Part 5 – A Wrong Turn

I have a feeling faith burned holes right through my eyes”

After a few minutes an Ethiopian doctor came back with the results of my blood tests. Instead of standing to talk, she sat down to the right of me which registered in the back of my head. When she took the blood I didn’t think anything of it. It was just another routine procedure like taking someone’s blood pressure or temperature. I turned on my side and looked at her through the railing of the bed. She spoke with a somber tone “The blood tests show that you have malaria”

My face soured. My first reaction was of annoyance, inconvenience and anger – part at the situation, part at my myself. I hadn’t been taking malaria pills. I thought what a pain in the ass – like the feeling when suddenly you realize after driving all night you had carelessly made a wrong turn somewhere and have to drive all the way back to where you came from, and then start over. Every hour a reminder of your terribly careless and inconvenient mistake.

I knew that in some cases malaria symptoms can reoccur over time – five years, ten years. This was my biggest and only concern, but it was also the only thing I knew about the disease. The last thing I want in my life is to live with the burden of knowing I could get sick with this again. The doctor then explained that there were four kinds of malaria and with a voice only used for very bad news that I had the worst type – Plasmodium falciparum malaria. She looked serious.

My immediate and only reply was if my kind of malaria would relapse in the future. She said it wouldn’t. Relief. I’d rather have the worst kind of malaria than the kind that relapses, but immediately I felt a guilt with this thought. I shouldn’t let her know what I was thinking. I was a child being given two options and I was happy to make my ignorant choice without any advice or guidance, except the only choice I had now was how I would react to the bad news. For better or worse, I knew absolutely nothing about this disease. I was at the beginning of my path to learn just how little I knew and how very ignorant I was that day.

The head doctor returned, we had a chat and he seemed no different. He was up beat and reassured me that I’d be ok. He explained how most likely I had contracted the malaria while I was traveling weeks ago in Omo Valley as the disease incubates from nine to fourteen days. He didn’t go on about my current condition in details but more how they would treat my disease with malarial drugs. Perhaps I might need to stay an extra night or two, but with his confidence I wasn’t distressed. I was feeling as sick as I’ve ever felt in my life, but not once since the first day I fell ill did I feel worried or concerned.

To do this day I can’t pronounce the name Plasmodium falciparum malaria, but I refer to it by it’s other name, cerebral malaria. Later I learned in very extreme cases it can spread into the brain with symptoms such as convulsions and tiredness leading to a coma and eventually death. But the doctor didn’t ? … or wouldn’t ? … go into details of this scenario rather emphasizing it was very good that I had arrived as early as I did. He said my physique and healthy lifestyle would help me a great deal to recover quickly. I had to presume I wasn’t showing any symptoms of my malaria becoming more serious or extreme.

I asked a few more questions and thought even though he said I came into the clinic early enough for the disease to be taken care of I was curious to know how they actually treat the malaria once it’s in the brain. For the first time he seemed uncomfortable to answer. He was a bit dismissive as if it’s not something that we have to consider. In a round about way he said there isn’t much they can do once it gets that far. With that said, they rolled my bed up to the second floor to my room. I was expecting to be back in a hotel somewhere within a few days.

The nurses and doctors went away to let me settle in and sleep for the night, and for the first time in days I was all to myself, alone. My thoughts turned to the girls, Roni, Racheli and Ofer, and where they were and if, or when I would see them next. Ofer had her swollen foot checked out somewhere in the clinic and I presumed she would’ve gotten some medicine and returned to the hotel within a few hours. I knew after Addis they were planning on going their separate ways to travel around Ethiopia, so I worried I might not get a chance to see them again. What a sad way to say goodbye I thought. A strange feeling overcame me. I wanted to thank them for something, but wasn’t sure what it was.

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