Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Beautiful American Babies

Well, there’s high drama all around today. Sickness is leveling the strong, friends have kicked out spouses and yes, I have a hair appointment. A dear friend’s wife is very ill, but she’s out of the hospital and resting at home now. Major sickness makes me think of a TRUE STORY from my African adventures:

I. Tanya and I were in Tanzania. We had been together for a few weeks. I had finally acclimated to the slowness of East African life, and she had come up to speed after months in West Africa. It was weird – I had totally lost any sense of hunger and pretty much stopped eating, but I attributed it to the heat and didn’t think about it. We were merrily clicking along when boom…sickness hit. It started in the middle of the night with many, many trips to the bathroom. Ugh…shouldn’t have eaten that fruit on the train. Clearly something bad was taking over. But wait, I was also sweaty. and hot. and shaking. Moaning, I climbed back in bed, only to make the trek to the communal outhouse again in 15 minutes. I took Pepto and Tylenol and prayed for a coma. By the time morning came, I woke Tanya up and weakly said, “I’m so sick.” She took my temp and said, “We’ve got to get you to the doctor.” I knew it was serious, because when we got in a cab, neither of us asked how much the trip would cost.

When I got to the doctor, the check in person handed me a matchbox and pointed to a door. “Go back in there and leave a specimen in this box.” After some clarification, I did as told. I was then told to go to the lab. The lab was a room with a dude wearing a white coat and a rusty spigot sticking out of the wall. I watched as he filled a bucket with water and washed his hands in it. He turned to me and said, “You have malaria, but to be sure we need blood.” No. I most definitely did not have malaria. I had been taking the damn mefloquine since the plane ride from Amsterdam. It made me dizzy and nauseous and I hated it but I took it. I coated myself in Deet everyday. No damn way did I have malaria.

Before I left the States, I had debated bringing needles with me – it seemed somehow, I don’t know, arrogant or privileged. (Which of course it is.) The rich traveler carries a safety net that no one around her has. All of that was pushed from my mind when I said, “I have needles.” As I dragged them out of my pack he smiled and said, “Yes of course, you are ready…you are an American!” I anemically acknowledged the truth and offered up my arm. As he deftly slid the needle in he said in a low voice, “You know, you and I would make some beautiful American babies.”

II. Later I was told I had amoebic dysentery and malaria. The check in person grabbed three giant jars of pills and I panicked as he rapid fire announced, “Take three of these two times a day, take one of these at night, take two of these three times a day.” As he was talking he reached in the jar pulling out handfuls of pills and skillfully twisting them in sheets of paper. I was trying to write down which to take when, and he exasperatedly repeated the whole thing.

When I got home, I went to the U of M’s infectious diseases department and had all kinds of tests. I still had dysentery, and would end up taking Flaggyl for a month to get rid of it, but the malaria was gone. The doctor asked what treatment I had taken. I said, “I have no idea. I took fistfuls of pills that came wrapped like saltwater taffy…and I’m so grateful.”

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