A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about health and medicine

Hamish...

Going through some old photos a few days ago just for the heck of it, I stumbled across this:

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I had completely forgotten that I had taken it, and don't know why i did. But it turns out that the world in its constantly mysterious ways might have known what was coming and convinced me to do so. For this picture was taken at Kuomboka whilst I was chasing the Lozi king through the flood water around his Limulunga palace as he headed for his boat. And whilst in itself that may not be of any relevance, I am 98% certain that it was on this day and probably during this very chase that i managed to pick up the damned parasite which has since ruled my life.

And I just thought i would share it with you.

Posted by Gelli 06:21 Archived in Zambia Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

The trouble with dreams*

I probably dream about all sorts of exciting and exotic things and am periodically a superhero. Actually, scrub that. I probably dream of sheep, London bus routes and comparisons between the drying abilities of glossy and matt paint. But either way, I just don't know. I have often marveled at how people can remember often bizarre dreams in great detail, and then regale them to friends or colleagues hours or even days later. I can't do that, so as far as I know, everybody else could be making all the bunkum about their dreams up. For myself, I can generally tell you within about 10seconds of waking vaguely what i was dreaming about, and within 30seconds if I had been dreaming or not. Within 90seconds of waking, it is extremely unusual that i can even remember if i had been dreaming, let alone what it may have been about if I was. The only dream in my entire life i can remember is the toilet dream (which is vaguely similar to a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip where Calvin dreams he has got out of bed and got to school, or, alternatively, Groundhog Day). Details are unimportant, except to say that it is an occasional recurring dream which gets longer each time i have it, and has potential to end very, very badly if I really don't wake up.

I have never been a consistent sleeper. As a young child i have a vague idea that I used to fall asleep quickly, sleep deeply and for long periods, though how much of that was actual sleep and how much was just me really not wanting to get up for school is now lost to time. Since then I have regularly struggled. I have had a couple of periods of really bad insomnia (at one point, I slept about an hour a week, which was drug induced), and even now can easily go periods of a couple of days or more without sleep if i need to. The last few months have generally seen me awaken between about 3.15 and 3.35am, for no obvious reason.

I am also generally an extremely light sleeper. I have such an inbuilt paranoia complex that anything moving in the room/area where I am sleeping will pretty much wake me, even if it is something insignificant like a s0dding mosquito. The average person, apparently takes 8minutes to fall asleep. Some – like Hanna, her of the Namibian adventures – are pretty much out from the second they hit the bed, whereas I am at the other extreme: Anything under an hour or so is good for me, and it is not unknown for me to still be sleepless 2 or 3 hours later.

And unless I am traveling (on a bus, train, boat or occasionally as a car passenger), I find it pretty much impossible to take a daytime nap, regardless of how tired i feel or how much i yawn. Even the act of lying down on my bed during the day can wake me up. It is very odd, and also kind of frustrating. And even when I am traveling, I tend to sleep much less than other passengers: I sometimes find it spooky to look around and see everybody else on my bus or train carriage asleep, and occasionally wonder if I have some inbuilt immunity to this drugged air that they must have pumped in for nefarious reasons in order to send all the passengers asleep.

But the worse for me is when I know I have to be up early for a specific reason. Take today, for example**. I had to be leaving early, and so had arranged a taxi for 5:45am and set the alarm for 5:25. The previous night, i had started to feel tired around 21:30 but for reasons unknown had ignored it and not gone to bed until after midnight. I was awake by 4am. So last night, I was determined to try and get some sleep and not make the same mistake. Thus I was in bed by 22:15 and even fell asleep quite quickly. And so it was that I woke up several hours later, happily refreshed and ready for the day, and a few minutes before my alarm was due to go off so as not to wake the others in the dorm. Perfect, I thought.

Until i looked at the time. 00:11, it said.

  • I have shamelessly stolen the title from The Eels, and in fact got the idea for this utterly irrelevant post after re-hearing the song. So blame them. But not too badly. I love that song (and can even envisage where it should go in a film soundtrack: In fact I have long had pretty much an entire film soundtrack in my head, where i can see what should be playing at certain scenes. All I need to do now is write a damned film script that draws them altogether – which will be tricky as they are diverse – and i'm pretty much onto a winner).
  • * Yes, I know that by the time I actually get around to posting this thing, it won't be today, or probably even this week. But, honestly, who cares.

Posted by Gelli 15:24 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

What a difference a week makes.

What a difference a week makes. A week ago I had no expectation of ever leaving Nairobi, let alone being able to go to the Masai Mara, having the anticipation, experience and ultimately disappointing end to the trip.

