Getting Infected

When my first wife and I lived in Africa, we started out worrying a lot about tropical diseases, especially malaria. Malaria is a tiny parasite that mosquitoes carry. You can sleep under mosquito nets, wear mosquito repellent, especially at night, avoid being out and wear long sleeves if you do, and finally take medicine to ward it off. Later we found mossy chips that sat on a heater and emitted pyrethrins to kill the annoying flying pests. We tried them all.

When we first arrived, we tried the medicine as a prophylaxis. Our two girls were old enough to swallow the pills, but hated the taste. Remembering the song, “a spoonful of sugar?” We crushed the pill and mixed it with jam. No Go. We tried mixing the meds and jam with peanut butter. Still a repulsively strong flavor. Spread it on bread as a sandwich? Rejected! Finally, we found that there was a sugar coated version that got swallowed before the taste leaked out. Success! Our son, though was too young for pills, so we bought the liquid version. Have you ever seen those fountains that shoot a round tube jet of water? That is what … OK, nevermind, TMI. Needless to say, as we researched what to do, we focused on sleeping under the nets, and staying indoors after 6pm.

When we finished language school and moved to our house in Nakuru, we finally learned that malaria was rare in the Kenyan highlands at 6,000 feet. (2,000 meters) Talking and listening got us more information. In the highlands, it was better to not take the medicine and couse the malaria parasites to build up disease resistance. In addition, long term use could have health consequences. That is when people told us about the mossy chips. We bought a couple of heaters, tiny things like warming air fresheners. We put a chip of wood that had been soaked in pyrethrins (an extract of the pyrethrin flower and comparatively safe for humans) on the heaters each night. Quickly, all the mosquitoes in the house were dead. Frequently, an hour later, we heard a strange buzzing. Tracking it down, we would find a fly lying on the floor upside down madly flapping its wings. It took the much larger fly much longer to die than the mosquitoes.

When we took a vacation at the coast, at sea level, where the malaria was very common, we took the preventative medicine. Typically, we would return to the highlands and within a day or three, one or two would feel off. The Doc would run the test and show us that we had been infected, but only a few parasites had survived the medicine. We would then take a much stronger (and more dangerous) medicine and would be cured the next day. One time, early on, we went to a game park, but didn’t take preventative medicine. Toward the end of our vacation, my wife started feeling very bad. She had a miserable headache on the drive home. If we had thought “Malaria” we could have started her on treatment at the game park and she wouldn’t have suffered so much. As soon as we got home, though, the doctor took care of it.

There was only one time that anyone got malaria without going to lower country. My wife and the kids had gone to America to see her sister get married. Being footloose and fancy free, I arranged with my friend Falu to hike at a nearby park. While hiking, I was OK, but when we stopped for lunch, I began to feel off. I thought it was something I ate. Later, we returned to his parents house ate and watched a movie. I left to go home. As I drove in, the dogs jumped all over me, eager for the overdue dinner. I got out my keys and still feeling a little off, reached out for the lock. Suddenly, I was shaking like a leaf. I thought, “OH, I’ve got malaria,” in an amused tone. (This was despite knowing a man who died of malaria.) Remember, malaria sits in a body for days before it suddenly breaks out, hitting you like a bolt out of the blue.

As soon as I was in, I ransacked the house for malaria medicine. We had none of the strong stuff, and four pills (the first dose) of the less effective, preventative type medicine. I took it and then started making the dog food. I filled their pan with water, and shaking so hard that I splashed some out before I could put it on the stove. Singing a little, “I’ve got malaria and I’m shaking so hard that I can’t make the dog food.” song, I grabbed the cornmeal. With one hand, I stirred and splashed the water everywhere. With the other hand, I shook the cornmeal into the water, onto the stove, over the sink, on the floor, the walls, and even onto the hot water tank. As soon as it thickened, I added the dried fish. Without waiting the usual hour for it to cool, I almost threw the pan outside. I got a glimpse of the dogs taking a bite and jumping back, before heading in. As fast as I could, I jumped into a hot bath, and as soon as I was so warm that I stopped shaking, I jumped in bed. The next morning, feeling much less ill, I scurried downtown and bought the better medicine. Where the old medicine had you taking pills for seven days, this one was a one pill cure.

Sometimes, like malaria, it just takes one exposure to be infected. Other diseases might take repeated exposures to overcome your bodies defenses. With me, I had been exposed to Christianity a variety of times. One time exposure, when I was hurting, was all it took. When you are excited, full of the joy of the spirit, wanting to witness (talk about) what God has done for you recently, you are exposing others. Some will get infected immediately, and be full of joy too. Others, the word might sit quiet for years before the person responds. Either way, when a person is infected with love and peace, they are a joy to be around.

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