In addition to capturing little Abigail’s heart during his time here in Malawi, Ryan had the most unusual visit of any of the TMC students. This is one experience we don’t recommend and, in fact, work hard to avoid, though we know there are no guarantees. Ryan handled it great though, and we’re all thanking the Lord for His protection of Ryan and all of us over these weeks. As the sign at the clinic says: “We treat, God heals.”
(Ryan Lovel) As we walked out of the clinic Rachel asked me, “So what’s the verdict?” I told her, “The doctor prescribed me some malarial medication and told me that if the symptoms that I had been experiencing should persist, I should come back immediately.” I was significantly “out of it,” and ready to crawl right back into bed for the rest of the day, but I vaguely remember seeing what looked like surprise in her expression as she processed what I had just said. In hindsight, I am really thankful for the perfect combination of Rachel’s stellar composure (that comforted my worries and concerns) and my own exhaustion that led to my being able to relax and go right back to bed. Before I get to my recovery period though, let me first describe to you the early stages of my experience with malaria, and hopefully through all of this you will be able to understand the change that has occurred in my perspective with regards to this epidemic.
The first thing that I remember about being sick is that the sun had never looked so bright. I was driving with JP and I think that my eyes were closed just about the entire time, and I was thinking that there was no way that I could make it through the rest of the day. The sun seemed to be concentrating all of its energy directly upon my eyes. My body was in such a weakened state that it could not physically bear the power and radiance that the sun emanated. This was definitely a new feeling for me.
There could be a narrative here that describes the symptoms of malaria in great detail, drama, and length, but I feel that the only logical conclusion that any American could draw from this list would be that I had the flu or just “some bug.” As I recall, the symptoms went something like the following: fever, cold chills, body aches, sensitivity to light, and general discomfort. As I considered all of these things and tried to figure out what was going on, I was almost positive that I had the flu or a stomach bacteria. I was hoping so badly that I wouldn’t have malaria, yet I knew nothing about what having malaria actually meant.
Matt had come into my room the morning of the day that I went to the clinic. I remember him talking, but in all honesty I don’t remember what he actually said. Here’s what I do remember though, it sounded like he had a plan… I liked that. After he was done talking and I was done trying to listen I felt comforted… I also liked that. I don’t know if I said something funny or embarrassing but he had a smile on his face… I liked this as well. After what I assume now to have been a both productive and somewhat mutually enjoyable conversation, Matt left and I moved all the way from laying on my side to laying on my other side. I definitely felt sick, but I knew that there was nothing I could do about it except to relax and trust in the Lord and the people that He had placed around me.
It was around eleven or so when JP gave me a ride to the clinic. The irony still makes me laugh. It was probably less than a week before this point in time when I was walking around the “Partners in Hope” clinic, witnessing Dr. Koleski input information into the same kind of blue “Health Passport” notebook that the receptionist was making for me. As I sat in the ABC medical clinic I don’t remember thinking much, except that I was trying really hard to listen for my name so that when one of the Malawian nurses called me I would be ready. Sure enough though, instead of hearing Ryan I heard, “Ree-own.” Luckily, they didn’t just pass me up but they called my name again in five minutes and I picked up on it this time. From the waiting room I was taken to have my temperature measured (102oF), and then allowed to lie down on a hospital bed. The nurse took my blood and I remember being thankful that regardless of the outcome, there would be some sort of a definitive answer. Up until this point in the trip I had been faithful in taking my malarial medication as well as wearing bug spray if I was out past five in the evening. To a certain extent, this led me to have the mindset that there was no possible way that I could have malaria.
Now we reach the climax of my medical experience in Malawi. At this point, I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t had any experience with malaria would have observed me and concluded that I had contracted the feared epidemic. I simply lay there in my hospital bed with my eyes closed, falling in and out of sleep. As I drifted in and out of sleep the doctor was in the process of analyzing the results that the lab technicians had found. I opened my eyes at one point to find the Doctor standing above me, waiting to give me the news. The lab had not found any visible signs of the parasite in my blood smear, but my platelet count was low, a common sign indicating malaria. The final confirmation that I had contracted malaria didn’t come until I had finished taking the prescribed medication and I was feeling close to one hundred percent. (Side note from Rachel: many of the malaria cases this year have turned up a negative result on the malaria blood smear tests, but the doctors had been through enough of those cases this season to diagnose Ryan’s symptoms very early on.)
It’s actually somewhat funny to me now as I look back upon the situation. Based on the time frame of malaria and the time at which I became ill, I would have been infected close to exactly when we arrived in Malawi. As I came to grips with the fact that I had contracted malaria I realized that I had two choices. I could react dramatically and question why-oh-why I had been infected and I could focus on all of the things that I thought would change in my life. The second option that I saw was to react in light of the fact that regardless of everything that I had done to avoid being infected by malaria, I had in fact contracted it. In light of this, my response to the disease would be to be thankful that I was healed and to be thankful for my newly gained perspective.
Before coming to Africa my thoughts concerning malaria were composed of nothing but fear. This is not to say that everyone should get malaria in order that they won’t fear it. That is definitely not something that I would recommend. However, as I’ve been able to have conversations with both doctors and Malawians I have come to realize that for many people, malaria can be a part of everyday life. As long as the proper measures are taken to diagnose and treat the sickness, people will remain healthy. I am so thankful for the recovery that God gave me and for the wonderful people that encouraged me back to health. There was an endless amount of love demonstrated to me at this point in time and I am so thankful to my teammates for bearing with me through this and having patience with me, and especially for the Floreens, who converted their ‘bed and breakfast’ into a rehabilitation clinic for patients suffering from malaria.