Heck, a week ago, I was still essentially undiagnosed, though feeling not too bad compared to previous weeks, excepting for areas around the TV violation. Then they found the parasite and removed it. That was both a very good and very bad thing. Very good, because I finally knew exactly what was wrong with me and it seemed like the problem was almost over. Very bad because, well, how would you like it if somebody pulled a 5cm long centipede out of you by using what is essentially a piece of wire with a hook on the end shoved up your arse?

As a few people have been asking for details, i figure I may as well put a condensed version here. Very roughly, a parasite got into my system. Exactly how, where and when it got in will forever remain a mystery. My personal suspicion is that it got into me in Zambia, during Kuomboka, and probably when wading through the Zambezi flood plain chasing the king. It is a very rare parasite (because I could never get a normal damned parasite, could I?! Oh no. I just had to go and get a frickin special one) and also quite a clever and evil one. Like bilharzia, it can get into your system directly through the skin: it doesn't even need a small cut to infiltrate.

Anyhow, it probably got in when quite small and then slowly grew and moved around my inards (which would explain why I was on-and-off iffy for 2 or 3 weeks after Kuomboka until we got to Kenya). Then at some point it finally found a place it liked and made a home in my bowel and intestines, which is why i got rapidly worse in Mombasa. It stayed there for a couple of weeks, and decided it liked it so much it would like it spawn to experience it, and then laid its eggs and kind of went to sleep. Thats when i slowly started feeling better.

That is pretty much all conjecture by the doctors and myself, but it all fits reasonably well.

Basically, as it stands now, it is believed that I only had one parasite in me and that has been removed. However, it has laid an unspecified number of eggs in my bowels and intestines. Exactly when they were laid is obviously unknown, as is the number and exact locations of all of them, and this is where the fun starts. Essentially, if all of the eggs hatch, i'm pretty much doomed: One of these parasites was enough to make my life a misery and confine me to a toilet for a month, so I don't want to imagine what a dozen or a hundred would be like. The eggs are too small and well hidden to be removed (and it would be impossible to guarantee that all of them would be found) so have to be dealt with in-situ.

I am now actually feeling pretty good by all accounts, but am in the most dangerous phase. So, very roughly, I am currently undergoing treatment to try and kill the eggs and prevent them hatching. It is not a fun set of treatments, and it is impossible to know if they are working just yet. The total incubation time is guesstimated at 10weeks, give or take, so i expect to still be around here until mid July or August. But what it does mean is that i currently only need to be seen once a week for a day or two and thus assuming I don't get any side affects/reactions, it gives me some leeway and possibility to go away for periods of 4 or 5 days between treatments. Which is how I ended up in the Mara and Nakuru and is what I intend to keep doing if at all possible.

Note: this post is put up for information only, so people don't keep nagging me about what is going on, and I figured this was easier than emailing people individually. I have also very deliberately omitted the parasites name – although i have started to call him Hamish – and intend on keeping it that way. I won't tell you what it is, so please don't ask. It's not important. I am fine. I will be fine. And I will finally be away from s0dding Nairobbery and off traveling – and thus boring - you all again very soon. I have confidence in the specialists and procedures, and i don't need anything or sympathies or any help, thank you

Posted by Gelli 09:16 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Yup, stuck back in Nairobi

overcast

And so it is that I'm back in Nairobi. And for pretty much the first time since I left Portland, actually alone. This is quite strange. By nature - and history – I am a solo traveler, but this trip has seen me with constant companions, and baring 36hours or so around Walvisbaai I have not been alone. Which in itself is also quite strange: Maaret is now back in London or somewhere, but the 3months or so we have traveled together is the longest continuous period I have ever traveled with somebody in my life. Virtually all the rest of the people who have been part of my trip so far have also left Africa, or at least, are not in places where I will see them again soon. Even the other long term resident at the hostel here, Andrew, a cheery English guy, has just left: He's off to Angola to be a pilot, as you do.

So i'm now the sole guest in an empty hostel, and wondering what to do next. I haven't really been well for over 6weeks now, and it's almost 4weeks since i started my continuing liaisons with the staff at Nairobi Hospital, and even more continuous fights to avoid being conned by the taxi drivers outside it. I now greet the staff at the pharmacy, coffee shop and newspaper seller by name, and they respond with similar familiarity. This is rarely a good sign.

I estimate that I have now been seen by 41 different doctors and specialists. I have given enough blood to keep a small ship afloat, and enough stool to sink that same ship (yes i know its disgusting. But i'm still working on the pretty well proven assumption that nobody of relevance ever reads this sh1t anyway, and those that do should expect what is coming). I have been tested for more diseases and problems than I can remember – including some i'm pretty sure were eradicated 60+ years ago - and been poked, prodded, scanned and violated in many different ways (I am as yet still unable to sit down after the last such violation: That was 2 days ago), and been given enough medication to fill a small pharmacy: At one point my breakfast was a couple of pieces of toast, 2 glasses of liquid medicine and 14 pills.

