What it’s like to survive the deadliest malaria parasite
I told myself I was feeling cold because I had drunk lots of chilled water to combat my headache. Something was off, though, but I still didn’t tell my friends no when they asked if I join them for dinner. We drove about 20 minutes to an Indian restaurant, but because no alcohol was served, one of my friends didn’t want to deal with it and forced all of us to move to another Indian place a few minutes away (Ooooh-kay). Right before we entered, my headache became so overwhelming that tears started streaming down my face. “Don’t be weak,” my friend told me as in his culture crying in public is considered just that. Obviously, for me, that stupid comment didn’t help me nor make me feel any better but rather angry. I wiped away my tears and tried to walk in there with my head up high.
We sat down at the table and read through the menu. I fought so hard to hold back my tears that wanted to make their way out again and again and just wouldn’t stop. I grabbed napkins to dry my eyes. Finally, I went to the ladies’ room where I could let them all out. Uncontrollably, they shot down and like in a movie scene I leaned my back against the wall, held my hands over my face and just sobbed. Snot dripping down so that it reached my lips and all. It felt like I was having a panic attack because my subconscious remembered all the terrible things that were ingrained in it about malaria, mostly from American and European media.
I had to remind myself that I knew many expats here in Tanzania who have had malaria, some of them for three months, but all survived. At this moment, however, I didn’t know yet if I even had malaria but all my senses were telling me that mine were the symptoms I had always read about, heard about and internalized in case I’d ever get this ish.
After my second time of running to the bathroom, my friend took me home. In the car, I tried to calm myself down and stop crying, so I was able to breathe through my nose again at least. I failed. Instead, I was shaking from cold in this tropical night that was at least 26C hot. My friend’s nephew, who spent the weekend in the same house had also just gotten malaria, and thus already bought pills, from which I was able to take a dose of three. I refused the pain killers because I am not a fan of putting chemical meds into my body. The malaria meds were chemics enough; they were a must, though.
The next day, I went to the clinic, got my finger pricked and fifteen minutes later I officially had reached level 2 of Africa, as my friend put it; or as the results proved: I had tested positive for Plasmodium falciparum.
When my dad kept sending me messages on What’s App through which I could literally hear his gripping fear and worry, I researched more and found that there are five types of malaria that can infect humans. Side note: For whatever reason, I had thought malaria was a virus and even posted something in a Facebook group stating that without researching further. Yikes, what a mistake – how embarrassing! But thankfully, I was quickly corrected by some rude and some not so rude ladies. Anyway, Plasmodium falciparum, the most commonly found malaria parasite in the Sub-Saharan area happens to be the most malicious when it doesn’t get treated or you don’t recognize the symptoms or there are other issues. I now knew I had the deadliest malaria parasite roaming inside me. What a wonderful feeling…
That day, we had planned a trip out of town. Due to money concerns, I had not been anywhere but in the concrete jungle of Dar es Salaam, and so welcomed this opportunity to explore a ghost town and an organic chicken farm. Despite the skeptical looks of my travel companions, we left Dar in the late morning and drove over an hour north to Bagamoyo, where we spent most of our afternoon. I drank so much water to help clean my body that I had to use the restroom like every hour.
After I had to hold back my vomit from the smells of smoke and fish while exploring a fish market by the sea, we continued our journey to the chicken farm. Because I felt so exhausted, I had to stay alone inside the car in the middle of nowhere surrounded by high grass imagining how I’d be surprised by a lion or elephant or giraffe (not really possible in this area, but I had to make myself even more uncomfortable, I guess). I am in Africa after all, eh!
So when I returned home that day, all I wanted was sleep, but I was woken up for some late dinner which was much needed. I also took the second dose of my pills in combination with some pain killers. I had been able to live without them up to this point, but now, they became more than necessary.
The next day I spent in bed feeling sick and weak and taking the last dose of my medicine. The day after that I spent at the office again, but just watching series on my laptop. The day after that, I was cured. Just kidding. I got a cold. Really not kidding.
Have YOU ever had malaria? How was it and what helped you to treat it? Please share your story!
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