Malaria and typhoid in West Africa
Malaria and typhoid are quite the combination, “something special”as the doctor said. I asked him what was more dangerous. He looked at me and said that both could easily kill you ….
On Monday – I started having headaches
On Tuesday – The sweats and fatigue began.
Wednesday – I began to fear that I had malaria. I told myself I was just being paranoid and that it was probably nothing, tomorrow it would pass.
Thursday – I got up early in the morning with a long journey ahead of me, from Abidjan Ivory Coast to Cape Coast in Ghana.
The journey took over 12 hours. Accompanying me on the buses, cars and motorbikes were fevers, headaches, sweats, and fatigue. The bad roads and crowded taxis probably didn’t help. When I got to the hotel that evening I went to sleep immediately. I planned to go to the hospital in the morning. I got up early and went to the bathroom, already just walking I did not feel right. I was very lucky that a young man from the USA walked just behind me. He saved my life.
Three steps into the room, a silver handle and a white light, that is all I remember. I had passed out and the young man behind me took most of my fall. Had I fallen a second before or after, I would have shattered my skull. After some time of attempting to wake me up I opened my eyes.
“You alright?” he asked.
“I think I have malaria”I told him.
“I think you right” he answered.
After a minute of lying on the floor he tried to help me up towards my bed. I passed out again- this time unconscious for a few seconds.
When I opened my eyes the boy looked terrified. He called one of his friends to bring me water and watch over me while he ran to get the hotel manager. When the hotel manager saw me sweating and passed out on the floor he immediately took me to the hospital.
On the way the hotel manager told me that he had a doctor friend already waiting for us. And there he was, the short and fat Dr.Najeeb-an Egyptian that had lived in Ghana for the past few years. He took me to the lab immediately and asked for the results as soon as possible. We sat in his office, waiting on edge for the results to arrive. When they did, Dr.Najeeb looked surprised.
“You’ll have to stay here for a few days, you have typhoid fever and an aggressive case of malaria.”
The Doctor immediately led me into the hospital, West African style. The room was hot and crowded with eight beds- four on each side and two ceiling fans. The nurse showed me to my bed, I was M5.
A hospital in Ghana is very different from the hospitals you know back home. A day of hospitalization costs $5. The breakfast included tea and a slice of bread. Lunch and dinner were mushy rice and vegetables.
You also had to buy your own medicine from a bigger hospital or a pharmacy in town. I could not go by myself as I was alone with no friends so I had to ask one of the workers to go and buy my medicine for me.
On Friday morning the real battle began, two of the worst days of my life. Malaria causes you to experience terrible headaches, pain in every muscle (so much so you cannot even get out of bed), dry mouth, loss of appetite and every cough feels like glass cutting up your insides. Hand in hand with these came the abdominal pain and vomiting caused by the typhoid. And If that wasn’t enough the side effects of the medication caused a strong long beep from ear pressure. I could barely hear a thing. The nurses were very nice and friendly. Every few hours they changed my sheets and pillow which were soaked in sweat. It looked like I had just gotten out of the shower and hadn’t bothered to dry off. The palms of my hands were wrinkled as if I had sat for hours in the ocean and the most simple action took hours of self-persuasion.
The night began and I could not really sleep, every now and then passing out. There was a power cut so the fans did not work and the heat was unbearable. I was sweating, breathing heavily, had headaches, ear pressure, back pain, dry mouth, vomiting. Whenever I would eventually fall asleep, I would be woken up from the headaches and the terrible heat. The soaking wet bed did not help.
And then the morning came, breakfast time. The patient at M2 died that night, M4 and M6 were unfortunately in front of me in a terrible state. I think that was their last stop. M4 was an old man that didn’t speak but moaned in pain all the time, staring at the ceiling and sometimes at me. M6, a relatively young man looked like a Black Holocaust survivor- I never seen someone so thin. He did not speak, did not get up, did not move. He just lay there waiting to die. M7 also had malaria and the others were “ordinary” patients. Saturday was yet another nightmare. Finally on Sunday afternoon I started to feel better. The doctor said the treatment had worked and I would just have to take anti-biotics and anti-malaria pills for a week. Being alone in that hospital in the middle of Africa was one of the hardest experiences I have faced while traveling. However I learnt a lot about myself, the kindness of strangers and it left me with a great story to tell……