This is a continuation of the story from yesterday. Read this article first…
Pastel blue walls surround me as does a combined congregation of people in white shirts, random children and an authority figure of some sort. My arm is taped to a t-shirt and the bed. I look at my hand and it has an IV stuck into it, a yellow liquid dripping into my veins.
“What’s going on?” I say to anyone who will listen.
“Monsieur,” the authority figure, who I can now tell is a doctor, says with a strong voice. “You’re in Lukala, at the hospital. You’ve had a rough day.
I twist my back which is in incredible pain and ask the doctor if we can talk in private. He says one word and the choir-like crowd flees the room. He closes the door behind them.
I don’t remember anything from the day. I remember being at the steps of a pharmacy and it ends there. I remember having hallucinations of people trying to travel to Malaysia. I had dreams about my late grandfather. I had a dream about a girl from back home. My thoughts were so twisted they seemed to meld my whole life together all at once.
“A Red Cross truck picked you up,” the doctor says once the room is cleared aside from one lady seated in the corner. “Mama Bridgette here saw you passed out on the side of the road and flagged them down to bring you here. She hasn’t left your side since you got here.”
I smile at the lady wearing a purple traditional dress and a light head scarf.
“What’s in the IV doc?”
“Energy,” he says with a bit of a laugh. “You needed lots of it.”
“Red Bull,” I say with a smirk. “I love Red Bull, but you could just bring me a can of it, please.”
“I’m glad you’ve got a sense of humour, it makes it easier,” he laughs before continuing more seriously. “You got lucky. You got a bad hit of malaria and judging by the state you were in when you got here, you only had about an hour or two left of life in you before it killed you. How long had you been feeling symptoms?”
Malaria? Damn my stubbornness. I could have stopped this all days ago, I had the malaria treatment with me the whole time. Everything about this felt like malaria save for the fact that I hadn’t had fevers. I had the back pain. I had the sore joints. I had the nausea and lack of energy. I had the best malaria medication in the world in my backpack. But each day, Dr. Brendan decided it couldn’t be malaria because I hadn’t had a serious fever. Dr. Brendan, untrained and all-knowing, nearly killed me.
“About three days,” I say finally. “I started getting really sick about three days ago.”
“You know,” the doctor continues. “Usually malaria kills you in three days. Why didn’t you get checked?”
“I didn’t have fevers. It didn’t seem like it could be malaria.”
“Yeah,” the doctor nods in agreement. “That actually confused us a bit too. You had no signs of fever when you came in, but blood checks are standard at this hospital. The minute we started giving you malaria treatment you responded. You also started having massive fevers, as if they had been blocked up by something.”
I thank the doctor and he tells me they want to keep me the night to monitor me. I agree, I don’t think I have the strength to go anywhere anyways. When you get malaria, you not only have to deal with the symptoms, but for about 72 hours after being treated, it’s nearly just as bad.
Mama Bridgette, the woman who saved me, brings me a bottle of water and tells me to drink. A little later she comes back with some rice and fish and tells me I have to eat. I don’t really have the heart to tell her that I don’t have an appetite, so I stuff a couple spoons worth into my mouth before saying I can’t eat much.
There is nothing more uncomfortable than a hospital room with malaria. Your skin wants to crawl from your body, your insides twist as if they’re looking for a new home, and your mind wants nothing but rest and peace.
I lay in my room wanting nothing more than to be alone, but there is a constant turnstile of concerned nurses, worried attendants, and curious villagers. Some peek their heads through the door, others just invite themselves in. Some visitors stick camera phones in my face to take pictures. I don’t stop them; god knows how many times I’ve photographed people in less than ideal physical condition.
When the sun rises the next day I want nothing more but to leave the hospital, to get to a hotel room and some peace. I check myself out of the hospital and back into the hotel where Anne Murray is still parked in the lobby. But even the hotel doesn’t give me peace. Mama Bridgette is there every 30 minutes to check on me, to bring me food I have no appetite to eat, and to tell me constantly that I need to be drinking water. I appreciate the kindness, but truthfully I feel smothered and just need to be alone.
I stop fighting the motherly nature of Mama Bridgette and instead head to her house and restaurant where I sprawl out on the couch. There is so much love in her family, and she has so much respect in the village. Everyone knows Mama Bridgette, and they constantly come by to greet her. Her children come home from school and immediately get to work cooking and cleaning. I’m treated as more than just a guest, but a member of the family.
But still, I need to be alone. In a region of the world where I’ve struggled with loneliness, today I just need to be by myself. I need to find electricity and internet so I can let my family know I’m OK, and what I’ve been through. I need to just lay in a bed watching movies that make me laugh. I need to get my energy back.
As soon as dawn breaks after another night in the village, I jump on Anne Murray, almost too weak to steer. I stop at Mama Bridgette’s and take down her address down and slip her a little bit of money to cover the water and food she bought me along the way. She has tears in her eyes as I leave. I’m blown away by her care, hospitality and by the love she’s offered a stranger. She saved my life, cared for me, and she’s asked for nothing in return.
I drive 30 km down the road to the nearest town of size: Mbanza-Ngungu. I find a beautiful guest house for $40 a night. There is electricity, hot water, and a bed as comfortable as home. For two days, I hardly leave bed. By the time I’m ready to leave some positivity has crept back into my system. My body feels strong and my energy levels are back, and little do I know it now, but in Kinshasa I’m going to need every bit of that energy and more.