I headed to Canada for my holidays full of enthusiasm, ready to meet the parents of my long-suffering girlfriend. Turns out it wasn’t just enthusiasm I was full of. I was unlucky enough to have 2 different types of malaria at the same time, including the most dangerous Falciparum strain.
At first I didn’t even realize what was happening, I was tired, which was expected after a crazy month of the flooding, plus “acute watery diarrhoea cases” popping up all over the north. So I slept all day, and blamed the chills on the Toronto climate. After a few days I became convinced I had a tropical bug and emailed our Medical Coordinator, who spelled it out very clearly that I had malaria and was go to straight to hospital. After the signing of promises that if I were to sue for medical malpractice, I'd come back to Canada to start the legal proceedings, provision of credit card details, agreement not to sue for lost property and agreement for the $2,820 minimum daily charge, I got to discuss medical issues. “Where does it hurt?”, the doctor asked, “everywhere”. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt? What’s a 10? 10 is the worst pain you ever had. Then it’s 10. Has anyone you work with had similar symptoms? Yes, plenty of them. The doctor laughed at me when I asked if I could go home – pointing to the soaked mattress where I had lay down for about 5 minutes. After 100 more questions and a blood test, I was diagnosed with severe malaria and it was clear I was going nowhere.
I spent 4 nights in hospital (I thought it was 3 until I checked the records to write this blog), drifting in and out of consciousness. The malaria, or the cure, I’m not sure, plays tricks on your mind. It makes you paranoid. When I read through the text messages I sent from my bed, it is clear that I was skirting around the edges of sanity as I wrote them.
One night, I was sure I was going to die, I wrote my will in my head. My girlfriend had to use the money in my bank to fly my body to Scotland and donate the rest. I didn’t have the energy to put it to paper. But the pain in my head was so severe, that I was convinced the malaria had gone cerebral and I wasn’t going to make it.
I didn’t read a book, I didn’t switch on my computer, I just slept and wished away the pain. On the last day I had the energy to take in my surroundings. Staff brought and took away food 3 times a day, cleaners made sure the place was spotless, there was a TV on the wall, I shared a washroom with my 1 roommate, there was a coke machine in the corridor and a fridge of juice to help myself to. I imagined the typical MSF malaria patient experience in Nigeria. Then I imagined the typical non-MSF patient experience. Quite different. About 250 million people get malaria every year and about 2 million of them die from it. I had survived the world’s biggest killer and it’s made me very happy to be alive. I guess I had been taking that for granted.