Yes, Malaria kills. But it doesn’t’ have to. I’m not writing this to downplay the seriousness of malaria – I know children who have died needlessly from it. But it is so very treatable. And when you live in a malaria infested area like I do, it’s as common as getting a case of the flu. Sometimes not even as bad. But here’s the difference. The flu, basically untreatable, runs it’s course and you’re over it. Malaria, if left untreated, can kill. That’s the tragedy. When people who are poor get sick, they usually wait too long to do anything about it. When you are struggling for your next meal, money is only used to buy medicine in severe cases. And by then it’s often too late.
Over the years we’ve had many visitors/teams. A handful of them have gotten sick and fewer of them we have treated for malaria. The treatment is mostly harmless (unless you have liver problems), and the quicker you nip it, the fewer symptoms you will have. The thing is, when folks at home hear that their loved one may have malaria, some take it as a death sentence. That’s why we usually suggest downplaying it (or saying nothing at all) until the person returns home and friends and family can see him/her healthy. Imaginations can go crazy with those at home thinking of their significant other in the wilds of Africa! You wouldn’t believe some of the stories we’ve heard!
Then there’s me. I’m proof that malaria doesn’t have to be a huge deal. For the past several days, I haven’t been feeling just ‘right’. Mostly in the evenings. Late afternoon and evening I was getting a strange headache – kind of deep inside my head (fever and headache are the 2 main symptoms, but not exclusive to those). I never had a high fever, but would feel like I wanted to take a hot bath (remember, it’s about 80 in the house), and then I’d start sweating. Yesterday I did my ‘walk’, because sometimes when I’m not feeling 100%, exercise straightens me out. Last night I kept getting sharp pains in my head, which was quite bothersome. Then I couldn’t sleep. Then when I woke up, I was all sweaty. The headache started earlier in the day today, and I suspected that I had malaria. I know the feeling. Since we don’t take any preventative, we treat symptoms pretty quickly- at least with the kids. I don’t jump on it since it tends to cause insomnia and give me a metal taste in my mouth. But on the other hand, I don’t want to leave it… I had 2 hours to teach in the Bible school this morning and that went fine. Then I had some grocery shopping to do. I was basically trying to forget abut the headache/sweats. From there I decided to go to a relatively convenient place to get a blood test. Neal suspects that they always give a ‘positive’ result, meaning you have malaria. But I do know of people tested there that have gotten a ‘negative’ test. I paid my $4, got my finger pricked and was told to call for the results in 30 minutes. I drove home and called at the appropriate time. It was ‘positive’ for malaria but they said it was just starting to show up. I had treatments at home, left by our medical team so I didn’t even have to go to a pharmacy. I’m getting ready to take my 2nd dose soon. And there is new and better medicine since the last time I’ve had to do a treatment, so I don’t expect any bad side effects. Still have a headache and chills/sweats. The only other symptom I have is that I feel like doing something, then when I try to do it I feel totally worn out. So, unfortunately today I didn’t do my walk. I expect to have a good night sleep tonight and teach my 2 classes tomorrow morning, as scheduled. I’ll see about the walking thing…
We usually don’t make it a practice to go into details of the natural challenges we face living in Niger. I felt this time though, was a good opportunity to dispel the myth and fears that some have about what it is like here. We don’t get sick every time we go into villages where there are real diseases and unsanitary conditions. In fact, we hardly ever get sick. We do trust God, but we also use wisdom. We have good immune systems, we eat healthy, (we eat way less processed food than the average American) we take good supplements and we take medicine when necessary. Yes, there are things that happen when our only option is to trust God but no one needs to worry about us –pray, but don’t worry. Because relying on God is a good place to be.