My Ghana experience has officially started. I'm still in the states, but I'm sick as a dog. I guess fate is giving me a booster shot of reality. I got vaccinated the other day. After a few weeks of phone calls, waiting lists, and a little panic I was finally able to squeeze in to the student health clinic. The nurse rattled off a list of recommended vaccines, had me read a sheaf of laminated information sheets about various diseases, and I made my selection from the menu. It felt like an exotic sadistic restaurant:
"I'll take Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and the new-and-improved tetanus booster."
"Are you sure you don't want Polio? You're at high risk of Polio in Sub-Saharan Africa."
"No, I'll take my chances. I don't have the money."
"Ok. Take the Typhoid pills home and keep them in the refrigerator. Slight pinch. Don't allow them to freeze or get too hot. Don't expose them to light. Don't eat or exercise an hour before or after taking the pill. Don't take antibiotics or steroids for the next week. And go immediately to the ER if you have any reactions. This vaccination contains live Typhoid. Slight pinch again…"
I could tell that the nurse had done this hundreds, if not thousands of times. I'm sure it takes a certain skill to repeat a memorized script while injecting a person with multiple live diseases. I was glad for her nonchalance; it kept my mind off the fact that my body was now full of African diseases, and there was nothing I could do to stop whatever they would do to me in the next week. I shut those thoughts out of my mind long enough to stop by the pharmacy, pick up my Typhoid and four weeks worth of antimalarials and Immodium. I am now ready to survive Africa…I think.
Later on that day I started to feel flu symptoms. I had read on the yellow laminated sheet that 25% of people receiving the Yellow Fever vaccine actually catch a minor form of the illness (and I stress minor--full-blown Yellow Fever kills you 50% of the time). I thought little of it and went to bed.
I woke up Thursday morning with hives on my arms and legs. My skin felt hot and itchy, like I had slept on an anthill. I panicked, downed a few Benadryl, and drove to the Health Center. $25 and ten minutes later I was told to be careful and keep taking Benadryl (thanks doc), and went back home. The hives cleared up and I thought nothing of it. By this time I was having a bad flu. All my muscles ached and I could barely move. No matter what I did my feet and legs were cold. I put on some sweats, crawled under three blankets, and went to sleep.
I woke up later that afternoon completely covered in angry, red hives. My skin was raised like a bad sunburn and looked like some kind of map. The itching was agony, and my skin had swollen so much it felt like it could rupture. I popped more Benadryl, made a few frantic calls to the Health Center, and was told to go into the ER. I'm not a fan of the ER. I usually feel like an idiot for going there, and it's so expensive. I decided to wait it out, and sure enough, after 45 minutes the Benadryl kicked in and the hives started to go away.
I woke up this morning with just a few hives and the flu has mostly gone away. I think I survived my first brush with Africa, but it was brutal.