19 October 2011

Two Stories

1: Malaria.

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was feeling a little weird in the general body area and tired and blah and kind of out of it. I chalked it up to some recent frustrations with my organisation and left the office at around three, went home and had some me-time by being lazy on the couch. I woke up early on Thursday, feeling normal, started to do yoga, and realised I was feeling really weak –though this could still be considered normal, really. But I quit the yoga halfway through when I started feeling weird again. I took my temperature, a little high, maybe 99.5, but no big deal. And I went in to work around 8:30. I explained that I had a bit of fever earlier and wasn't sure how long I'd stick around. My counterpart asked do you want to go get tested for malaria? I said no, I'm probably fine, I'll wait it out, see if I don't get better, and then think about that. I left work around 11:30. Totally exhausted, not nauseous but just weird feeling, I went home and lay down and then everything went in the direction of terrible.

I spent the rest of Thursday on the couch, alternating between being on a burning funeral pyre and being buried under the polar ice caps. I was sweating and shirtless in front of the fan. Then I was in long pants, sweatshirt with the hood up, socks, wrapped in a blanket –and shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering. And then repeat. All the while my entire body felt as if I'd just rolled down the faces of two very steep, very rocky, very tall mountains. And then been run over by a truck once I rolled to a stop. I took my temperature a few times: a little over 100 when I got home, and then a few hours later, I was convinced that my thermometer was broken when it read 38.9 Celsius –or 102, in American.

The rest of Thursday and Thursday night went on like that, in and out of flames and icebergs, in and out of sleep and truly bizarre fever dreams –at one point, in the middle of the night, I was in a semi-awake state, conducting, out loud, a radio interview (I'd be listening to some of NPR's This American Life shows earlier) with a man whose name I remember forgetting and then making up on the spot, calling him Alfred Schneffleschott; at one point, I dreamed we were all beetle-men, our front halves human, our backs covered in giant shiny beetle shells– and moving back and forth from my bed, where the blanket was, to the couch, where the fan was pointed. I woke up in the morning to find my sheets were soaked through with sweat; I could've wrung them out by hand, instead I just went back to sleep. When I woke up an hour or two later, I was feeling somehow better.

I mentally agreed that it was probably a good idea to get tested for malaria, washed several inches of dried sweat off of my body, and laid down on the couch to wait for my counterpart to come check on me, like I knew she would –really a sweet lady, as much as I complain about my organisation– when I didn't come in to the office. So around 10:30, she showed up with one of our drivers, asked how I was feeling, and suggested we go to the hospital to get tested and I said that was probably a good idea. (Before you gasp hospital!?, we went to the hospital because it's the best place to be tested, not because I was really lying as close to death's doorstep as I felt like I was.)

And so we went. By the time we arrived there, I was sweating again. I checked in with the nursing students, got my weight –70 whole kilos; I'll make you convert that yourself because it's a bit embarrassing– and saw the doctor for a second, then went to the lab. (This is actually the second time I've been tested for malaria in a foreign country. The first was in India after I vomited on a restaurant floor, almost passed out, then staggered back to the hostel to continue getting everything inside my body out of it. Both experiences were basically the same: since Dad is a famous international man of business, a guy he knew in India came and picked me up at the hostel, took me to the hospital, did all of the forms, skipped me through all of the lines, and generally helped me avoid all of the usual hospital bureaucracy that exists even in developing countries; here that was thanks to my counterpart –and my whiteness, of course.) I tried to look as apologetic and sickly as I could as we skipped the line for the lab –everyone else there to get the malaria test, too, I'm almost positive– and I got the finger prick, they did the blood slide, we waited for fifteen minutes or so, I watched rain clouds gather outside the screen-less, pane-less window, watched long banana fronds slap together in the wind, everything outside the window either green or dark grey until a nurse in neon pink passed across the grass field, and then the results came back. I frowned at them for a second before I was able to decipher the abbreviations and hospital-grade handwriting: p. falciparum (+++) seen. Plasmodium falciparum is the strain of malaria we have here, and positive tests for malaria are graded on a seriousness-scale of + to +++ with the three-plus being the worst. They told me to go back to the doctor for treatment.

After talking to the PC medical staff –the nurse I talked to on the phone, who is awesome and really, really nice, asked what she could do for me when I called. 'I'm at the hospital here and just tested positive for malaria with three pluses,' I said. My voice must've gone a little scratchy or something because, in total sincerity, she said, 'Are you going to cry? Are you crying?' Which caught me totally off guard and I laughed out loud and said that I was not actually crying at the hospital. She told me that it was ok if I cried though because I was very ill. It was really sweet and hilarious– I went home and started on the treatment, Coartem, which the PC gives us all a cycle of before we head off to site, and, long story short, I defeated malaria.

It took a few days, I think I'm finally feeling pretty much 90% of the way back today, and it was easily the worst sickness that I've ever had –take your worst flu and multiply by between a hundred and a million, depending on how bad your worst flu was, I guess– and I don't want to ever do it again –I'll be back faithfully taking my daily anti-malarial (which I'd been forgetting to do for the past month or so) and sleeping under my mosquito net every night (which I was already doing every night)– but I guess it wasn't all bad because 1: now I can say that I've had malaria, which is pretty cool, and 2: now I can have a lot more empathy or a weird form of respect for the people here who get it multiple times a year. I know they've built up some sort of immunity to it and so it's not always quite so intense, but even if it's a fraction of what I had last week, man, that sucks.

2: How I Got My Fingers Super-Glued to the Crotch of My Pants.

Just so you're not totally gushing with sympathy for my malarial plight and respect for my immunological fortitude, here's a quick story that will allow you just to laugh at me instead. This happened a few weeks ago. I rode my bike up to the market one evening, around dusk, just to pick up a couple extra things for dinner. After buying my tomatoes and peppers or whatever, I walked back to where I'd parked my bike on the edge of the market, and swung my leg over my bike and –POP! It was loud and where it came from was pretty unmistakable. I had busted open the crotch of my pants. At the market, the biggest single gathering place of people on a daily basis. Naturally, I think played it cool: I pretended like I hadn't heard anything, cleared my throat, and rode home. What probably really happened was something like this: I paused leg in the air like a dog at a fire hydrant, eyes wide in panic as everyone looks over and there's one single big intake of breath before everyone bursts into hysterics as I ride home, my shame relieved only by this new cool breeze floating into the crotch of my pants. When I got home, I realised that every single other pair of pants that I own was soaking in a basin to be washed in the morning. And after washing those pants and hanging them up for their six-to-eight-hour drying cycle, I had to go to work in the morning. But sewing the seam of my pants back up? That sounded boring. Fortunately, I'm a quick-thinking sartorial MacGuyver. And so I busted out the cheap Chinese super-glue I'd bought a while ago for some reason. Sure it hadn't stuck anything together that first time, but hey, beats sewing. Several minutes later, my fingers were super-glued to the crotch of my pants. (Ok, no, I was not wearing them at the time, but it's funnier if I don't point that out, right?) I am awesome. Anyway. I was able to detach my fingers from my pants-crotch. Unfortunately, the ability of the super-glue to stick my fingers to my pants did not translate into an ability to stick the seam of my pants back together, like, at all and I had to get out the sewing kit anyway, the task of sewing now made doubly arduous now that I had to push the needle through a thick crust of dried super-glue about a thousand times. And in the end, my sewing job was not pretty, but it held. Even when I got back on my bike in the morning.

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