Faith Versus the Schistosomes: An Epic Battle with Tropical Parasites

Sunday: That night I notice a strange and persistent headache, but shrug it off as I fall asleep.

Monday: At work I snap at someone for alerting me of a meeting only 10 minutes before it’s supposed to start. I’m surprised by my reaction since this is the normal time people alert me about meetings and realize that I am particularly irritable due to the lingering headache. That night I am exhausted and decide that I should go into work late the next day. I assume that my body must be fighting another sinus infection.

Tuesday: The headache gets worse. I work from home, falling in and out of sleep on the couch as I try to edit reports. Around lunchtime I come to my senses and realize this is definitely not an ordinary headache nor my body fighting an infection. I start to tick through all of the tropical diseases that might be plaguing me and quickly land on Schistosomiasis or Bilharzia a waterborne parasitic worm contracted through swimming in freshwater lakes in Africa. (For a particularly gory scene, just do an image search on google of that one.)

David and I do some mental math and realize that it has been almost exactly 6 weeks since we last swam in Lake Victoria – the period when the schistosomes mature and medication is advised. At this point David admits that he has also been having a slight headache on one side of his head. We’re pretty proud of our medical investigative work, and I pull out some old Praziquantel tablets, the medicine that kills schisto. I can’t exactly remember how many pills we’re each supposed to take, so since I only have five, and they look huge, David and I decide to each take 2.5 pills and see what happens. We down the pills and wait for all of the horrible effects that we read about on the internet, but nothing really happens.

Wednesday: David and I wake up feeling tired and out of sorts, but my headache has faded. I spend the day happily resting, certain that I have conquered the parasites, but that night everything changes. I get an even worse headache and my entire body starts to ache. My back feels like I have just finished a broomball match where someone shoved me onto the ice. I turn into a bit of a hypochondriac wondering if I actually have malaria, which would be technically impossible since I don’t have a fever, but I am now very uncomfortable and worried about everything.

Thursday: I wake up still feeling pretty awful, and David and I walk the mile to the doctor’s office. I see a very businesslike Italian doctor who starts peppering me with questions. She stops short and can’t hide her smile when I tell her that I self-medicated with 2.5 tablets.

“You were supposed to take one tablet for every 10 kilos of your body weight,” she tells me. “How many kilos are you?”

I tell her that I only know my weight in pounds since I’m an American to which she responds, “This is a former British colony, so you’ll need to learn about kilos.”

I want to tell her that the United States is also a former British colony which is probably the exact reason we don’t use kilos, but I’m short on energy at the moment. Instead I relent to the colonialists and find out that I was actually supposed to take 5.5 horse pills.

That afternoon I take 3 of the pills. At first I just feel exhausted, but by dinner time when I’m supposed to take the other 2.5 pills I feel incredibly nauseous. David tells me that my eyes have gotten very big, and I clutch the table tightly since I feel like the room is moving in waves around me. With all of the self-determination I can muster, I force myself to eat and take the other 2.5 pills. Losing my lunch is not even an option since that would mean going through the whole process again. David has to help me get in bed since every movement brings on more nausea, but thankfully I quickly fall into a deep sleep.

Friday: After sleeping for almost 11 hours I wake up feeling like my epic internal battle just might be over. I feel tired and slightly achy, but so much better than the night before. I regain a voracious appetite, eating piles of David’s delicious food, and things start to feel normal again.  By the end of the day, I am certain that I have finally truly vanquished the parasites from my body.

Thank you Africa, for yet another adventure.

Not as innocent as it looks...

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