Typhoid, nuff said

by Scott McAllister

So, let me tell you about Typhoid. Peace Corps gave me the vaccine against it, but I’m part of that oh so lucky 25% of the population that the vaccine doesn’t work for. Luckily, however, simply having the vaccine does militate against some of the more serious symptoms of the disease, most notably the explosive diarrhea. That hell –  praise science! – was obviated.

What follows is what I thought cool to write down in my journal while in the throws of the Typhoid fever, before I knew it was actually Typhoid.

‘The cold, like a subzero rapid rushing deep within your marrow, feels to splinter and seep out from your racked bones, is surfacing to your pallid skin toes first, and now slinks up your body like a jagged glacier. It’s the second wave of a winter your body has never, until now, known – and you rue knowing that this is only the tip of the iceberg – for a fiery fever is kindling deeper within, is burning to raze your body in an unmitigated inferno the whole nightlong.

You know all of this because it was only thirty-six hours ago that you experienced the same series of symptoms. The same cold had surfaced in the night, receded ever so sinisterly when came the first birdsong of dawn, and left you thereafter to stew in a hellish febrile furnace. But then it dissipated; you thought the fever broke, that it was over.

So yesterday, when you deemed yourself normal, you felt optimistic about your convalescence, thought it complete. Sure, you felt a bit stiff and achy all over, but that’s normal you figured. Actually, in hindsight now, you were really, really achy, painfully so, remembering now how you thought about how nice being quartered or tortured on the rack would be – a good pain of sorts, therapeutic relief – medieval chiropracty. Now you know.

Wrong. F&^%$#* wrong. I need more quilts, colder than last time, I need a wooly cocoon, sheepskin would be nice. When will the fever come? I want that fever, oh how I want that fever.

Lids grow heavy, droop to gravity’s pull. Restless rest.




Must stay bundled to bring on the murderous heat wave, here it comes, let it seethe.

Alas upon me the sweat beads up from underneath so it becomes dank then evaporates to a pulsating petulance of torridity that I want I want I want.

Woah it rises like hellfire it rise my head is wobbly and my pen drifts like flyaway ash.

Can’t really keep this up, needed to rise from my bed, dizzily, and slam some water. But emerging from my blankets gave way to the cold from before. I am burrowed again now but spurned my two jackets to I don’t know where. I need to find the thermometer. Heavy, approaching labored breathing. Damn altitude.’

So that’s what I penned in my journal during a fit of the fever. Funny how sickness can make your mind peel and reel.

This next tidbit is what I wrote the following day. It’s about my trip to the hospital.

It’s typhoid. I set down my pen yesterday to get in the car with two LCFs. They were taking me to a health clinic for blood tests as per the doctor’s orders. I was in rare form at this time, very feverish, hot and cold together, seeing things altogether differently.

It was raining, hard. Three horse and carriages blocked the road on our way. We honked and honked until the owner came out and made our way. I had to lean my head against the car window during that ride. Rain slanted down in little runnels that distorted my vision of the wet world outside. It was surreal.

Registration was the first order of business at the clinic. Being a ferengi, I was able to skip the queue. I waited awhile, but don’t remember much that happened. Some questions, some answers. From there we walked over to the waiting room. I stayed standing outside it at first, seeing that my chaperones were negotiating my jumping of that line too, but my body became too heavy and my forehead felt like it had two skins it was so hot that I made for a wall and slumped down to my rump and let my legs splay out.

There was a strange, African-looking tree a few yards in front of me and I wondered how ancient it was. It was very convoluted in shape, something like a willow but not, and the small plot it stood in was so lush and verdant in the rain that I realized the fever was getting psychedelic.

My droll amusement was soon cut short by a trio of nurses that were suddenly hovering above me (how long they waited for my attention I do not know). We used English and Amharic to communicate my being very sick. I was very brave and liberal with my use of the new language. Their true interest, I soon learned, was to get me off the ground and into a proper seat. I obliged. What else could I do? Our chat wasn’t going anywhere fast.

