Tick bite fever
Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
147Trip End Oct 25, 2010
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For the past few days I've been drifting in and out of feverish dreams. After counting myself lucky, 2 and a half days from the all clear, I find swollen glands and I am inexplicably tired - so I have, after all, got the tick bite fever. Nothing serious but inconvenient, I sleep all the time and can't assert myself. No appetite. Frustrating to be at such a beautiful place and not being able to put one foot in front of the other. However, every now and then I perk up, like now, and try to make the most of it. Like now.
The visit to the clinic was noteworthy. It was evident I needed to see a doctor, but where? I couldn't face the trip to Mthatha, so I was directed to the local clinic, 20 km down the road. Fortunately Roberto, one of the other guests, was heading that way, and Judy, who owns the lodge said: 'Just say you are a volunteer and that we sent you.' I soon found out what that meant, that and the fact I was the only white person amongst a large gathering of black people, who were either sitting perfectly still on wooden benches inside or in the grass outside the buildings
I wryly wondered if there were enough pages left in my book to see me to my turn. How do you know when it's your turn though? No tickets or numbers were being passed out, should I just sit in the grass? And then what? I walked up to the bursting full waiting room and saw what could be some kind of reception. 2 girls and a boy sitting at a table with some tired looking papers on it and 3 plastic containers holding lollipops, chewing gum and crumbling biscuits.
I asked the nearest girl what the procedure was and she gave me a blank look. OK, I rummage around for the note Judy had given me with the doctor's name on it. She studies it and says: 'Come with me.' She walks out of the building, I follow her into the next, where she disappears without a word, returning with the doctor. He tells me straight if my complaints are not serious, he will not let me jump the queue and gestures at the many, many people, standing, sitting, leaning against the walls. I feel myself blush, no, of course not, I understand. ' The woman will take you to the nurse, she can deal with minor cases.'
We made our way back to the former building, past all the sick, who I know had noticed me, on to an office where a man was just leaving. He tapped another man's knee to indicate it was his turn, but no, I was pushed into the room, but not before I heard him swear. You don't have to understand Xhosa to get that. And rightly so, shame on me for accepting the privilege for no other reason than colour I suppose, and if I wasn't feeling so utterly grateful for not having to sit and wait all day, and maybe still not get seen to, if I was not feeling so poorly, I'd like to think I would have refused. But I didn't.
Inside the room sat a nurse behind a desk. I extended my hand to shake hers and she looked surprised and slightly amused, but took it anyway. A sturdy, but not fat, woman, whose age I found hard to guess. Black rimmed glasses making her look severe. An authority, I thought, a little intimidated. I tried not to look at her uniform, a sickly pink with blood red accents. I was feeling quite woozy by now.
She asks me for my card. What card? She sighs. She needs a card. I haven't got one. For a while she says nothing as if expecting me to come up with a solution, then she slams her hands on the desk and states: 'I need a paper.' She looks around her desk, as do I - there are some papers but all used. She picks some up and lets them fall and now I am thinking I will be sent away for lack of a piece of paper. I wonder if there is a blank page in my book I can tear out, but she decides to use the bottom part of a typed on page. Name? I give her my name, we struggle with it, not understanding each other, and halfway through my sir name she decides that will suffice. My age is added.
A young girl, 14, maybe 15 years old, enters without knocking. The nurse turns away from me and fully concentrates on the girl, who is looking very contrite, clutching her mobile, eyes to the floor. The nurse speaks to her in Xhosa of course, but it seems she is telling her off. What for, she is too young to be working here, is she her daughter, a relative? I am left in the dark and it takes quite a while before the girl is let off the hook.
Right, lets get back to business. I am worried about the people waiting, I just need some antibiotics. The lady doesn't ask me what my complaints are so I decide to speed things up and offer her the information. A tick bite on my chest, near the arm pit. 5 days ago. Swollen Lymph glands, extreme tiredness, just as the ranger had predicted. Somehow the tender glands seem to strike a chord and she keeps coming back to that, putting her hand to her own armpits and grimacing. She didn't come from behind her desk to investigate. I want her to realise what caused the trouble and keep repeating 'tick bite.' She reaches for a well worn medical handbook and painstakingly goes through lists of ailments, tracing them with her finger, shaking her head. 'Antibiotics?' I venture and she breaks out in a smile asking me if I know Flupen. 'Yes, think so,' I stammer even though I haven't a clue. She leans forward and whispers: 'It is very good, it is the finest we have,' as if she is letting me into a big secret. Then it's back to the glands again, Panadol, I must take it for the pain. I don't want it, I don't need it, I have my own, but I get it anyway.
I slip out of her office, after another awkward handshake, wishing I was invisible I pass the waiting patients. Please don't resent me, but how can they not?
At the dispensary I hand over the paper with my name, age and prescription. When my name, just Katherine, is called, the paper is handed back to me along with the drugs. I ask the man didn't they need it for their administration, and he answers: 'Just throw it away.'
In the black taxi back I get talking to a Xhosa woman, she wants to know why I went to the clinic. When she left the car she came up to me, she looked at me with soft, motherly eyes and said: ' You are not well, please take care of yourself .'
She understood, and maybe I needed that more than anything else.
PS Today I am feeling a lot better and hope to make plans again tomorrow.
It is the second time I have been ill in South Africa and both times I have felt some kind of uncomfortableness surround it. I don't think people are uncaring but it is as if to show that, would be fussing and people need to be tough here. Just bite the bullet and don't complain, no big deal. And I guess a little tick bite fever means nothing on the scale of mortal diseases and inadequate medical care.
I've got to toughen up, though something is bothering me, something a traditional healer told me earlier......