18 November 2011

The Reoccurrence

When I first met Mike, he had already been plagued by quite a few cases of malaria.  I would ask him all kinds of questions about his experiences with the illness, in awe of how nonchalantly he spoke about it and the fact that he lived through the sickness many times to tell the stories about it. It all sounded so exotic and dangerous to me back then.

He caught a certain strain many years ago that permanently lodged itself into his liver (or is it kidneys?) and still refuses to give up it’s home there, almost ten years later.  Twice a special round of medicine has been contracted to kick it out of his body that apparently is so welcoming, but these attempts have failed. The buggers remain.

Once, as newlyweds in Colorado, the disease flared for the third time since we’d met. This particular time the sickness was on an odd and very punctual forty-eight hour schedule, coming and going like clockwork, bringing it’s aches and fever and chills with more vengeance each time.   After a couple rounds of this particular strike, we knew it wasn’t going to go away on it’s own. So we patiently waited for another flare to take him to the hospital to be treated.  If you get tested between fevers, then the tests come back negative and the doctors can’t do anything.  In fact the doctors may not even believe you when you tell them what you are certain you have and might just send you home rolling their eyes at the back of your head. You can imagine that American doctors have little experience with this tropical disease that is so common in much of the world. The U.S. isn’t so tropical, so you can hardly blame them, I suppose.

So around midnight one night, forty-eight hours past the previous flare, Mike got that awful look in his eyes again and he retreated to bed. He was wearing a  red hoodie pulled tightly around his face and was huddled under our faux-down Shabby Chic by Rachel Ashwell duvet in our bed. I remember it clearly. I also miss that gorgeous white and blue flowered duvet dearly, but that’s beside the point.  We waited for the symptoms to escalate and then we stumbled into the E.R. in the middle of the night.

After we passed the metal detectors and saw actual medical personnel, the nursing staff didn’t quite know what to do with us. It was a busy night at the hospital and Mike was placed on a bed in the hallway with nurses, doctors and patients passing by constantly.  The only place for me was perched on the edge of his narrow bed, wide-eyed and worried, until they realized hours later that I hadn’t even a proper place to sit and unfolded a chair to place at the end of the cot.  They drew some of his blood, inserted an IV, started a morphine drip for his pain (morphine?! If I hadn’t been freaking out inside yet, this certainly put me over the edge) and mostly we were ignored. We waited.

At one low point, he felt sick sick and after a quick glance around I realized that no one would be helping me.  I managed to get him out of bed and to the bathroom around the corner.  He was sick in the toilet and then literally collapsed in a heap on the floor, nearly unconscious.  I was terrified. Petrified. This disease had reduced my strong and healthy husband to a weak and helpless heap on the floor in the corner of the E.R. bathroom. I wasn’t strong enough to get him back to bed and there was no one around to help. I’m certain my tears began to fall at that point.

Eventually he was helped up and they moved us into a room, allowed me to climb into bed with him and agreed with our diagnosis.  He was given proper medication and we were sent home with a hefty bill. He recovered quickly and the sickness didn’t re-occur for a long time.

Since then, he’s had malaria a handful more times and I’ve had it once, disproving my theory that the mosquitos in our country don’t carry it.  I laid in bed for days and as pleasant as it was to spend all day in a bed on the balcony during the African winter watching the sun through the trees, listening to the guy downstairs play the guitar and loosing five pounds without even trying… I was amazed at how much the illness can make one wish they were just dead. It’s awful, but it’s true. Pure misery.

In recent history, June to be exact, Mike had another occurrence when we had just arrived in Colorado from Taiwan. The long distance traveling followed by a couple nights of dealing with the jet-lag of two wee ones wore his body down enough to let the sickness get a foothold.  This is how it happens with him, the body wears down and the illness takes the chance to rise back up. It’s ugly. But by that time, we had learned our lesson and had begun to carry the little packs of nine pills with us. This is the difference between spending two dollars to treat him (that’s what the pills cost over-the-counter in Africa) vs the THOUSANDS of dollars it would cost to get him treated in a U.S. hospital. So in June, after he spent one day groaning in bed, the hand-imported medicine had kicked in and he felt much better.

Aaanyway, this week, the awful bugger made another comeback. Only this time, there was a large percentage of India separating me from him and my boy, he was a guest in an Indian friend’s house and I didn’t send the pills with him, either. Wife FAIL.

I guess our red-eye flights one night followed by another long evening of traveling followed by a long day in a car was too much for his body and allowed just enough room for the illness to make it’s feverish comeback.  It was awful timing and awful in general for him to endure it being a guest in someone else’s house while also having to care for our son.  It’s bad enough in the comfort of your own home with your spouse to care for you. I can’t compare my experience to his, but I also felt awful talking with him on the phone and hearing in his voice how very very bad he was feeling yet not being able to do one darn thing to help besides sheepishly text him the name of the drug I should have sent with him in the first place.

God bless the gentleman who searched out the right medicine for my husband and fed my son copious amounts of cookies and chips and candy and ice cream in the mean-time.  Thank you, I think.

He’s doing much better now and this hasn’t put any halt on the man-adventure that my boy’s are in the middle of. Mike is able to recognize malaria in his system within the first couple hours at this point, so if he treats it quickly it doesn’t slow him down terribly. I sure do wish the buggers would just go away and never come back though; this reoccurrence is not a welcome one.

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