So here is my last blog, a little late, more than a month since I’ve been back in Montreal. I must admit, there was an abrupt stop to the blogs and the reason being was HEALTH. Meaghan, my sister, got sick with Malaria. It was our last few days in Malawi and we were back at Rodrick’s house in Lilongwe and had plans to write, edit, blog and to wrap everything up before our departure.
Driving back from Liwonde, Meaghan started complaining of stomach pains and headache. Nothing too serious so we weren’t concerned. When she wasn’t any better on the Saturday we talked about going to the clinic just to check up and be safe that there wasn’t anything serious or if she had some sort of bug we could get the medication in time before our flight home on Wednesday. That evening we took her to a Malawian run clinic since the western clinic was no longer open. It was a very short wait and we were in the doctor’s office talking about her symptoms and then listening to the doctor lecture Meaghan about not taking Malaria anti-viral pills and so on. He did a quick test by pricking her finger and dropping the blood on what looked like a pregnancy test. A red line appeared which apparently confirmed that the she had Malaria. Soon after we had some more official blood tests done which confirmed the same but right away the doctor wanted her to start on the hard meds to kill the malaria parasites now in her body that had traveled to her liver, destroying red blood cells. She was given an IV, an injection of pain medication as well as the oral treatment medication and we stayed over night in the hospital waiting to hear if the treatment was working and watching Meaghan’s fever. Whenever Meaghan was asleep or i left her for a second to get her clothes and tooth brush or to speak to a nurse i got very nervous. It was one thing to have her awake, joking around together and another to leave her side or watch her sleep and not know that everything was okay. I can’t imagine how my parents were feeling. I kept them up to date on all the treatments, Meaghan’s status and general mood. I left out how I was freaking out for obvious reasons. “Stay calm and composed Liz. Just get the facts and don’t worry” I kept telling myself.
Because this was the end of the trip I was really looking forward to wrapping things up and preparing to come home. I was looking forward to resting and having a break from constantly controlling my emotions and reactions. It was not easy to face noticeable poverty and a severe lack of medical care every single day. I was reading the interviews that Rodrick and Sarah had taken of woman who were living with HIV AIDS. I was holding children who had skin infections on their head, I was making sure one of the HIV positive children had her individual spoon and bowl when she ate her porridge so she didn’t catch a cold from another child. I was trying not to squirm when i saw a little girl with ring worm in her ear. I was frustrated when i couldn’t find a bar of soap to wash my hands and then reflected on how there was no soap to be found anywhere in the village. All of this, I realize now, was being bottle up inside me. To really dwell and get depressed about it would mean i wasn’t helping and moving things forward for better so i just kept suppressing it. Now, i found myself with my sister very ill with a deadly disease and again i had to keep it all inside, stay composed and make sure Meaghan and my parents were all alright. It was the hardest day that i can remember going through.
Health is a constant preoccupation, at home in Canada we worry about the delay in our next medical check up or we fret over our new born baby feeling too hot and debating whether we should rush him to the hospital. We care deeply about our health and those of our loved ones, pushing them to get a reoccurring cough checked out and we stress to our children the importance of washing hands thoroughly to avoid spreading a flu. In Malawi, in the village in Liwonde, I can only remember a few parents of the 70 who didn’t include Malaria on the list of illnesses their child had. We visited the local hospital which is too far for them to reach my foot and they had no supplies to test for malaria and medication was in short supply if not out of stock. The locals then turn to the Shawmen and pay whatever little they have for some natural concoction which is promised to treat the illness. Life just continues but I have no doubt that the fear I had for Meaghan’s health is shared by the mothers in Liwonde.
Meaghan is well, the following day after being discharged from the clinic we went immediately to the western clinic to get a second opinion on the treatment given and whether she could fly home the next day. It turns out everything had been done thoroughly and we were good to fly. Meaghan was weak but even the next day I noticed a real improvement. She flew to Lebanon and I to Montreal and a week and a half later we were reunited in Montreal. Apparently the strain of Malaria in Malawi is not reoccurring and Meaghan’s blood tests came back clean. Funny enough she will have immunity the next time in Malawi so she won’t have to take the anti-viral medication.
I think back and realize how lucky we were, we are, to have such quit access to drugs and health services. My hope now is to have the villages in Liwonde have the same opportunity. Before leaving Malawi we discussed with Rodrick and Sarah about finding a local doctor to make bi-monthly visits to the village and check up on the children in the Feeding/Pre-School program and give them medication as needed. This is another area of funding that needs to be raised but I am starting to gain more and more confidence through people’s verbal support since i have been back that we can raise enough money to improve the health standard in the village and give the parents some reassurance and peace of mind like I felt with Meaghan.
I am back in Montreal, back to my regular work days. I had a bad cold for a couple of weeks. It went away. I have some peace of mind that it didn’t end up being a tropical diseases. I hope the villagers in Liwonde to be so lucky.
If you would like to take part by supporting or being involved, please read my blog post about helping to make a difference.