A Date with Malaria (Part One)

Ok, I apologise for the title, I really was stuck for one and this is the best I could come up with and I do love a catchy title. Yes, I’ve decided to recount the time when I had malaria in West Africa. It seems reasonable as when I had it I had just started my first blog over on Blogger and just stopped blogging when I came down with it, which really was not the thing to do.

Over the weekend I came down with a pretty hot fever for a couple of days, and every time I do (which is rare, I don’t often get fevers) I recall memories of when I had malaria in West Africa – and worry that maybe it might come back. I was told by the doctor in Ouagadougou it wouldn’t ever ‘come back’ – some strains can and do – but still, fever makes me a little nervous. It’s now passed and I working back to ‘health’. I thought it would be an interesting article to write about the experiences I had when I contracted malaria. Maybe educational too!

Festival in Agadez.

Festival in Agadez.

West Africa, 2006. It was my most challenging and difficult travelling experience without a doubt. I had had a dose of culture shock when I started in Ghana, seen abject poverty in Niamey, Niger, yet thought Lome, Togo was a pretty nice spot and had a few good days in Benin, not to mention being slightly enchanted with Agadez, out in the desert in Niger. By the time I took an overnight bus to Burkina Faso, I finally started thinking I was getting into the swing of West Africa, and starting to have some enjoyable experiences.

Ouagadougou

Ouagadougou

In the somewhat charismatic capital of Burkina Faso I stayed in a dorm with some really bug holes in the mozzie nets. Nevertheless, I met some nice people there and enjoyed the city’s vibe. It’s quite a cultural place and hosts a film festival every two years (or maybe every year). I met a guy staying in bed for a few days because he had malaria. He had this ‘three day cure’ which was a set of tablets, taken over three days. You were supposed to jump out of bed all better after them.

Good times in Ouagadougou

Good times in Ouagadougou

I’d earlier, in Benin met a German backpacker who’d contracted malaria in Guinea. He’s had that too but also been in hospital for a week or more, in a hospital with a lot of people with malaria inside. In my previous 5-6 weeks in West Africa, I had hardly been touched by mosquitoes. Maybe three bites. One or two the night before I bussed from Niamey to Ouagadougou, and had to wait until the wee hours of the morning trying to sleep on the ground at the dusty bus station where it was pretty much unavoidable.

Against malaria, you’re best bet is NOT TO GET BITTEN. Oh, I sound like a guidebook now. It’s pretty obvious. Still, you can also take anti-malarials, I was taking Doxy-Cycline at the time. They don’t stop you from contracting the disease, but they hold it somewhat in check.

My last night in Ouagadougou, I watched the final of the African Cup of Nations (which was won by Egypt I think that year) and then the next day took a bus to Banfora. I met a Czech couple who were really friendly, and a dude in Banfora who was offering tours for frankly too much. Still, this guy, let’s call him ‘Jim’ was young and seemed a little entrepreneurial, so I agreed to take his tour. I was dying to see some nearby waterfalls and have a swim, yet he took me into the countryside where there was a distillery, and to his home town where he outlined some sort of tourist resort he hoped to build. We did see some awesome boab trees, but all in all it was disappointing.

This is "Jim". I advise caution!

This is “Jim”. I advise caution!

Jim's home village.

Jim’s home village.

Boab tree

Boab tree

I returned to catch up with my Czech friends who were at a fantastic drum performance. My angst over the West Africa was almost gone. This was a cool place to be, and these new friends were really nice! Went to a place called ‘McDonald’s’ (No, not the real thing) and I had a steak and it was the best meal I’d had in West Africa. And as I was finishing the last of it, I started to cough.

Funky drumming in Banfora.

Funky drumming in Banfora.

It was a strange, dry cough I remember. It came on fast and was very quickly hard to control. We went to an outdoor bar where I worried about getting bitten as I coughed, and suddenly I had a fever. Before an hour was up, it was about the hottest fever I could remember ever having and I didn’t need to stop for a second to realise there was a good chance I had malaria. I was taken to a hospital with one of the Czech couple and the doctor told me to come back in the morning for a blood test. He also gave me the three day cure, I think it was 2 tablets twice a day, as I might as well start it.

The Czech couple had to leave early in the morning, and I had little option but to walk to the hospital after a pretty torrid night with little sleep and raging hot fever. I was staying in a little mud-brick hut with a bed very low to the ground, a cold shower (no problems, it was 38 degrees in the day) but it was cheap.

I waited at the hospital and had to pay for mu syringe, fair enough, I knew it was brand new. The hospital was pretty basic but it was something for the community. The doctor’s only spoke French, and in the evening before my condition had deteriorated that was okay for me too, but by the morning the fever was worse. The blood tests didn’t show malaria, but they said it was malaria, that the medication I had been taking was masking it.

I had to insist to stay one night at the hospital, but my fever was over 39 degrees and I didn’t feel well enough to get back to my ‘hotel’. Jim arrived at the hospital and wanted to see if I was okay, and if I would take another tour with him the next day or two, or when? Jim saw me as his meal ticket.

On the other side of the coin, another guy turned up, the only one in Banfora with any real level of English, and organised – a sheet for my bed (otherwise it’s lying on plastic for a day), and some food. All out of the kindness of his heart, nothing expected in return. I saw him a couple of times that day, maybe once the next day and never again. I consider him to this day to be the anti-Jim.

The doctor hooked me up to a drip for the day, presumably quinine but I was too delirious to know what really. Finding my vein was not easy for him. He took a plastic glove and wrapped it tightly around my arm in the hope that the veins would be more obvious. I got stabbed several times with all the misses! He got the woman in the other bed to help him! Yes, another patient! It was hot (but cooler than my hut) and there wasn’t a nurse on the site, it was dusty and dirty, but it was at least a hospital, right? As night swept in, for no clear reason, the toilet was locked to be reopened in the morning. I woke a couple of times during the night needing to pee desperately. I had to carry my drip with me outside and go against the wall.

Malaria – it’s wasn’t all that much fun!

Do come back next Tuesday to read the conclusion of this story!

 

For the full story of my time in Burkina Faso, the chapter from my ebook is here –

Dhaka to Dakar: Across Africa – Chapter 18 Burkina Faso

6 comments

  • Malaria is indeed a serious sickness, it is good that you managed to get through it eventually. However, I’m sorry to say that not even a million dollars will make me turn up for that date…hehehe…:)

  • This sounds pretty awful but it is a relief to know you’ve recovered. I know of someone who went to work in Africa, contracted malaria and sadly passed away a few years ago.

    I reduce all risks and am still taking the foulest tasting anti-malaria tablets after returning last week from a trip to India.

  • Ohhhhh God I hope I never need to experience that… in sha Allah… it sounds horrible 😦 Waiting for your recovery (in the next post)…

  • Great story but a little scary too!!! The only time when we stayed in a ‘third-world’ hospital was when Jon caught weird looking rash in Laos and by the sound of things the hospital was pretty similar: no sheets, no proper medical care and doctors speaking bad French.
    Glad to know you can survive malaria if you are travelling and don’t have access to western medical care!

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