Saturday, April 17, 2010

Malaria Dreams

Malaria is endemic in Zambia. It is the leading cause of death in children under 5. It is also a major contributor to the deaths of persons with compromised immune systems from HIV/AIDS or severe malnutrition. The most dangerous kind is called "cerebral malaria," characterized by fever, headache, confused thinking, flu-like aches and pains, and disorientation. Untreated, it can kill even a previously healthy person.

Every Sunday, I take anti-malaria medication. It is called Mefloquine Hydrochloride, the generic form of Lariam. Two warnings are printed on the container: "May cause dizziness," and "Call your doctor immediately if you experience mood changes, such as new or worsening feelings of sadness, depression, or fear." Luckily, I only felt dizzy after the first time I took the pill, and then only briefly. I have not experienced mood changes. So far, anyway...

Instead, my reaction is what I call "malaria dreams." Additional potential side effects are listed on the enclosure that comes with the pills, and one of them is nightmares. I don't have nightmares, but I do have colorful, bizarre and memorable dreams. People from my past materialize, speak, even dance in and out. Sometimes I am floating, other times I am watching. There are houses with many rooms, open and locked doors, roads cloaked in mists and paths bathed in golden light. I remember fragments. Sometimes I wake up speaking out loud to a character in my dream.

Here at MEF, we all sleep under mosquito nets. The buildings and grounds are sprayed quarterly. And still people get malaria. Caroline (my hostess last week) stopped by today on her way back from a clinic where she had taken her baby for treatment after he was diagnosed with malaria. They do not have mosquito nets at her home. I recall hearing that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was working on the eradication of malaria and was providing mosquito nets in countries with high rates of malaria. The MEF nurse, Margaret, says that she has been notified by the government health ministry that mosquito nets will be coming from America. I pray that they will come to Zambia soon!

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