So the BBC reporter keeps asking me questions as I wander through the rice fields in who knows where rural Cambodia.
It is awhile ago (like 1992) but I remember it like it was yesterday. He is going on and on and I am feeling drowsier and drowsier. I blame my lack of response on his accent ( I just don’t get it however… I really don’t understand anything at this moment) as I seem to fade away more and more.
Finally he shuts up and I get back to our boat and return to our home on stilts along the Mekong River in Prek Presap. I am working with the UN as we set up our district for an “almost free and fair” election.
That night I wake up freezing and then I am dying of heat and so it goes all night back and forth. I finally wake up my Swedish partner and he calls for a medivac. Well, a medivac in our district means a zodiac boat and this is not the easiest forms of transportation when one most likely has malaria. Trying to hold onto that fast boat as we power up the Mekong was all I could barely do. Normally it would have been a blast but under the circumstances, not so much.
Then I am back in the provincial capital (loosely used term for capital) and the “maybe we have been drinking Russian crew” powers up the helicopter to fly me back to Phnom Penh in those oh so old helicopters.
When I arrive to Phnom Penh I head to the “hospital” that has been taken over by the UN. I am really lucky because the Germans are the doctors for this hospital and they have so so so much knowledge of malaria, Germany being so malaria infested and all. Needless to say, this begins a malaria event that ends up involving the Australians, the Canadians and the Thais… and of course, we can’t forget the Germans. The Germans diagnose me with malaria falciparum (a not so nice one but at least it doesn’t come back once it is killed) and begin to attack it (or me) with a LOT of meds. As I receive those meds, I also get the lovely side effects of them which doesn’t really make one want to eat. But try telling that to them when I refuse multiple steaks each and every day. Who eats steak when they have malaria?
In the meantime, I don’t seem to be getting better (because in actuality the meds are making me quite sick and I am maybe receiving a few extras that I don’t need) so the Australians literally sneak in as they don’t trust the Germans’ diagnosis of me and instead, they proclaim I have dengue fever. Well whatever I have, it is completely understood that mosquitoes love me!
So now the Canadian embassy gets involved (I am wearing out my welcome at the hospital so they are beginning to wonder what is going on) and they announce to my family that maybe someone should come over and help me out. My dad volunteers my mom who has never been to Asia before. In a matter of days, she is on a plane and spending a nite at the Bangkok airport on the way. She has always been a real trooper!
When she gets there, I’m finally released from the hospital but told that I need drugs from the black market to get better.
So mom and I get on our motos and begin to search Phnom Penh for the drugs, the elixir that will finally heal me. We spent hours weaving in and around the PP traffic; going from hospital to pharmacy to street corners looking for these drugs. We would get a lead and then it would fall short.
As a result, the next plan was to head to Bangkok to try out the medical system there. I smuggled my blood slides from the hospital (the Aussies told me too) to Thailand where I was informed that my malaria had been officially killed – probably many days before. My wonderful Thai hospital resembled a hotel and I actually got to wear a Thai sarong as a hospital gown. I even had my own deck and personal yard attached to my room.
Oh those were the hospital days!!!
Upon a clean bill of health, I hopped on a plane to return so I could actually begin my job. I think I was one of the first of all of the UN to get malaria that year.
I returned to my district, tired and weak but oh so happy to be there. Even though all my hair fell out that year and I had to chop it all off and start over again, having malaria gave my mom and I a chance to bond over some very strange moments. We also got to sneak in a trip to Angkor Wat where we were the ONLY tourists there. I remember one little girl who was selling touristy items at the entrance and that was it… a far cry from how Angkor Wat is described today. However, that won’t stop me from returning to it someday in the near future… this time with a full set of hair and a bit more spring in my step.
Oh yes, the BBC apparently published the story about my partner and I, and thank goodness, the reporter discovered that I had had malaria so he at least knew that I was NOT just a complete idiot who didn’t know what was going on.