Postcards from Ghana

The Office and a malarial turn. 12/09/97

Monday mornings with a different flavour.

The other week I entered my office to find it covered with rat droppings and rat pee. The first instinct is to assume a four legged friend has made its home in the vicinity, so I look. I scour the walls. I look around the four walls for a hole where the culprit may have made its home. I find none. No holes. This isn't Tom and Jerry. No convenient archways in the skirting for rodents to make home. There doesn't need to be an internal pied a terre for our four legged friend. So I look around a bit further. A-ha! It came in through the window. Damn. I'd left the window open.

And by the amount of droppings it wasn't a sole rodent explorer checking out my office. It must have been a whole posse. A party. It must have been quite a rat-fest over the weekend. Entrance by the window. All welcome.

Which left me the problem of getting the room cleaned up.

Find the cleaning lady.

She doesn't come in on Mondays I'm told. Ho hum.

Not wanting to spend a day in an office full of more crap than usual I decided to work from home. Leaving instructions with the office secretary that if the cleaning lady was seen she should disinfect the room.

Of course the next day the droppings were still there, the dozy secretary had forgotten to tell the cleaning lady about my room. I eventually found the cleaning lady, who could do no more than sweep away the droppings.

How about disinfectant?

You want disinfectant, you pay for it. So it was Wednesday before my room was inhabitable.

But it is a familiar story throughout the university. You want something done, do it yourself.

You want toilet paper? Bring it your own.

Toner cartridge for the printer? Buy your own.

Thus all the lecturers in the department have their own bits and pieces, no sharing, no sense of community. I can't say there's any social life in the department I'm working in, but then what do you expect from engineers??!?

But back to Monday mornings.

Well this Monday morning I bounced into my office nice and early, and started working. Busy week this week, preparing for a pilot ergonomics evaluation of a langa langa (a metre long straight, flexible tool for slashing) compared with a cutlass (or machete, depending upon your view point)- for cutting grass. No lawn mower (not after it broke down), in our residence we use hand tools for keeping the garden well trimmed (I wasn't about to introduce scissors into the evaluation as I'd seen a gardener in India using for keeping a lawn in shape)…

Anyway, 10am and a headache develops. Half an hour later and I'm feeling distinctly
unwell. 11 o-clock and I can stand no more, I decide to go home and get some Ibuprofen down my gullet to clear the head. I take a taxi into town where I plan to get another that will go near my house.

Taxis here are like busses, they ply routes. Flag one down and jump in. Considerably cheaper than chartering a taxi. Anyway, I get into town and am feeling increasingly weak. Sick. Groggy. I don't feel well. Passing a clinic I decide to pop in for a blood test.

Pin prick in the thumb, the red stuff smeared on a slide and I wait. A long wait. And my condition worsens. The results come back, the test is negative Nothing wrong with your claret I'm told. But I'm not so sure.

I manage to get back home and collapse into bed. I take my temperature, 39.1. That's hot. My head is pounding. The blood test can't have picked it up, it can only be one thing.


So I guzzle four Chloroquine as my Travellers Health Guide Book recommends and I sweat it out. And sweat I do. Moisture pouring out of me. I crank up the air conditioning but to no avail. Still hot. Never been as hot as this. I rip my clothes off. Naked. Sweating. This is a fever at it's worst. My head and body are melting, dripping in pain and perspiration. My pulse is racing, I feel like shit. I toss and turn. Why can I not get cool. Why do I feel Like this. This. What is this? This is it! I am dying. In a damp pool. In a couple of hours my bed is absolutely sodden. Horrible.

The fever subsides and sleep overcomes me. I remain in bed for the rest of the day. And then the evening comes and with it a chill. No, worse than a chill. Freezing, I've never been so cold. I huddle under the bed clothes but the sheet and mattress on the bed are not enough. I've got to get dressed. My heads is throbbing, the pain is overwhelming, but the cold is worse. I stumble out of bed and drag myself to the wardrobe. In sub-Saharan Africa you don't find many warm clothes, so I pile on the layers. T-shirt, shirt, jumper. That's better. For a while. And then back to the wardrobe, fighting the pain, hugging myself to keep warm. A fleece over the jumper. And the rain coat, the final level of insulation for the great outdoors. Delirious I stumble to the chest of drawers and rip out the bedding. Shit! All I can find is a solitary blanket. Only two fucking blankets? But why should there be more. It doesn't usually get cold down in these parts. Hell! I grab the blanket and all the remaining sheets in the drawer. I weakly throw all the bedding on the bed And I crawl under it, wrapping myself in sheets and blankets and clothing. But I'm still cold. I'm shivering like never before and my body is shaking. And I'm cold and I'm cold and my teeth are chattering and I'm convulsing and THIS IS HELL. This is horrible. I' freezing. God, I'm dying.

Then after an hour or so of the cold I slowly warm up. Getting hot. The blankets gets turfed aside followed by the sheets and all the layers I'm wearing. And then I'm really hot and once again my temperature is up to 39 and I'm sweating and the bed once again drenched and this is most certainly malaria. And on it goes. Hot and cold and hot and cold and why wasn't I religious with the taking of my malaria tablets?

Well it continued for a few days. On Wednesday I went to the hospital and had another blood test which confirmed malaria parasites were present. The quack decided that more Choriquine was needed. This time via a large needle being stuck into my backside.


And now it seems to have cleared, but by all accounts malaria can come back at any time so maybe my cards are marked. But they did once call this place "white-mans grave" and you can't really have an authentic African experience until you've had an authentic African disease. Hell it may be. And so my Monday mornings come and go...