There we were in Cameroon, minding our own business, when the symptoms I’d been ascribing to taking malarone, or doxycycline, or being pregnant, or a tapeworm… overwhelmed me. I would have never guessed what was actually wrong. I’d never heard of MDS. Now I know it’s a kind of cancer.
The Embassy Health Unit had become very familiar to me over the six months we’d been in Yaoundé. Aside from my own health issues, our four children landed us there on a regular basis. It’s outfitted by a small team of nurses and medical equipment. “I think taking malarone is making me extremely anxious… I’m not usually an anxious person, but I’m crying a lot and I feel panicky…” Nurse: “Well in my 15 years of working in malaria prone regions I’ve never seen anyone get that sort of reaction.” I ask to try a different medicine. She prescribes doxycycline. My anxiety went away.
I start feeling nauseated, very tired, headaches. I email asking for a pregnancy test, tell her my dates… too early to know from home. I come in at the designated time. She asks my dates again as she preps the blood draw. “You haven’t missed you period yet?” Nurse, eye rolling chuckle. Uselessly draws my blood anyway. I thought they had a quantitative hCG test. Turns out they didn’t. In any case, I wasn’t pregnant.
I’m out of breath all the time. My headaches are constant. My vision is off and on blurred. I google doxycycline. Oh shoot. Vision damage has been documented and can be permanent. I go back to the nurse. This time I focus on bringing up the vision. The nurse puts me in front of the big E. I can read the letters, but they’re blurry… I don’t think she believes me. I don’t bring up my google searches. “Is there any connection with the doxycycline and blurred vision?” Nurse: “No.” Me: “Could you… look into it?” Nurse:”In my fifteen years of treating malaria prone areas I’ve never seen anyone with blurred vision from doxycycline. But everybody is different. It’s up to you if you want to be off of malaria prophylaxis… How about you take some Tylenol and if it’s still bugging you in a week come back.”
Teaching flamenco on Monday, I get so out of breath I start dry heaving in some bushes.
Right after that I pant my way back into the clinic with my six year old who put a rock in his ear at school. I drove him to the Health Unit with his ear on a pillow. “It moved!” We see the nurse. She looks in the ear. “There’s nothing here.” Little chuckle. “You look.” Me, looking: “That’s great! It must have fallen out on the drive!” Nurse: “I’ll call another nurse just to be sure” I’d already confirmed it was out. Other nurse looks. “I looked, she looked, you looked… there is no rock, ok?” I left feeling embarrassed.
I know I’m harping on the Embassy nurse… Maybe I’m looking for someone to blame. She was just a nurse after all, and probably had never had to identify these sorts of symptoms before. I got the feeling she had the impression I just wanted out of Cameroon and kept coming up with scenarios to make that happen. I wish I’d felt like she believed me all those times I showed up and tried to explain myself.
Wednesday there was another dance class. I just couldn’t… a good friend insisted I go see the nurse… again… Thankfully, this time, she drew blood.
Next day email: Can you come back in? I think the labs are faulty and we need to do them again.
Next email: Make sure to update your insurance information.
That should have been a clue…
The labs weren’t faulty. Friday blood draw. Sunday Med-Evac.