Read, Learn and May Be, Laugh
I’ve been feeling nauseas and have had a general feeling of malaise since my arrival. The smell of burning garbage is constant. There are no other forms of garbage disposal here. Everything is just burned in huge heaps on the side of the road or, if you are rich, in what looks like an old barbeque from a campground in the 70s. There is a revoltingly sweet odour that is constantly filling the air, a combination of rotten oranges, baked earth, molten plastic, and the corpses of dead lizards and dogs. It’s very much the best example I’ve ever experienced of something that is "sickeningly sweet." It reminds me of when Alex’s neighbour died and no one realized it until her body began to smell. I distinctly remember leaving his apartment one night thinking, "Hmm, someone’s baking meat, smells goo– er… smells weird." The smell of this burning garbage has a similar familiarity. Something that smells goo– er… smells weird. And eventually it smells very sick, and it makes you feel very, very sick.
In addition to all the new bacteria I’m being introduced to, it’s no wonder that my stomach has been feeling a little off for the last five weeks. I’m eating meat for the first time in five years, I’m covered with and injesting more bacteria than ever, and I walk around inhaling the fumes of cooked garbage. But despite being used to feeling a little unwell I hadn’t been too concerned with my health until Friday, December 19th, when I realized with a very serious calm that I had malaria.
The symptoms of malaria are very distinctive. You can get sick with just about anything and everything here, but 50% of children under 5 years of age die from malaria, and many an unlucky expat spend a day (or two or four) at Choithram’s Memorial Hospital moaning in pain because of some bitch mosquito. Your stomach is constantly buzzing, you’re often nauseas, you’re constantly wondering if you have food poisoning but never know. But malaria! when you get that, you know. There’s almost an instant understanding: Once you experience piercing bone and muscle pain, when your fever drenches your entire body in sweat from the exertion of typing, when you have fierce migraine headaches that resemble an atomic explosion behind your eyeballs and you squint and mumble to coworkers that your glass of water "looks too bright," you know you have malaria.
So, very calmly, on the 19th, my last day of work, I realized that I had malaria and asked my boyfriend to get me the proper medication. A brief visit with a doctor and I spent the next five days suffering immeasurably in bed, nauseas, in pain, with a bag of medicine that included three different types of anti-malarial drugs and copious amounts of paracetamol for the unending fever. I sweat buckets, moaned and complained, and felt – I thought – the worst I’d ever felt in my life.
Then, on the 22nd, our gas went out. During the day we had no power (which means no air conditioning, no fans, no air) and we ran out of gas for the stove, which means no water (since you can’t boil it) and no food (since you can’t cook it.) Eating anything raw is dangerous, our refrigerator wasn’t on and I was far too weak to leave the apartment to go to a restaurant. I spent several days feeling profoundly, profoundly miserable.
On the 24th, Christmas Eve, we went out for dinner where I ate three bites of my food, abruptly threw up my malaria medication and sweat profusely in the normally-freezing air-conditioned restaurant. I had actually been feeling significantly better than I had felt in previous days and this sudden vomiting and renewed fever was a cause for worry. But what were we to do? It was Christmas Eve, 10pm. No time for a hospital visit. So we went home, covered me with cold wet cloths, fed me lots of pain and fever and malaria medication and sent me to bed.
On the 25th, Christmas Day, we had no power at all, no gas, and, in the evening, the water cut out completely. No toilets worked, no water trickled from the sinks, and there was no water to cool me off with. I am lucky – I missed the water shortage because I threw up in bed all over the mattress, vomited over the side of the bed into my leather Chloe Paddington purse, and eventually into the garbage can that Mike hastily shoved in my face before I finally crawled to the toilet to barf there instead. It was Christmas Day, 9pm, but this uncontrollable vomiting was something that I hadn’t been experiencing before and we had to respond to my failing health with renewed seriousness. I had actually woken feeling refreshed and pleased that the malaria was subsiding – and suddenly here I was vomiting in my bed.
My roommates drove me to Choithram’s Memorial Hospital where I was placed on an IV for three hours. The man who admitted me wore jeans, suspenders, a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat. It was most un-Western-like. The hospital was better than I expected, but the bed I lay on still had dirty sheets that included a blood stain and the hospital had more mosquitoes that I had seen in my entire stay here. The lab-guy who put in my IV was so unhygienic (my needles were sterilized, thank god) that I hesitate to write about it because whatever cold he was suffering from was so disgusting that it makes me want to throw up again just thinking about it. He had immense difficulties administering my IV because he desperately needed to blow his nose (but didn’t until I told him to, and even then used the SINK as his Kleenex) and I now have an inch-wide 3-inch long bruise where the needle stuck, terribly blackened. I look like I’ve been in an accident.
I threw up my oral rehydration pills in the hospital and the salt burned my throat so badly that I started hyperventilating and rasping for water because the salts burned me so badly that I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was going to drown from acid being poured into my lungs. It’s not really preventable, but I strongly advise you to refrain from throwing up handfuls of oral rehydration tablets.
I had endless blood tests, two injections of antibiotics, an IV of vitamins and saline solution, and two half-litre bags of some other medications. I lay on the drip for three hours through which I testily told them to hurry up with the IV because I just could NOT stay in that dirty, smelly, snotty, bloody hospital room any longer. The doctor was very competent and responded to my tantrums with good humour and I am very grateful.
Anyway, end result? Just as my malaria was being treated and I was being cured from that, I apparently came down with typhoid fever which was the reason for my hospitalization. Have you ever met anyone who had both malaria and typhoid at the same time and had to be hospitalized on CHRISTMAS because of them? Yeah: Me.
So today: I’m healed. I have my appetite back, I don’t look like I am dying, and I’m gaining back the weight I lost from a week of not-eating and vomiting and running to the bathroom. The miserable hospital visit rehydrated me and they stuck me with so many antibiotics (that I’m still taking since I’m still a carrier of typhoid even though the malaria is gone now) that I am feeling MUCH much, much better and am truly on my way back to health.
But in the end, malaria + typhoid = Worst Christmas Ever!