorry for that Elsie. It did for my productivity before Easter too. Ben: shocking, get that data up on the blog/website/kwanza jamii (if not already). Get people to replicate. Possible to name and shame the clinics? They should all be de-registered.

    Look after yourself Elsie - take it easy, it can knock you sideways.
    PS Babu's son passed away a few days ago. Malaria....

  7. Pole sana. Ben's tale of false test results is all too familiar. Anyone contemplating spending significant time outside the Big Sweat (no malaria there as anopheles mozzies can't stand pollution) should get themselves their own test kit. Available for about 30k/-, I think, from Premier Care and other places. (Now, where's my commission?)

  8. @SwahiliStreet: taking it real easy, thanks. Fit now, really, just trying to respect the healing process. On the issue of Babu's son: I am sad for the old man. No one should ever have to bury their own child. What the public will make of it is up to their penchant for reason.
    @Thanks Steve! I love the idea of having my own test kit and getting rid of those pesky hospital visits. Interestingly- I have never tested positive for malaria at TMJ although it is apparently renowned for the False Positive. Hmmm.

  9. Steve I had malaria last month that needed two doses to hit it on the head and hadn't been out of dar for at least two months!! peter


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