Ghana - recovering from Malaria
Getting Malaria was interesting at first. But that quickly changed.
On the night between June 28th and June 29th I became a part of a much larger statistic. I had crossed the border from Côte d'Ivoire in the morning and had finally reached the arms of my girlfriend. We arrived to Accra which is the capital of Ghana and we started catching up on the 3 months we had been apart. In the evening we went to bed and finished the day by watching a movie together. But contrary to previous evenings of watching movies I quickly started struggling with staying awake. Perhaps not so strange with the "rainforest race" which I had recently undergone. During the night I started coming down with a fever.
Mocking around the night before I got sick. Apparently my girlfriend had the larger vote?! :)
That was a long night. But the day that followed was worse. The fever would come and go and come and go and I started to suspect that it might be Malaria. I would need to change my bed sheets several times and at one point I found myself standing on the floor in my underwear, drenched in sweat, shivering like a skeleton during an earthquake. I was loosing control over my motor skills and my speech center was effected too. I managed to gain some control and found a bunch of towels I could wrap myself in and went back to sleep.
The next day my girlfriend made sure that I saw a doctor. After a number of standard tests I delivered a few blood samples at the clinic and the results came back positive for "Plasmodium Falciparum" which is responsible for the majority of Malaria deaths globally. The good news was that the level of severity was at its lowest. I was given a vaccine, some pills and I was sent for observation in a small room, where I was given Intravenous (IV) Therapy. Then I was given a prescription for an amount of medicine and was sent home to recover. The doctors also had to consider the likeliness of having to deal with Ebola. But we agreed that it was highly unlikely although I had recently passed through both Guinea and Sierra Leone. Malaria and Ebola can easily be confused with each other because the first symptoms are similar.
I cannot exaggerate how much of a difference it made to have my girlfriend by my side to take care of me, and my friend Mette's house to rest in. Priceless!! My girlfriend was definitely working overtime.
The full treatment should have been only 3 days. The following days consisted of me being rather useless and most of the time not even feeling like I was me. At times I would touch my nose, my ear or my eyes and feel like I was inside a strangers body. Walking was complicated and it often felt like I was in front of my body, or beside it...or behind it. I would stutter and have difficulties talking. Dizziness and fatigue accompanied me everywhere. And this was the LOWEST level of severity??!
Later that week we returned to the clinic to have some follow up blood samples done. To the doctors surprise the Malaria parasites were still within me - although at the same low level. I remember being asked to sign my name and date of birthdate when we arrived to the clinic. My last name is Pedersen so I proceeded to make the P. But all I could do was make a vertical line. I struggled for a bit and with a lot of effort I managed to write my name in a very poor writing.
The following days I was given a much higher dose of medicine and I was eventually taking a cocktail of 25 pills/day. My girlfriend had to create a schedule for me because it had me too confused. But it worked and it killed the parasites. Our time together was now quite limited before she had to fly back home and I was still taking medicine. I couldn't quite distinguish what was me, what was the disease and what were the side effects? But it became more and more clear that a large part of me being "off balance" was now the side effects from all the medicine.
As I grew a little stronger I could eventually leave the house and we went out for sushi. We also managed to go to the movie theater like "normal" couples sometimes do. We played a lot of card games, where my girlfriend used my medicated state of mind to defeat me ;)
One morning we got up and headed out to Kakum National Park which was established as a reserve in 1931. It has monkeys, antelopes, elephants, birds and other kinds of wildlife within the dense wilderness. But I only managed to spot the tropical rainforest which is breathtaking in itself. The uniqueness of the park is that it was a local initiative and not a government initiative. But apart from that it has an extraordinary canopy walkway which connects 7 treetops and stretches 350 meters (1,150 ft) over the forest. It was great to get out of the house and out of Accra. The sheer beauty of Ghana's nature is not limited to nature parks but can be seen almost wherever you travel.
After the canopy walk we opted for a nature walk, where our guide would try to spot some animals for us but also educate us on the nature which surrounded us. It was a very easy walk but after about 15 minutes I started feeling dizzy. 5 minutes later I had to give up and sit down in order not to fall. I drank water and rested for a bit as we told the guide that we would head back. And back at the forest station I had some food and regained my strength. But it was a clear signal to me that I hadn't recuperate yet.
The first and only time I've been so sick that it became newsworthy.
Getting Malaria is nothing special in a statistical sense. In 2013 there were about 198 million cases of Malaria. The same year had an estimated 584,000 Malaria deaths. Most of them children below the age of 5 years. So now I'm a part of a massive statistic. Malaria is no joke! And while it was interesting to me in the beginning I quickly grew VERY tired of living that experience within my own body.
I could take anti Malaria pills in order to protect myself. But it is commonly believed that if you take anti Malaria pills for a period over 3 months, then the pills will do more harm to your liver than Malaria will. So when you are traveling or living in an area with Malaria the best thing you can do is sleep under a mosquito net and use mosquito repellant. The mosquito which carries the Malaria parasite is mostly nocturnal so your highly unlikely to catch it during the day. Like with anything in life it's worth knowing at least the basics of what you are dealing with in order to stay as safe as possible.
I really haven't experienced much of Ghana so far. But I have seen some of its beauty and I have felt the deeply rooted kindness within a stranger. Accra, as a capital, is far more modern than most large cities I've been to for a while. It's the kind of place where you can get anything if you are ready to pay for it :)
The show must go on.
Ghana is populated by approximately 27 million people so there are a lot of friends to be made. I'm a sucker for history. Especially when I'm near it. And Ghana has plenty!! I grew quite fond of the ancient history of Mali while I was there and Ghana's history ties beautifully into that. The etymology of Ghana means "Warriors King" and that's pretty cool. The Ghana empire was the name for the Malian Empire but you can find plenty about it on the Internet or at the library (if people still go there).
All I can say for now is that I'm happy to be here, I'm growing stronger day by day and I'll hang around for a few more days to make sure that I'm ready to head out. I'm not quite strong enough yet. Togo is next followed by Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin so I have a little planing to do too :)
My girlfriend took off yesterday evening. I went to the airport to see her off and I missed her in the house as soon as I returned. Oh well, I still have the dog...
William Shakespeare's words still remain true: "Parting is such sweet sorrow".
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - a small, tiny, ignorant speck of carbon in the universe
Once Upon A Saga - a journey to every country in the World without flying.