I now know what malaria feels like, so I wasn’t surprised when the stick that looks like a pregnancy test affirmed that I was indeed pregnant with parasites. Malaria feels like someone is burning your brain, and is usually accompanied by the excretion of your insides from either end. Having had malaria three times now, my body feels as though I’m becoming more immune… does this mean I’m an African now?
My body also seems to be resistant to the medication, as both this time and the previous bout, I didn’t respond to my first dosage, and the malaria strength seemed to increase. This is when malaria gets scary. If not treated, it can spread to your brain, and that is how people die from it. Regardless, I have adapted to this culture where malaria is seen as something of the common cold, and I have been more uncomfortable than I have been worried.
When I finished the second round of medicine, and the malaria test proved negative, I was surprised and nervous by the fact that I still felt awful. Hating the five and a half hour bus ride to the capitol city, Kampala, I tried to figure out what the problem was at a local “hospital.” After hours and hours, with little assistance, I called the Peace Corps Medical team, who eventually convinced me to succumb to the trip. Not such a bad idea, I decided, as my mom was scheduled to come to Uganda the following week, and I had to head down that way anyway. Well, after a few “in-pain” and “woe is me” phone calls to my parents, my mom, being the superhuman mom medicine that she is, flew in early to be with me.
So how in the world did I get Bilhariza? I don’t wash my clothes in dirty-standing water like I did in Kenya, or “bathe” with the snails like I did in Sri Lanka. I’ve become smarter than that dammit! Hmmm… maybe those baby ants in my bathing water must mean that the natural (but clean-looking, I swear!) water source I get my water from is in fact, dirty.
Bilharzia, or “the Schisto” as we call it here (Schistosomiasis) is a disease caused by parasitic worms. When people urinate or defecate in freshwater, it becomes contaminated by Schistosoma eggs. When the eggs hatch, they develop and multiple inside of the snails in the water. They then leave the snails and penetrate the skin of their victim. After a few weeks, these damn parasites mature into adult worms, and live in the blood vessels of their host while they reproduce!