Face to face with malaria

The first signal of my imminent malaria attack came by way of a feeling of anxiety, which took me unawares and for no clear reason.
 Moses Opobo
Moses Opobo

The first signal of my imminent malaria attack came by way of a feeling of anxiety, which took me unawares and for no clear reason. Something was happening to me. Something bad. If I were into the evil spirits stuff, I would have known what it was: some one had pronounced a curse, and an evil spirit had entered me, disabling me and rooting me to the ground.

Hence the dullness, the weakness, the heaviness that came over me. Suddenly, everything was irritating. First and foremost, the light; I hated the light, any light. Light had simply become too intrusive with the onset of my malaria attack.

Other people were irritating as well – their loud voices, their revolting smell, their rough touch.

Funny thing is, I didn’t actually have sufficient time for these loathings, for the attack arrived quickly, with little preamble.  It was a sudden, violent onset of cold that immediately set me wondering what life in the arctic regions must be like.

It was as if someone had taken me naked, and toasted me in the ungodly heat of the Sahara and Kalahari deserts combined, then thrown me straight into the icy highlands of Greenland, with their snow and blizzards. What a shocking vibe!

I felt the cold in a split second; a terrifying, piercing, ghastly cold. I began to tremble, to quake, and to thrash about like a bored little monkey. I immediately recognised, however, that this was not a trembling I was familiar with from earlier experience. The tremors and convulsions tossing me around were of a kind that, any moment from their onset would have torn me to shreds. Trying to save myself, I began to scour around for help.

What can bring relief? The only thing that really helps is if someone covers you. But not simply throws a blanket or duvet over you. This thing you are being covered with must crush you with its weight, squeeze you, flatten you.

I dreamt of a blanket that could literally pulverize me. I desperately longed for a steam roller to pass over my wretched body.  

And, nothing is more wretched than a person who has a malaria attack and there is nothing to wrap them in. You have seen some of them, lying helpless by the roadside or under the sun, having lost balance; they are drenched in sweat, they are confused, their bodies viciously subjugated by rhythmic waves of malarial convulsions.

But even buried under a dozen duvets, jackets and coats, my teeth still chattered, and I moaned with pain. By this time I’d sensed that the cold was not coming from outside, (it was about forty degrees outside!). Rather, the cold waves accrued from within my own body. All those mountains of ice were now running through my veins, muscles and bones. Perhaps this thought would have filled me with fear – only I wasn’t able to summon the strength to feel anything at all.

After about four hours, the attack started to gradually subside, and I started a helpless descent into a state of extreme exhaustion and weakness.

The malaria attack is not merely painful, but like every pain also a mystical experience. We enter a psychological sphere about which only a moment ago we knew nothing. A person recovering from an attack of malaria is basically a human rag. You live in a puddle of sweat, you are feverish, and can move neither hand nor foot. Everything hurts, right to the strands of hair on your head. You are dizzy and nauseous. You are exhausted and weak.

Several days after the attack, I was still barely able to read, with the print blurring, the letters swimming about, as if rocking on some kind of invisible waves.


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