This is a quote from "Hillel the Elder" from the first century. (I thought I was so original!)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Deadly Zambian Encounter

Encounters with lions, elephants, hippos and crocodiles can be fatal.  So after moving to Africa I needed to not be stupid and tempt fate when I was in their vicinity.  It turns out there is another critter that is far more deadly, cunning and harder to avoid.  Take a look at Bill Gates chart below of critters and how many people they kill each year.

It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction for danger.  Hippos and people are very dangerous but worldwide the mosquito out-kills everything.

I live in Africa.  All the windows in the house are screened. I was casually told about malaria upon departure from the USA but when I asked specific questions I wasn’t too impressed with the doctor’s knowledge or experience.  I decided I had committed to be obedient so I started taking an anti-malarial pills. 

It was a regime that would last for the next two years.  After a week I wasn’t happy with the effects I was feeling.  The main one was that the second the sun hit my skin it seemed to burn rather than tan.  How was that going to work in hot Africa for two years?  I reconsidered, I spoke with other couples and many missionaries and the past mission president and then the current one.  My survey looked like half the people took it and half didn’t.  Besides, I kept waiting for the swarms of mosquitos and none ever appeared.  The one or two mosquitos I heard at night were just little things, nothing like a proper high sierra pond swarm I had expected.  Our net over our bed was inspected regularly.  It is treated with Permethrin, I have never found a dead mosquito in a seam. 

The risk must be low.  Of course there are funerals almost everyday but this is a big city to consider.  When questioned how a person met his fate the usual answer is malaria.  The diagnosis is applied to young and old and everyone in-between.  The term “malaria” is applied to almost every death because of poor or no diagnosis and no post mortem performed.  It is often applied to a death by HIV since it is much more socially acceptable to say “malaria”.

I am now twenty-two months into my mission.  I live in the big city of Lusaka and I work in an air-conditioned office.  I drive an air-conditioned truck.  The incidence of malaria among the young missionaries has decreased mostly due to better obedience and I felt pretty secure.  I don’t go into the outlying villages as often as the young missionaries do.

There was just one last Couples’ Conference and some District Training to attend in Malawi and then we would pack for home.  Kristi and I stretched those meeting days on both ends checking out beautiful Malawi and then we came home to Zambia.  I was feeling great and looking forward to a smooth transition of my office to two young missionaries.   Malaria takes ten to fifteen days after being infected to show symptoms.

We helped move a couple in our Ward to a new rental flat.   I had been feeling a little puny and not eating much after returning from Malawi five nights before.  That night I didn’t sleep very well.  At work the next day I was feeling lousy and for the first time in almost two years went in another room at the office and laid down.  I thought I would be fine but that night I was all chills, then fever and headache.  I would get so cold I would shake and then perspire, then chills again with uncontrollable shaking.

We headed for the doctor.  A finger jab and two different malaria tests and it was confirmed I had joined the ranks of Zambians who had experienced malaria.  The Zambians who survive build a type of immunity that doesn’t last.  If they are infected again and again the low grade malaria will not be a bother as long as they are otherwise healthy.  I was given some dextrose, a shot and a packet of three pills.  Their name was Asu-Denk.  The doctor said they should kill all the little protozoa multiplying in my red blood cells.  I also got pills for aches and pains and headache.  I was told I would be fine in about three days or so.   It was the “or so” that worried me.

So how did malaria affect me?  It was all the usual flu symptoms along with throwing up, a very rare event for me.  I had told the doctor I hadn’t thrown up at that time so that is why I got pills.  Otherwise he said he would put me in the hospital with a drip.  That night I had the same fever/cold chills and showered to combat them a couple of times.  I dreamed and woke Kristi with wailing/yelling etc. that I had never done before in my life.  The next day a couple stopped by to check on me and I was aware of not being able to concentrate very well and certainly didn’t contribute to any conversation.

The next night the symptoms were lessoned but still only short periods of sleep and I dreamed of a lion coming into a house and although I wasn’t afraid I was very concerned for our grandchildren.  Upon awakening I was pretty distressed and it was very unusual for me to be so disturbed.  I became aware that my hearing was keener at night.  I could hear party drums from a long distance.  I could smell that I didn't smell good.  I could smell the difference in blankets, sheets, bedspread and household items.  I walked down the stairs and the smell of toast was so strong to me I just about threw up.  This was a real change for me.

So finally, the three pills are gone and I am slowly trying to get my brain straight and strength back.  We moved some living room furniture today.  Kristi did most of the work but I came home exhausted.  I worry about how long the effects will last or are some of those protozoa going to hide in my liver for a later party months or years from now?

What is the point of sharing all this about my very common malaria experience I am now having? 

That is just the point I want to get across to my family.  Malaria IS common but not fun and should be avoided because even with access to modern medicine it can kill.  Certainly we have great medications to combat it, but wouldn’t it be easier to be obedient to prevention in the first place?  

Take the preventive medication.  It might make you look or feel a little different.  There are different brands, some side effects are different.  Find the one that works for you.  

Here is my advice to my family.  Listen to those who have gone ahead.   Listen to wisdom and experience of the many who have gone before you and follow their counsel.  I have survived this far by paying attention well, but believe me, at any age you can slip, strike out on your own, think you are a little smarter, wiser, and know a shortcut when all of the previous history points in another direction.  The dangers are out there, some deadly in their own unique way.  So when you think you are above the laws that govern them – that is when you become at great risk.  

For folks from outside Africa - take malaria pills.  Obedience is the first lesson of survival we learn in families and it applies everywhere.  Those mosquitos are everywhere!