Life in Kampala: A Malarial Mystery

So this time around I've been in Africa for about 8 weeks. In the middle of one night at the end of my second week, I came down with a nasty, debilitating fever, which left me barely able to move. I craved sugar and water, lost all other appetite, alternately shivered and overheated. In the morning, I crawled over to my neighbors, who are doctors, and even though I had been taking the prophylaxis called methfloquin, they seemed to agree with my malarial self-diagnosis. I sent my roommate out for medicine, and spent the next two days alternating between sleeping and watching John Travolta movies on my laptop.

After these two days, I recovered to full strength, but for the last four weeks, each week for two days, I have been experiencing the same symptoms, though often not as serious. I had been working hard and traveling around Uganda alot, and each time I went to clinics of varying degrees of shadiness in Kampala and Gulu, and got malaria treatment. I became debilitated again this weekend, and decided I should probably go to a non-shady doctor. In fact, he was so non-shady, that he was the best tropical medicine expert in Uganda. This doctor, who at my moment of weakness, jokingly criticized me for not wearing trousers (I was wearing shorts), immediately told me I had never had malaria. In fact, in East Africa there had never been a reported case of malaria from someone taking mefloquine.

As he rattled off the list of possible crazy tropical diseases that I could have to his petite German med student assistant (Amebiasis, Leishmaniasis, Denge Fever, ect..) I began to get a bit nervous. They needed an hour and half to process the blood test and let me know my fate. With Joanna (who was doing an excellent job of taking care of me!!! Thank you!!), we walk to the downstairs coffee shop and spent the time reading shallow gossip magazines from Africa and Europe. At the end of the hour and a half, the doctor again commented with a smile about my lack of pants, and told me that I was free of any crazy tropical diseases, and in fact, I was among the 10% who are allergic to methfloquin, the very drug I had been taking to prevent malaria.

Last night and this morning, as I roused out of the latest (and hopefully last) methfloquin stupor, I again regained the ability to read, and read Ryszard Kapuscinski's excellent 'The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life'. It may be the best narrative of Africa I have ever read, but more importantly, I read a passage that added circumstantial evidence to the confirmation the doctor gave me: that I had never really had malaria.

Here is his description of getting malaria in a small African village:

What can bring relief when you have a malaria attack? The only thing that really helps is if someone covers you. But not simply throws a blanket or quilt over you. This thing you are being covered with must crush you with its weight, squeeze you, flatten you. You dream of being pulverized. You desperately long for a steamroller to pass over you.

I once had a powerful malaria attach in a poor village, where there weren't any heavy coverings. The villagers placed the lid of some kind of wooden chest on top of me and then patiently sat on it, waiting for the worst tremors to pass.

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4 Comments:

  • Josh! Unbelievable blog, man! I love the mix of academic insight and personal reflections...you're putting together a really excellent guide to development in Africa (something I know NOTHING about).

    Hope that podcast comes through--I'll be the first to download it! Take care...glad to hear you're feeling better.

    By Blogger Matt Fieldman, at 8:12 AM  

  • Thats really crazy that you've been allergic to your anti-malarials the whole time! Im glad you figured it out though and I hope your healthy for the rest of the trip. Your blog is great, I love it! =)
    -Limnyuy

    By Blogger Elle Kay, at 10:22 PM  

  • Keep up the good work »

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:24 PM  

  • What medicine are taking now?

    By Anonymous Swistak, at 3:07 AM  

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