My eyes opened slowly. I gazed around the dark room of the beach hut that I was sharing with my friend from high school, Giancarlo. My sheets and pillow were soaked with sweat. I had that nagging feeling of nausea wash over me. This was the fourth time that night that I had woken up with the feeling. Despite three previous failed attempts to make myself throw up – I quietly got up, slipped on my flip flops, and made my way to the communal bathroom for throw up attempt #4.
It happened. Oh did it ever happen. Vomit came spewing up with such incredible force that I didn’t have time to figure out how it ended up on the walls, the window, all over the top and back of the toilet. It was everywhere. But there was nothing I could do… it kept coming. Even after there were no more remnants of last night’s no-longer-delicious pig roast dinner or stomach bile… the dry heaves continued. Not once during this hour ordeal of being sick did I think I had malaria.
But 10 hours later, that is exactly what the doctor told me. I had malaria.
You may be asking, “But aren’t there preventative pills or a shot for that?”
I would begrudgingly reply, “Yes.”
When preparing for my trip to Africa in Summer 2013, I did everything right. I went to the travel clinic, got necessary shots, and prescriptions for any medications I may require – malaria prophylactics being one of them. However, just because you acquire the Malarone (malaria prophylactics) doesn’t mean you’re always going to take them. After about a week of being on my Nomad Adventure Tours Masai Mara & Gorillas Tour, I found myself feeling very lethargic, spending a lot of my time sleeping – more than normal. After a few days I figured perhaps it was the Malarone. I spoke with a few others who had been travelling or had previously travelled through Africa for extended periods of times – some said they hadn’t ever used any prophylactics and were fine despite having travelled through some known malaria areas. I stopped taking my pills. 1 month later – somewhere along the line a mosquito bit me and I got malaria.
What were my malaria symptoms?
- Vomiting for an hour (including dry heaves)
- Intense nausea
- Stomach pains
- Absolutely NO appetite (completely unlike me)
- Zero energy
How long did it last?
Short answer: 3-4 days. The worst of it was on the first day – when I vomited, slept for 16hours, and had zero appetite. Luckily they took me to the doctor that day and I was given pills to take for 3 days. The next day I woke up feeling about 70% better, but by lunchtime had returned to having no appetite and the same intense nausea and sweats had also come back. The third day I was about 90% better; my energy levels were back up and I no longer felt nauseous, but I lacked an appetite. The lack of an appetite lasted for about a week.
Wasn’t going to the doctor in Africa scary?!
At that point I was desperate to get to the bottom of what was ailing me so I could start to get better. The scariest part about it was the fact that my tour guide had put me in a cab by myself and had negotiated with the driver to stay with me. The driver did, and it was all hunky-dory until we were driving back to the campsite I was to be staying at that night and the driver told me it would be over double the price we had agreed upon. I was more afraid of being left at the side of the road in rural Malawi so I begrudgingly paid him – but not without telling him he “was a bad man and that God would get [him] back for what [he] was doing” first.
I was taken to a 24-hr private clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi (the capital city). It was run by two Pakistani doctors. The Malawian nurse had a no-nonsense attitude and was very blunt with her comments – it’s okay though, at that point I didn’t care for sugar coating. The other Malawian lab tech who took my blood sample was very professional – although I don’t know how she was able to do her work in the dark lab. The blood sample was a simple pinprick on my index finger, and then the blood was wiped onto a slide. I waited less than 5 minutes before they came back and told me my diagnosis: malaria.
They sat me back down, gave me three different drugs- the anti-malarial pills, the anti-nausea pills, and paracetamol for my fever and general aches and pains. The anti-malarials were on a very strict time regiment. All up – my doctor’s visit (including drugs) cost me the equivalent of $17USD. Not too bad if you ask me.
What did I learn from having malaria?
Of all the people it could happen to, it doesn’t actually surprise me that I contracted malaria. I am known for acquiring travel injuries and illnesses.
I do not wish malaria upon anyone. Not even my worst enemy.
I can no longer ever consider being a blood donor… I no longer qualify.
I’ve learned that if I’m given prophylactics to take them in their entirety, no matter how much of an inconvenience they may seem to be at the time. I also learned that sleeping on top of the overland truck one night, under the beautiful African sky- although visually stunning, was probably a stupid move. Despite lathering myself in (likely cancer-causing) 80% DEET mosquito repellant and wearing long pants and sleeves, I somehow managed to get bitten by a damn mosquito that was carrying malaria- likely in my sleep.
I was very lucky to have caught it the first day I showed symptoms; I was also very lucky to be en route to the capital city of Malawi. If it had been 2 days earlier… who knows what would have happened to me – because I’m sure a trip from Kande Beach to a private medical clinic would have really made use of my travel insurance.
I can conclude with utmost confidence that malaria would be an absolutely awful way to go – and it’s terrible to think that so many people in third world countries do end up dying from this awful disease. Be a smart traveller – take the proper precautions (including taking your doctor prescribed medications) and protect yourself against this potentially life-threatening illness!