Friday, May 22, 2009

Jungle Fever

One morning, a few months into our stay on Luaniua, I woke up with a severe headache. The ache wasn't just in my head, come to think of it, but all over my body. I rolled over on my pallet and curled my knees to my stomach, willing it to stop hurting, as well.

My sister and brothers began stirring with the rest of the village outside. I could hear their feet crunch-crunching on the coral stones that covered our floor, and my mom digging for the right pot for the morning's breakfast. I heard the clicking sound as she pumped the little Bunsen burner, the cadence increasing in speed until there was a little pop as the released gas was ignited by a match. On the other side of the mat wall, I could hear chickens scratching fretfully for their breakfast, as well. Underneath it all was the constant, low, rolling thunder, felt as much as heard, as the ocean continued its quest to re-claim this little atoll unto itself.

My mom came in some time later, to see why I wasn't joining the rest of the family as they ravenously devoured the breakfast she had made them.

"I don't feel good, Mom," I said. She made the low, comforting murmur that comes inherent to all mothers worldwide, and returned to me a few minutes later with a thermometer. It felt cool and alien, poking against the tender flesh underneath my hot tongue. When it was time, she pulled it out, held it up to see against the light, and frowned.

"Here, honey, take some medicine for your fever," she said, and left me to rest. The day grew hot and sticky, and my achy body found no rest on the thin mat. Every way I turned, I could feel the coral sticking up at me, hard little nubs in my back, or my legs, or my arms, or my stomach. My stomach. Suddenly I sat bolt upright, lifted the mosquito net and vomited into the bowl my mom had set there for me. After that, I felt much better, and settled down into sleep.

By the time the sun had crossed the highest point, and begun to make the shadows long again in its descent into the sea, I was feeling much better. I even got up and ate dinner with my family (canned tuna on rice), and took a trip to the women's beach to relieve myself. I lay down to sleep that night hopeful for a full recovery tomorrow.

But the next day, I felt even worse than I had the previous morning. Now I had chills, and shook uncontrollably sometimes. I would get icy cold, and my nose ran and ran. I blew it on a lava-lava kept by the side of my bed so many times that the cloth soon became crusty and stiff, but I had no other choice but to continue blowing as my sinuses continued to fill up. My bed, encased in the mosquito net, felt like a cage. The thin, green mesh hung on strings from the ceiling, pressing down over and around me, closing me in, cutting off my air. The back room of our hut in which my bed lay was close and dark, filled with dusty shadows. The ambient air steadily warmed as the sun pushed relentlessly on the leaf roof above. There was no cross breeze to relieve the stuffiness, and even if a stray puff found its way in, it was blocked by the net around me.

My mom gave me more medicine for my fever and I finally fell asleep. This time my sleep was full of strange things. A boy with an animal's face would point at me and laugh and laugh. Fish jumped in and out of the ocean at enormous heights, making barely a ripple on the smooth water. Someone held a burning branch to my forehead, and it turned into a gecko which burrowed into my skull and reproduced there.

I awoke from my nap several hours later exhausted, but feeling better. My fever was gone. My body was sore all over, but my stomach was relatively quiet. I was not too cold or too hot, just very weak. Mom fed me some soup from a can when I came from my bed and sat draped against the wall in the common room of our hut. Maybe it was a forty-eight hour sickness, and I would feel better tomorrow once I had regained my strength.

Only I didn't. When the sun rose on the third day, I felt even worse, if possible, than the two mornings prior. When it came time for our daily radio sched, Dad sent out a help cry, talking to other, more experienced missionaries in our group who were scattered throughout the provinces of the Solomon Islands. Their response was immediate; I had malaria, caught from innocent mosquitoes that carried the bug among the islands. It is a cyclical illness that shows flu-like symptoms half the day, then regresses the other half, and gains strength as time goes on. My parents had the anti-malarial medicine, Chloroquine, in their medical supplies kit, and gave me a dose immediately.

I gagged on the bitter pill, which was chalky and stuck to the back of my throat stubbornly. It tasted as if it was coated in acidic vomit which had been dried and ground into a powder. I almost threw it up. My parents urged me to gulp water, which I did, and under extreme power of will managed not to hurl it, along with the rest of the contents of my stomach, all over the graveled floor.

I recovered quickly after that, but to this day have great difficulty swallowing any type of pill. My mouth still remembers the bitterness of that Chloroquine tablet. And anyone who had taken it will know what I mean.


  1. [I know this post is quite old, but I just found your blog thanks to your Open Letter to Parents of MKs, and decided to start at the beginning. :-) ]
    You're so right about the Chloroquine! I was four when we first went over to PNG and, since the preventative dose is given by body weight, I had to take a half a pill. Which means the powder from the cut side got all in my mouth in the process of taking it. It took me nearly twenty years to be okay with taking pills! I was so happy when I got big enough to take a whole Chloroquine tablet, though. :-)

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