The fact that pretty much none of that has made the slightest difference and nobody as yet has actually got the faintest idea exactly what is wrong with me should probably worry me allot more than it actually does. Possibly if I understood a bit more about what the medical professionals were talking about i might be more worried, but I'm actually now starting to find it a bit funny. There is nothing i can really do, and I am definitely better than I was after I had been in the hospital for 2weeks and I don't seem to be getting any worse, which for me is good enough to be going on with. About all the doctors can confirm and seem to agree on is that I don't have stomach cancer, my elbow is not broken, and I am probably not pregnant.

Which basically means that as for now, i remain stuck in Nairobi. I have come to the conclusion that there is no point in my leaving until i am diagnosed &/or up to at least 80% of my normal health: I have no specific appointments or time frames anymore, so I may as well stay here and get fixed. Without the faintest idea how long I will be here. So if anybody happens to be coming to Nairobi at some point before September 2013-ish, come and say hello!

Posted by Gelli 22:49 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Mlurgh

Ah yes, Nairobi. A real big city and home to the hopes, dreams and aspirations of millions, with a burgeoning industry of carjackings, muggings, knifings and murder, at least if you believe the hype. Downtown has a reputation that few can match: even the likes of Bogota and Detroit sound like Utopian paradises in comparison to some of the tales from Nairobi.

I've never been one to trust the media and guidebook culture too much, and it seems very likely that regardless of how bad it really is, it's reputation and the scare stories/travelers tales are probably a little harsh. Having said that, the previous days paper which i read on the train detailed 3 nasty sounding carjackings (though to be fair, i'm not sure what a good sounding carjacking would sound like), I was also acutely and sadly aware that 2 acquaintances had been murdered and 3 more had been badly robbed in Nairobi within the last 8years, all in separate incidents. Thus it is safe to say that Nairobi was never high on my list of places to visit, despite it's almost utter inevitability as the main logistical hub for pretty much the whole of East Africa.

And so it was that 4hours late, feeling like utter sh1t and having not slept the previous night that you might understand that i did not greet my arrival in Nairobi with a whoop of joy. Merely a restrained dash to the toilet cubicle.

As for the utter sh1t thing, well I have been iffy on and off (more on, in terms of iffy) for coming up to 3weeks now. Never really bad, but bad enough and obvious to anybody that spent any time with me that I wasn't at 100%, shall we say. A few times i've thought of getting checked out, but later on or the following day I have been feeling better and so hadn't, hoping and relying on my ability to fight off whatever I had. But the last couple of days had been particularly bad, and I knew I could not go on. So off i trekked to a hospital with a couple of books, and vague hopes that I might be seen by a doctor at some point that week.

Some of you will be aware that at various moments of my life I have been a reasonably regular visitor to assorted medical establishments around the world for an often bizarre and unlikely serious of complaints or breaks. As a youngster, I was not brought up on GMT at all, but rather on NHS time, a strange thing which is so complicated that it distorts the time-space continuum and can't even be understood by Stephen Hawking. But in vague terms based on what my long experience has shown me, it apparently utilises times from every world timezone in the same day as a way of finding more hours in the day and ensuring patients (eg: me) wait as long as physically possible to be dealt with whilst not being late (why are you complaining that your 2pm appointment is several hours late? it's barely 1pm in Bolivia...). Even BRST – see a previous blog entry on Zambia for that one – is wonderfully punctual and efficient in comparison. Thus it was that my expectations were low.

So I was delighted that barely 8hours later, having sh1t in things i was supposed to sh1t in (or not supposed to on occasion), given enough blood to feed the Transylvanian population until 2017, vomited a few times (just because I wanted to, damned it) and paid at least three times - alongside the inevitable selection of form filling, registering at countless desks, long waits and occasional confusion – and with the search parties sent out to find me, I was the proud recipient of 3 lots of drugs i've never heard of, a long list of do-nots and a warning not to leave Nairobi before more test results come back in a few days. It made me feel all nostalgic: I haven't been told not to leave somewhere in such firm terms since, erm, well... that's another long story which perhaps should be left in history.

And what was the diagnosis? Erm. Dunno, really. They agreed that I definitely have something. And they don't know what, and don't want to guess. Except that they did guess and was told some disease i've never heard of that it was 6words long – none i've ever heard before – or, failing that, possibly typhoid (typhoid?! As Maaret so succinctly put it “who the hell gets typhoid?”). But it might not be either. They don't want to guess.

Ah yes, the wonders of travel. Now i truly do feel as if i'm in Africa.

Posted by Gelli 07:08 Archived in Kenya Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

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