Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things We Have Learned From My (Linda’s) Malaria

1)      It is most definitely possible to get malaria while you are on prophylaxis. We already knew this, but we now have experiential knowledge. Prophylaxis is not the same thing as a vaccine, and unfortunately, there is no vaccine for malaria yet. What prophylaxis does is puts a small amount of treatment medicine into your body, so that if you are bitten by a mosquito which is carrying malaria, your body will be better able to fight it. Prophylaxis will also prevent you from getting cerebral malaria, which if untreated, can kill a person within an hour of his or her first symptoms. If your immune system is strong and it is one of the less severe forms of the parasite, the prophylaxis may keep you from having symptoms. However, it will not keep you from getting the malaria parasite.

We have been very conscientious about sleeping under a mosquito net and taking our prophylaxis, but we are now going to redouble our efforts to wear repellant every night, not just when we see mosquitoes about, and regularly spray our rooms. Even then, there are no guarantees, especially when traveling and staying in guest houses. For example, Eric is pretty sure a mosquito bit him a few weeks ago as he was getting out of the shower. That’s why it is also equally important to have access to treatment and to treat at the first sign of symptoms. Now that I know what malaria feels like in my body—each person is different—I will be better able to treat it at the first sign of malaria.

2)      The Tanzanians in our community genuinely care about us and will go out of their way to show it. As soon as Eric told Rev. Nzelu, his school’s principal, that I was sick, the Tanzanian community has truly supported us. Rev. Nzelu was out-of-town at the time, so he sent Gasper, the school’s driver, and Mr. Shango, the school’s accountant, to take us to Shinyanga for me to be tested for malaria. They spent their Sunday morning with us traveling around trying to find a clinic that was open, where I could be tested.

When I was diagnosed, the restaurant began packaging meals for Eric so that he could just pick them up and be with me. The daytime manager of the guest house also made sure we were able to change the sheets more regularly.

Philemon, one of Eric’s coworkers, has called or visited daily since learning of my sickness, and spent one evening helping Eric find juice and other vitamin rich foods for me. When I was admitted to the hospital, Philemon and Mr. Shango stayed and waited with Eric the entire morning and visited again in the afternoon.

Rev. Nzelu has been a vigilant watchman of my care. He has visited at least once a day and called many more times. We were invited to spend Christmas with him and his family, but since we couldn’t make it, he himself brought us two meals on Christmas day.

Several other members of the church and school board have also visited, including the bishop-elect for the Shinyanga Diocese, Rev. Makala. He came to the hospital with a “Get-Well Soon” card and prayed over me. He has studied in the U.S. before and knows what it is like to be away from family, so his prayer not only included prayers for bodily healing, but strength in times of homesickness.

If anything, this illness has rooted us more deeply into the community. We can truly say we have Tanzanian friends and look forward to being able to support them in similar ways.

3)      There are other Wazungu (white people) living in Mwadui. We always suspected we weren’t the only ex-patriots living here, but we hadn’t met any until the day before I fell ill. We just happened to run into Amanda and Andre at a store as we were shopping for supplies for Christmas cookies—which have not yet been made, for obvious reasons. Andre works as an accountant for the Williamson Diamond Mine, and he and his wife are both Afrikaans from South Africa. The Sunday I was diagnosed with malaria, they texted us to tell us that they were making a trip into Mwanza. They wanted to know if they could pick anything up for us. Eric told them about my malaria and asked them to pick up some chicken broth.

The next thing we knew, there was a knock on the door from another Afrikaans woman, named Tilla. Apparently Amanda had told her about our situation, and she was very concerned, because she had almost lost her husband to malaria once before. She and her husband have lived here in Mwadui for 7 years. With grandmotherly affection, she gifted me with soda, chicken soup, medicine to keep the fever down, and more bug repellant. She urged us to call her if things got worse, because she knows the doctor at the hospital, and she’s been through this before.

Amanda and Andre themselves visited Sunday evening, bringing with them many groceries for us. They returned again on Christmas with some festive foods, telling us to let them know if there was anything else they could do to help.

When it became apparent that I would need to spend some time in the hospital on IV antibiotics and fluids, Eric let Tilla know via text message. When we arrived at the hospital and discovered that it was divided into men’s and women’s wards, i.e. Eric was only allowed in the ward with me at certain times of the day, I could not hold back the tears. Thus, when two familiar female faces showed up in the ward-- Amanda and Tilla’s—I was incredibly grateful. It meant a lot to have someone holding my hand when the nurses had to stick me for the 5th time, trying to find a vein that was big enough for an IV. When I was released from the hospital, Tilla arranged for us to stay at the guest house on the mining compound for a few nights, so we would be close and she could look after us. It turns out that all of the South African wazungu live in a couple of mining compounds. In the past few days, we have seen another whole side of town.

We are now realizing that we are in a unique position in Mwadui, because we are working for and with the Tanzanian community, but now also have friends who work for the South African mining company itself. We are not yet sure how, but we are getting the sense that this may be part of God’s plan for strengthening partnerships between the company and the Tanzanians that live and work in Mwadui.

4)      I share my mother’s allergy to Codeine. This discovery came about completely by accident. When my fever was rising, Tilla offered us an anti-inflammatory that was a combination of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and codeine. Thankfully, I remembered my mother’s medical history, so when my face started to feel numb and swollen and I broke out in hives, we quickly recognized that I must have the same allergy. With haste and prayer, we made our way back to the hospital. After a shot and an oral antihistamine, I was back to normal. Overall, we are very thankful that we found this out through a small dose of codeine. Now I can add this to my medical charts, and be careful to avoid drugs with codeine for the rest of my life.

5)      We are supported by a loving, praying community world-wide. During difficult times like this last week, we especially value the support of our international community, our “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). During my lowest point—when I thought I had been improving on Christmas Day only to discover it was a cruel malaria trick, when I had gotten only one hour of sleep the whole night, when I could not physically drink enough to replace what I was losing, when I was waiting to hear back about whether the doctor was at the hospital yet—in that moment, Eric read aloud the comments posted on Facebook and names of people we knew were praying. I think we have prayed more this Christmas than any previous Christmas, and knowing that our prayers were joined by people all over the world—the very thought of it still brings me to tears. All we can say is “Thank you.”

6)      God can bring good out of evil. In some sense, malaria robbed us of our first Christmas in Tanzania. We will have to wait another whole year to experience how Tanzanians celebrate the birth of our Savior. And yet, this list is evidence of the fact that God can and does bring good out of evil. We will never say that we are glad I got malaria, because we wouldn’t wish this on our worst enemy, but we can now look back and see how God has carried us through this time and enriched our lives through it. Bwana Yesu asifiwe (The Lord Jesus be praised).