The flies are out. Time to wake up. Head is hurting again, guess I won’t go running today… Again. It’s been almost a month since I’ve run, which is not normal for me. Never have I taken this much time off exercising in some form or another. Something is wrong. This ‘bug’, or whatever sickness this is needs to stop.
“Coumba, ya leloii inder,” Coumba, go lay down inside, my mother says. This is the time of flies where everyone moves their beds inside to get a few more winks before the heat arrives. I gather my mat, sheet, and pillow and begin walking to my room across the compound. Then I realize, my vision is fuzzy… really blurry. Then, as I walk, avoiding the water pots in the middle of the compound, I begin careening towards the neighbor’s house uncontrollably. I compose myself and aim towards my room, stopping just before to lean on the pillar outside, looking around to see if anyone noticed my ataxic journey from bed to bedroom, but my vision is too blurred to see anything clearly in the entire compound. I realize how dizzy I am and I lay down in my room. Everything spins. I want to throw up. I sit up. What is going on? Obviously unable to go back to sleep, I get up with the resolve to go outside and have my breakfast. Acting normal will make everything normal, right? I grab my May issue Time magazine and sit outside on the dankey, or bamboo bed. My bread and coffee is brought to be by Gogol (aunt or co-mother) Jeynaba today. I eat slowly, sipping my coffee and attempting to read the Time magazine but my eyes are unable to focus, reading is impossible. I give up, but continue to stare at the pages pretending to read so I don’t have to look up, dizziness washing over me if I do.
I go on with my day, but throughout the day I notice that speaking is becoming more difficult. This is usually just a sign of fatigue, speaking another language takes more concentration than English, but when I talk on the phone and realize that my English is also slow and slightly slurred, I panic. Finally convinced to call the Peace Corps Medical Team, they ask if I can get myself to Dakar. “Um…I don’t really know about that,” I answer, knowing that this will take me 2 days, now being 4pm. “Ok, well, if you can’t, let us know and then we will send a car for you,” they reply. I scoff, knowing this would extend the trip to 3 or 4 days. I will get myself to Dakar, I think; determined.
I pack my things for a few days in Dakar. I have been there for Med before, a month ago, when they thought I had meningitis. I was only there for a few days because I recovered immediately upon arrival. Expecting the same I packed lightly and headed to the road to hail a car to Ourossogui where we have a transit apartment. The next day got me to Dakar at the painful expense of 17 hours in a terribly uncomfortable auto and an empty Advil/Tylenol stash. The man next to me wanted to flirt and discuss the differences between Cincinnati and New York, having just gotten back from the US, while the man behind me was my joking cousin (last name-wise, insults are encouraged) and all I wanted was to sleep. Worst car ride of my life.
In Dakar, Dr. Pamela who works for Peace Corps assisted me. The diagnosis was: meningitis. Was it caused by a virus or bacteria? All Peace Corps volunteers having been immunized against bacterial (the more deadly) meningitis, it was much more probably caused by a virus. My voice had gotten worse; I struggled to speak through my mouth, which refused to cooperate. Dr. Pamela is from Togo and speaks French first, her English heavily accented. My slurred, struggling speech was lost in translation, creating misunderstandings and extreme frustration (on my part). I was shuttled from Neurologist to MRI appointment to blood drawings, everyone around me speaking about me in French. Unable to concentrate enough, I ignored everything, only able to focus on the pain in my head that had increased significantly since I had been there.
Finally, not improving, they admitted me into the hospital. Dr. Pamela spent most of her time with me there, even though I spent most of my time sleeping. She stayed with me late into the evenings, going home only when she had organized paperwork or scheduled more tests for me the next day. I felt so guilty keeping her from her few-months-old baby until 11pm every night. When a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, was ordered, she stood in front of me, soothing me and urged, “hold me, hold me now,” when the imminent pain and discomfort began. She helped me clean my face after throwing up in the airport and stayed with me until the minute I boarded the plane. (Throwing up, fever, headaches… a combination not permitted on commercial aircraft but somehow the Med Team got me on that flight at 2am) I flew with the Peace Corps doctor/surgeon Dr. Ouissam who was currently on vacation at his home in Morocco, but didn’t hesitate to catch the next available flight to be there for me, not even fazed that he would be missing his brother’s wedding and taken away from his family vacation.
With spinal fluid leaking internally from the now two spinal tap sites, unable to sit up from the pain, I reclined fully in the wonderful South African Airlines business class seats and slept the entire way to America. Once there, my parents greeted me in the airport! What a blessing. I proceeded to throw up again. Within minutes we were on our way to the Georgetown University ER. Next thing I know, I’m in some form of isolation where everyone in the room, including me, is required to wear face masks and all entering doctors and nurses are clad in paper gowns and special gloves.
Once determined that it wasn’t tuberculosis that caused the meningitis, or Ebola for that matter, the masks and nervousness decreased around me. No doubt there was talk of Ebola throughout the ER during that episode.
Having my parents with me in the hospital was unbelievably helpful. The hospital care was actually really great and the young doctors, nurses, and techs were so eager and enthusiastic about getting to the bottom of my sickness. Georgetown being a teaching hospital, I had numerous people (doctors, nurses, even teachers) conferring about my case. After a week of IV antibiotics, lots of pain meds, and deliveries of cupcakes every night by my parents, I was improving enough to be released. I didn’t go far though. We stayed at the hotel across the street and I continued IV antibiotics into a semi-permanent tube in my arm into my vena cava (almost my heart).
Feeling good enough to tour the National Mall on foot and to go on morning runs around Georgetown, the doctors cleared me to discontinue IV therapy and go back to California for a few weeks of recuperation in my own home. Still no idea what exactly it was that caused the meningitis, the fact that I had healed and improved so much made it possible for them to allow me to go home. Once home, I didn’t hesitate to get back into my workout schedule and even included a hiking trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
I can’t thank enough all the people that sent their love and prayers! They did a world of good! My mom’s friends and kept tabs on me through her and innumerable people sent their regards. Not having a US cell phone, I got calls from family through mom and dad’s cells. I was able to talk to so many family members who I haven’t seen in over a year. It meant so much to me that so many people were concerned about me, I had no idea that so many people cared. Even since being back in Red Bluff, California, people have greeted me and asked first off, “are you better?” I had no idea so many people paid attention to me or to my Facebook posts. It warms my heart to know so many people care. I can never feel alone with the community, friends and family around me. I thank you all so much for your prayers, concern, flowers, etc! I am the luckiest girl in the world.