(cue the Pearl Jam song, if you are so inclined...)
On Friday around 3am I woke up with a slight fever, a severe headache and diarrhea. The power was out so I didn't go hunting for my thermometer in the dark. I just drank some water, took ibuprofen and went back to bed. Around 7:30am I took my temperature, which was 37.1 degrees Celcius. Not too alarming. I figured I could still go to school later that day and run my errands in the village. I had more diarrhea and went back to bed. At 8:30am I took my temp again-- 37.4. Still not alarming. I had promised my school that I would help type a few exams, so I started work on the second one they had given me. After a few minutes I started to feel light-headed and saw spots, so I knew I was about to faint. I moved to the floor and lay down to let it pass, then relocated to my bed and fell asleep again.
I meant to wake up at 9:30am, but I slept till almost 11:30am. I was bundled up under my blankets because I had the chills, which I knew was a bad sign since it was another very hot day. I checked my temp again-- 38.1. Okay, it was obvious things were getting serious. I texted the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) about my symptoms, and she called me and had me drink oral rehydration salts and take a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) for malaria, which all PCVs are given in their PC med kits. Then I was supposed to text her back with my results. While I was trying to prick my finger for the test, I started to get light-headed and I saw the spots again. I tried to push through it, but it became clear that I was going to faint so I leaned forward at the table where I was sitting so I wouldn't injure myself.
After this I am a little fuzzy about events. I know I moved to the floor, and that I woke up feeling really disoriented. I didn't know where I was for a second, but then I remembered I was a PCV in my house in Malawi. Not reassuring considering my condition. I crawled to the table and grabbed the RDT and completed the test on the floor, then took my temp again while I waited for the results. 38.4 degrees Celcius. I let the PCMO know about the results, and I think she said to keep drinking ORS and to take acetominophen to bring down my temp. I She said she would call me to check on me in an hour. After that I think I had more bouts of diarrhea. Which is really fun when your latrine is outside your house and if you stand up for too long you will pass out. I'll just say I only made it to my latrine once out of the four times, and leave it at that.
My bedroom was too hot, so I just spread a chitenje on my cement floor in the living room and lay on that, with a sweatshirt for a pillow because I was too weak to go get my real pillow. I had my med kit and my water and my phone near me on the floor so I didn't have to get up. It was like my own little sick bay. And then I tried to sleep in between sipping my ORS.
Around 1:00pm I woke up feeling worse than ever. I took my temp-- 39.7 degrees C. I didn't know what that was in Fahrenheit, but I knew it was too high. (Later I found out it was over 103 degrees F). That's when I got really scared that I was going to die here, alone in my house in Malawi. And then I vomited up all the fluid I had drank into a basin in my living room. Then I had more diarrhea, and I was too weak to go outside so I had to use a bucket.
I called my PCMO and she said I needed to get to a hospital. This is challenging in the village. There is a health clinic about fifteen minutes walking distance from my house, but I was too weak to get there, and it has very minimal facilities. There is a district hospital and a private hospital in the Boma, but I was too weak to walk to the road to catch a mini-bus, or even to walk there from the mini-bus once I was dropped off. And of course in the village, people do not have cars. She arranged for a taxi to come and pick me up to take me to a private hospital in Blantyre that Peace Corps had previously inspected and approved for PCV use. Luckily after vomiting I felt a little better, so I was able to actually pack a bag without passing out. I was still pretty weak though, so I just sipped my water and lay on the floor, waiting for the taxi.
We arrived at the hospital in Blantyre around 5:00pm. I filled out some forms, and a nurse took my vitals. Then a doctor came in to see me. Interestingly, while the nurses wore uniforms, the doctors just wore nice clothes, no scrubs or lab coats or anything. The doctor spoke with the PCMO on the phone about my care. They gave me an IV and ran some blood tests, then admitted me. I was moved to a wheelchair and wheeled over to a shared room where there was one other patient. My bed was separated from the other beds by curtains. I still had a headache, but I could feel my fever had come down, and I felt like I was finally safe, so I went to sleep.
Look, it's my first IV:
Later the doctor spoke with my PCMO about the blood tests, and they decided to put me on antibiotics, which would be delivered through the IV. I continued to sleep except when the doctor or nurses came into my room. That evening I felt my temperature go up again, and my stomach started hurting and I felt nauseous again. I also continued to have diarrhea (although it is not do bad when you have a toilet and a sink available). I asked the nurse to take my temperature and she confirmed it was high. She asked what I had taken earlier for my fever, and if I had them with me. I said yes, so she helped me get my bag so I could take my acetominophen. They brought me a basin in case I needed to throw up again, since the bathroom was around the corner and it was awkward to get to it while I was hooked up to an IV. Then I tried to sleep.
I woke up the next morning covered in sweat, with no apparent fever. My headache was gone too. I still felt really weak, but I hadn't thrown up. I was still having diarrhea though. One of the nurses said I could bathe, so I wheeled my IV over to the bath and tried my best to do it one-handed. I felt much better since this was the first time I had bathed in almost two days.
That afternoon Peace Corps arrived to pick me up and take me back to Lilongwe so I could be under the care of the PCMO. I was still having diharrea and I felt weak, but other than that I wasn't having any of the other symptoms. After my examination I went to a nearby hotel and just slept. And I have been here ever since, getting well. It has been really nice to have a shower and toilet and air-conditioning while I recover, and I feel so much safer knowing the PCMO is just a few minutes away. I started eating again on Sunday, and today I was able to eat a full meal for breakfast and walk a little. So we decided tomorrow I can go back home.
So here I am, alive and well. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and concern. I feel very grateful right now.