The room wasn’t too crowded, maybe twenty or so souls were present, but all of them sure were staring at sickly me. I sat alone behind a mother and her toddler. In my delirium I greeted the child in Amharic. I mean, he was staring directly at me, so why not? But I couldn’t elicit a response, only a chuckle from the mom. Above her head a clangorous TV was broadcasting music videos, foreign music videos. I swam through that lurid and exotic world for I don’t know how long. Then my name was called.

Entering the room I saw the doctor sitting stately behind his desk, white jacket, stethoscope necklace and all. Six or so others – nurses maybe – crowded by his side and managed to make the tiny room feel even tinier. Unintelligible syllables were swapped and I was clueless except for the knowledge that I was surely the subject of the exchange. I once again dug deep into my well of Amharic to communicate my sickness.

Throughout that interminable interview all eyes were upon me. It didn’t really bother me as much as it should have. They were only curious, and I was super sick. My use of Amharic must have been really amusing, now that I think about it. When the doctor finally did get around to handing over a script stating what tests I needed, the power went out. Then, after some more unintelligible talk, I was informed of the clinic’s inability to provide for me all three of the blood tests that my signs and symptoms called for. They could check me for malaria and typhus, but not typhoid.

Off to another clinic.

The second clinic, like the first, could only do two of the three required tests. So I was ushered to a third clinic not too far down the way. There I was in luck: they could do all the tests. What’s more, there was no wait. Eureka! A quick exchange of words, the doctor glanced at my script, and next thing my delirious self knows I’m following a nurse outside around to the backside of the building.I get into this dingy room, truly wondering where on earth I am, and, judging from the sight of a microscope resting atop a modest table, I figure I’m in the right place.

At this point my fever had me defeated. I was listless, in a daze, willing to let that nurse poke and prod me with any and all needles. However unsure of what was real and what wasn’t, I did have the clarity of mind to notice that the nurse was touting a sterile needle. So be proud of me; I was responsible. I even raised an objection to any quinine shots they might want to give me, in case they suspected I had the malaria. The nurse allayed my fear of quinine and reassured me that she was only going to take a small blood sample.

I like giving blood samples, enjoying watching the ermine goo being extracted from my arm’s main vein. The prick of the needle seemed to jog me from the fog I was in. Expectantly I watched on as the nurse examined my sample under the microscope. Her reaction – a knowing sigh – betrayed the severity of the diagnosis merited by what she observed through the aperture. Yet she retained a degree of professionalism and told me that the doctor would have to read me the results, which she scribbled down on a sheet of paper. Whatever, I thought. Just give me the meds!

It turned out that the doctor at that particular clinic could not read me my results since he was not the referring doctor. It took about 15 minutes of preliminary banter for him to reveal this to me. He was simply too curious about my being in Bekoji, Ethiopia to play the part of doctor at the first. Nevertheless, I gamely rejoined his myriad queries. It’s the sort of price you pay as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Besides, I was implementing Goal Two of Peace Corps:  to help promote a better understanding of Americans on part of the peoples served. S0 boosh.

So I get back to the first clinic, see the doctor and, after some aggravating confusion over what medications I was already on, learn that I have typhoid. Or maybe typhus. I tested positive for both, but this is normal, I was assured, since they are somewhat hard to distinguish from one another through such a simple blood test as that that they gave me. Whatever their reasoning, they maintained that I more likely than not had typhoid. Its respective indicators or something of that sort were stronger.

My cure would be found in the form of a little white pill, an antibiotic called ciproflaxin. Lo and behold, I already had this med in my Peace Corps issued med kit. I was to take it three times a day for a week. Sure enough, the fever receded within a day, and all accompanying aches and pains were gone by the week’s end.

So that’s typhoid for you. I wouldn’t recommend it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t wish it on somebody I really disliked. (joking, of course)

Coming up next:  my birthday extravaganza at the hot springs.