About 12 years ago, we worked in Angola for a while, and whilst there I was unlucky enough to catch malaria one day. It seems there are two types of malaria, the one that most people get, and which recurs at regular intervals for the rest of your life, or the other main sort, cerebral malaria, which basically kills you in about 72 hours of it kicking in.
Being me, I of course had the cerebral variety.
If you live in a malaria area, after about three months, you have to stop taking anti-malaria medicines, as they will wreck your liver apparently, so you are then dependent on insect repellent to protect yourself. And as I discovered, if you leave even a tiny part of exposed skin uncoated with this repellent, the very small and totally silent Anopheles mosquito will find it and set too to slurp up your blood, and as payment, will give you a good vein full of malaria parasites.
As chance would have it, when the malaria struck me, I was up country in Huambo, visiting and supposedly helping the Halo Trust deminers with various computer problems. As it turned out, this was extremely lucky for me, as I was in an area where malaria was horribly common, and all the local Angolan doctors (Cuban trained) knew all about it – unlike the worthy western doctors one tended to see in Luanda who habitually treated people with malaria symptoms for flu, as a colleague who was infected on the same day as I was, and who as a result of the misdiagnosis almost died and had to be evacuated to South Africa when it was belatedly realised he was on the point of dying from cerebral malaria, and not simply suffering from a bad go of flu.
The first I knew of my infection was when I developed a nasty head ache one evening, and a general feeling of illness.. Nothing very specific, but I felt lousy. So I took to my bed and thought to simply sleep it off and be better the following morning. Not to be.
As the night passed, my head ache got worse, and I had bad stomach aches and dizziness attacks… But I managed to sleep more or less. However the following morning I told the others that I would spend the day in bed, assuming that a day’s rest and lots of paracetamol would fix me up.
But as the day went on, I began to develop a serious fever and started to hallucinate, and began to feel sicker and more lousy than I had ever felt in my life. One minute I was unbelievably cold, shaking violently and totally uncontrollably, the next I was boiling hot and sweating. And all the while feeling sicker and more awful by the minute. My head was aching fit to bust, my stomach was bloated and hurt like hell, I was dizzy, so much so that there was no way I could stand up, but even lying down the world was spinning around me.
I have never felt so bad in my entire life, and it simply kept getting worse, so when I was in the cold phase of my fever, I was scared I was going to break my teeth as I was shaking so hard and my teeth were chattering so hard.
Luckily Nathaniel ( a friend who worked for the Halo Trust) came back to the house in the early afternoon, took one look at me, and grabbed his malaria test kit, and stuck a pin in my finger to get some blood for the test. It showed that I had malaria, so he picked me up and slung me in the land-rover and off we went to the nearest hospital were in no time a large and friendly Angolan doctor saw me, he also took one look, didn’t bother with any tests but simply gave me some medicine or other which was apparently for malaria, and amazingly and miraculously, in a matter of minutes most of the symptoms had disappeared and I felt almost human again.
Once I was more or less back in the word of the living, he explained what the prognosis was if I hadn’t managed to see a doctor before another night had passed – simply put, I would have been dead.
A very sobering thought believe you me.
Anyhow, thanks to whatever the medicine was that he had given me, I didn’t die (you may be surprised to read), and he prescribed some medicine that I would have to take for the next month or so, and told me the worst possible news as well – no beer for at least a month!
Amazingly enough, by the following day I felt well enough to get back to the work I was in Huambo to carry out for the Halo Trust guys, and in due time returned to Luanda and my normal daily life in Angola… None the worse for my malaria experience. But I do have an enormous sympathy for the millions of people every year who are not as lucky as I was, and who die because of malaria. And thus I am a supporter of the Gate’s Foundation’s work in anti-malaria studies in Africa.
And of course, extremely glad that Nathaniel was there to save me as well!!!! Quite literally his prompt actions saved my life, for which I am eternally grateful to him of course.