Last weekend, as I was thinking about what should be the next topic for a new story on my blog, the topic somehow imposed itself on me. On Monday, I got diagnosed with a severe case of malaria. Yes, yes, you read it right – I had malaria. And it was not the first time, but probably about twentieth time in the past six years!
I remember the first time I got malaria. It was sometime around the third week of my life in Nigeria. For a few days, I would wake up in the morning feeling fine. Around the afternoon I would get a fever and my joints would start aching. I concluded that I was certainly exhausted from changing the continent and the new job. However, on the fourth day, I started getting worried, so I used the opportunity to ask one nurse I knew about my symptoms.
“Oh, it’s probably just malaria,” she told me in a normal tone, as though she did not tell me anything of significance. Malaria??? My heart started pounding and I can say with no shame that I had a small panic attack. Malaria? But how? I was poisoning myself every day with anti-mosquito sprays and used mosquito nets. How was it possible?
The next day I went to the doctor and he also confirmed with a normal tone that I had malaria. Malaria??? I barely refrained from crying and I asked him:
“Doctor, am I going to die?”
He smiled friendly and said to me:
“I know that you people in ‘white’ countries panic when you hear malaria as if you heard HIV. But malaria is not that dangerous if diagnosed on time. It’s very similar to the flu or cold in your country.”
And he was almost right. We see malaria as something terrible when in reality it is nothing more than the parasite that is easily eliminated with drugs that you take for 3 days.
WHY IS MALARIA DANGEROUS AND WHY PEOPLE DIE FROM IT?
Malaria is very tricky. It can manifest through thousands of symptoms. You can have stomach problems, or only a headache, or fever or you may just get a little more tired than usual… All those symptoms can be malaria!
Here are some examples of how I discovered that I have malaria. I would usually get symptoms of the classic flu, and I would immediately get tested, take drugs, and everything would be normal the next day. However, one time I woke up without a voice. I could not speak at all, but I had no other symptoms. I got tested-malaria! On another occasion, my right eye was twitching for days, and after I used all possible eye drops, I got tested-malaria!
The most important thing for people that are not from the African region is to get tested as soon as something is off. If you have knee or back pain, if you are too tired or weak, if your throat or head hurts- all this can be malaria! The problem is that we are accustomed to taking a bit more vitamin C and rest when weak, and wait for our immune system to fight off whatever is going on. You will not get rid of malaria by strengthening your immune system. Malaria is not a bacteria or a virus, but a parasite that only multiplies by time and gets worse! Malaria is transmitted only by a mosquito bite and you cannot get it from another person.
Most of Nigerians don’t even get tested, but on smallest headache or pain they just go to the pharmacy and buy malaria drugs. Just like Serbs buy Fervex or Americans buy Tylenol. I still like to get confirmation that I have malaria because I am not a big fan of taking medication unless really necessary.
Foreigners usually get serious malaria case if they do not realize that some of the ‘little symptoms’ that they think is probably caused by climate or exhaustion are actually malaria. So instead of getting treated, they allow the parasite to reproduce and grow when they could have only taken three great drugs and recover immediately.
Most of Nigerians that get a serious case of malaria, get it because they have a stronger immune system and their bodies are adjusted to Malaria, so they might have no symptoms until it develops so much that they can’t walk. Also, due to the poverty in rural areas of Nigeria, many do not have money for doctors and drugs so they try to use some natural medicine to cure it, but usually unsuccessfully.
Another important thing about malaria- if you are not feeling well, you get tested and malaria shows negative, but you do not get better the next day – get tested again! I have already said that malaria is very tricky and sometimes it cannot be seen in blood.
This happened to me last weekend. Before the last weekend, when someone would ask me about malaria – I would have said that it is not serious thing, like the flu.
Two weeks ago, I spent some time in a Nigerian village where mosquitoes are infected with a special type of malaria. A couple of days after I returned, I began to feel the fatigue and weakness, and I assigned it to the stress and women’s problems. And then I started vomiting. I got tested for malaria and the test showed negative, so I concluded that I probably had food poisoning.
I took some stomach medications, so the situation improved slightly (I treated the symptom and not the cause). On Sunday morning I started vomiting again and I felt like something very strange was happening in my head. It was very difficult for me to make one complete thought and I felt confused. It was like I had some fog in my head. Malaria was already written off, and I started wondering, thanks to my “Google doctor” skills, if I might have a tumor or some terrible disease.
This confusion and fog in my head developed and turned into dizziness and difficulty breathing, and by the evening I’ve had the worst headache of my life. The next day I barely made it to the doctor and after he heard my symptoms and my concern about my head, he only said: “Let’s do a malaria test first.”
He was very patient while I explained to him that this was not malaria, that I already got tested and that this was something much more serious than malaria. He just smiled and told me that I should not worry.
An hour later he told me that I had a very high amount of malaria parasite in my blood and that there was no point of taking medication because they would not help but instead I should get an injection.
Was I scared? On the contrary! I was relieved! I thought to myself, thank God, that’s all it is. With the way I felt I was sure I was dying. I mean, I was dying from malaria, but at least I knew that I was dying of something that was very easy to cure.
Happy end- after three days of hell (I could not eat, drink, think or talk) I received an injection. Just twenty minutes after the injection, like some magic, the headache stopped and the pressure and fog in the head cleared at the same moment. I wanted to jump from happiness. I felt like a brand new person. It’s just unbelievable what mess can parasites make in your own body.
Three days later, I got tested again and there are no more malaria parasites in the blood! I am taking my time to recover my immune system. I know that I have scared many people with this story, but there’s truly nothing to be afraid of.
If you go to a malaria-contaminated area, be sure to take Malarone or some other medicine that prevents malaria. If you are staying longer than two weeks in such area and you cannot take this medication for that long, just be cautious!
Malaria is very easy to cure, literally as easy as a common cold, if it is diagnosed on time. Just keep in mind that Malaria is tricky and that the test can easily be negative and the symptoms can vary from back pain to flu!