Before going to Africa, I hadn’t had the bad fortune of getting malaria. Once my 2 years in Africa were done, I had gotten malaria 3 times. There’s no wonder that malaria kills more people globally than anything else.
That said, malaria isn’t scary if you’re prepared. Does it suck for a couple of days? Yes.
But, as long as you get the medication as soon as possible, you’ll get through it.
I wanted to walk you through the second time I got Malaria – this time in the country of Togo – as a bit of a guide to what it’s like. I hope it helps.
Malaria Day 1
Man, do I feel apathetic today. The truth is I’ve felt a little lazy for a couple days now. I didn’t do anything in Accra, and I didn’t really feel like doing anything either. Where did this headache come from?
It’s 10am now and I had planned on heading to Wli Falls by about 8am to beat the heat. My back is tight. I’m probably just dehydrated a bit.
Walking to the falls I feel fine again, maybe a little lackadaisical. The sight of the stunning waterfall immediately quells my lethargic-ness.
I return home and go to bed well before bedtime.
Malaria Day 2
I’ve woken up feeling decent, but that headache is still there and it seems to only pop when I turn my head a certain way.
While driving towards the border of Togo I sense my eyes starting to ache. Maybe there is was something in the water at Wli Falls? Maybe it’s just the dust from the road? Wow, they are really in pain.
Arriving at the border I’ve started to feel annoyed, and irritable. But I’m too lethargic to do anything about it.
The usual fixers push and shove to get close to me in attempt to gain a couple dollars out of me by claiming they know exactly what I need to do. They’ve decided it’s best for me to just bribe the police and immigration officials, otherwise I’ll have to wait too long.
I’m opposed, and they’re annoyed.
I tell them all to f**k off and they look back at me with a terrified look. I ended up just skipping the customs office where I’m meant to get a laissez-passer for Anne Murray. Screw it.
I drive to my hotel. I eat a giant plate of Wiener Schnitzel in Togo and then go to bed, again well before bedtime.
Malaria Day 3
I feel like aces today.
My headache is almost gone, no fevers, my neck can almost turn all the way. The fact I’m feeling better is one of malaria’s dirty tricks. It punches you with little jabs then tells you it’s done, then you let your guard down and it pummels you with a haymaker.
But, malaria sometimes gets into your system weeks before you really start to show symptoms.
Malaria Day 4 – First Day of Meds
6:30am and God do I feel good. A light breakfast in a mahogany chair carved with a lion and giraffes.
8:30am is it a bit chilly this morning?
I look around the room. The others are drinking iced tea, and wearing tank tops and shorts. I head back to my room for a jacket. A shot of pain stings troughs my fingers as I begin to type some work. I must be overworking. My headache is back. I beckon the 60-year old owner over to see if she can feel my forehead for a fever. She looks me in the eye and tells me “maybe a little” and strolls off.
9:00am “maybe a little” has turned into 103 degrees.
I jump on the back of Anne Murray and race to the nearest clinic, which is thankfully just down the road. The wind freezes as it hits my face, my arms vibrate as they attempt to clinch the handlebars and beads of sweet drip through my sleeves and drop down onto my legs. The man behind the counter has me sit behind a curtain and pricks my index finger. With a miniature turkey baster he sucks up the blood, drips it on a slide and squeezes it with another. “Sit and wait”. I do.
After what feels like 30 minutes, but was surely less than 5, I’m called to the counter where a stack of drugs awaits. “This is to soften the fevers, this is for your fatigue, and this is to kill the malaria.”
Shit. Malaria? Not again.
I return to the hotel toss myself on the bed and under my -10 degree sleeping bag and close my eyes.
Malaria Day 5 – Second Day on Tablets
The truth is I don’t really remember what happened yesterday afternoon and night. It’s all fuzzy and dream-like. I remember being hot, I remember being cold. I remember sweating so much I thought that I wet the bed. I remember being thirsty and then puking up the grape juice I put in my stomach.
I have no idea how I’ve gotten to today already.
I’m lying in bed butt-naked in an X like the cover of an anatomy textbook when I hear a peeping through the window. I turn my head to see the 60-something owner peeking her eyes through the wooden slits in the window looking at my nude body glistening in days’ worth of sweat.
“Are you OK?” She says in French unhinged by my nudity.
“Magnifique!” I say quietly while turning my head back to its stare at the roof.
“You look magnifique,” she laughs. “Get some rest.”
For a second straight night I try to do that, but I’ve slept so much that my mind isn’t tired. It rolls to thoughts of friends and family, past and future lovers, movie scenes that did or didn’t happen, and everything in between.
I find myself in a fight I can’t win: too tired to move too bored to stay still.
Malaria Day 6 – Day 3 of Tablets
It’s amazing how when you begin to recover you realize all the ways the malaria had affected you. That little headache, the stiffness in your neck, the weight in your shoulders, the lackadaisical apathy, the nausea, even that little bit of pain in your hand; it all goes away when the malaria finally dies.
This time has been much worse than the last time I got malaria. This time, despite catching it sooner, the fight was more dramatic, the fevers more powerful, and even the mental aspect of things was harder.
I love my family and the love they give, but I think that travel must be the only thing in the world where people so often give you negative support. When a marathon runner stubs his or her toe could you imagine their supporters cheering “Quit! Go home and get fixed.” Whenever things go wrong in travel, friends and family do the worst thing they can do to support you: they encourage you to quit, to go home. It makes it tough, because in that moment of pain nothing would make you happier than home, and going home would leave you with nothing but regrets.
Malaria Day 7 – No More Meds
The malaria is now completely gone, but it’s taken its toll. I have lost about 10 pounds, most of that is water from sweat I’m sure I’ll recover in a couple days. I have no energy left and my will to fight on is low. I have possibly the hardest bit of travel coming up in the next couple weeks, and I’m not sure I have the strength to push on. But, today my visa is set to expire, and I have to get back on Anne Murray. I have to try and move.
For the first 10 kilometers I can’t stop thinking that I shouldn’t be driving. My head is light and my strength is lower than ever. But quickly I find myself singing to Biz Markie in the confines of my helmet and the cool sea breeze of the Togolese sea sweeps me to my happy place.
I cross into Benin and the smooth air turns a smile onto my face that just won’t stop. As tough as the road is sometimes, one of the toughest things is to get back onto it once it has worn you down. But once you feel that air on your face and get into that trance only the road can provide you all the problems seem to just melt away.