18 Oct 2012

Write 4 Ten: Infection (non-fiction)

Some non-fiction for you! I bet you are happy about that, especially with a prompt such as ‘infection’…I do like to spoil you! Its a bit long too...

So just to keep Bill from TEHI happy, I shall begin this true-life tale with this…

…When I was living in Africa…

Actually, I was living in Africa, Ghana to be precise. It was back in the days when it was still a third world country. I had gone there as a VSO volunteer. The VSO is like the Peace corp. It was something I had long wanted to do, being a child of the eighties, I was inspired by Live Aid (the first time around) and if I could have gone then, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have. My mother could probably confirm a conversation whereby I suggested this as an option.

I hate to see inequality or suffering, maybe its because I am a nice person or maybe its because I am a Libran but for whatever reason I often think its unnecessary when there are resources in the world for it not to happen. Anyway, this is about infection and so I shall continue…

…When I was living in Africa…

I went to visit a friend who lived in the Upper West Region (I was living in the Upper East Region) and to get there it was a tro-tro (very cramped cage on the back of a truck), then a shared taxi and then a bus. I think we must have gone in the rainy season. The upper regions of Ghana (unlike those in the South) have only two seasons; rainy season and the dry season. There had been no rain until we were about 30 minutes drive from the town and then it fell down. I am slightly odd (I am sure you are too) in that I like the smell of damp earth so was enjoying the trip so far. Then my left wrist started to hurt. Just bending it, or moving it, or anything it – it just hurt.

The bus stopped at the town and to get off we had to leap from the step of the bus, over a giant puddle to a less wet mud path. On these buses they tend to have a driver and a drivers mate, he takes the money, charges you for any luggage, yells out the stops and helps you off – in his haste to be helpful, he grabbed my left wrist and flung me off the bus like a ragdoll. I may have sworn at him.

Well, that night I felt quite ill, was tired and feverish. The weekend went by in a blur and the only thing I remember is my friends resentment (I think she thought I was faking it!). Anyway, I returned back to my little bungalow on the campus…oh, I forgot…I was working as a Maths and Science Teacher at a Secondary School in a town…and went back to my usual routine.

The only thing that wasn’t usual was my inability to do the hand-washing because of the pain in my wrist when I tried to use it, or the fact that I couldn’t really use it and had no grip with it. At that time the tro-tro into the nearest town with the doctors (we had to use a particular one) only ran twice a week. It also meant that if you went to town on a week day you would have to miss your classes. So with one thing and another and my natural ability to avoid doctors and just get on with it that is what I did.

Then one weekend I went to stay with a friend who taught at a school in the town where the doctors was, it had been about 2 months and I still could not use it and the muscle had wasted away on that arm. Now, don’t look at me like that and please no tutting, I was just busy with classes and planning and extra lessons and being the sports mistress and ….I can make excuses all day, but at the end of it, you have to accept that I didn’t go – Hindsight! (invaluable). But that weekend, I did go to see the doctor who was quite worried that it was reactive arthritis, which is not a good thing to have. I had it x-rayed and the results showed that it wasn’t arthritis. I had blood tests and the results showed that I had a slightly high white cell count (so was fighting infection!!!! See, I got the prompt in, well done me J ) but nothing else. He could see though that any movement of it was causing considerable pain and the joint was frozen. So, because I was an international volunteer, I was referred. I had to go to the City. The City being the capital city of Ghana, Accra. It meant a 45 minutes tro-tro and then a minimum 12hr coach journey. It isn’t a fun trip on a decent coach but well…you’ve seen tv shows with goats, shopping, overcrowding etc. Imagine 60 people trapped inside a tin can with some goats for 12 hours – not a fun image. But I got there and had to go to the volunteer head office, they then sent me to their doctor, they then sent me to the hospital, they x-rayed my wrist, they took some blood, etc. and still inconclusive. They could tell me what it wasn’t but they couldn’t tell me what it was.

Also, in a strange twist of fate, my right knee had started to seize up and become painful…sound familiar…and they decided to send me back to the UK on the next available flight to be seen by a doctor here. To say I was disappointed is an understatement, I was distraught, I did not want to go home. But, always one to do as I am told, I boarded the next available flight to the UK…via Johannesburg, SA. Normal flight time Accra to London is 6hrs. I went from Accra to Jo’burg (12hrs) waited for 3hrs in the departure lounge and then from Jo’burg to London (18hrs).

It wasn’t fun, and my right knee became swollen, my mother met me at the airport as I came hobbling out with my gammy leg and my scrawny arm, probably looking very tired! But I wanted to get it sorted as soon as possible and we went from the airport to our local A&E. There was a long wait and eventually I was seen. The doctor examined the arm, he examined the knee, he took some blood, he took some x-rays, and then he came back for more blood to send to the Tropical Disease Unit – at this point I said “please, don’t take anymore blood..” and the doctor very kindly didn’t. What he did do, was book me in and I had to stay overnight in the hospital, they still had no clue as to what is was or why it had happened.

The next day a young doctor came to look at my knee and said he wanted to drain some of the fluid, to see if it was infected, and I agreed. He came back and explained that it wouldn’t hurt much until it got to the bone, ok I said. So he pulled the curtain around for privacy (my mother was there! Lol) and gets out the needle and starts draining it, I am wincing and clinging to the bed and he hasn’t gone far when I yelp a little (I will tell you it bloody hurt!) and the doctor looked at me and said;

“Oh, come on, it doesn’t hurt that much”, I replied rather loudly and not without venom,

“How many times have you had your knee drained?!” He smiled and accepted that he never had, when he pulled the curtain back all the other patients in the ward were smiling at me :D

The outcome of this story is, it was not a tropical disease, it was not arthritis, it was not anything but an ‘unknown virus’ which is always helpful and it did correct itself on its own eventually. I had to go to see a specialist who told me that I wouldn’t be able to go back to Ghana for at least 6 weeks possibly 4. I cried, yes I did, I cried in the doctors office and told him that I couldn’t wait that long, that surely I was fine, that it was getting better and please please…you see he had to sign me off as fit to return….and he succumbed and said I could go back in 3 weeks. To this day I have less flexibility in that wrist and a poor grip (it’s a good job I am not left-handed (always see the silver lining)) and the moral of my story is…erm…yeah, there is no moral.

Its sadly only one of many many silly stories – I am also very clumsy and forgetful and trusting and friendly, lol!


  1. I remember it well. When you came through to the arrivals lounge I nearly cried to see the state of you. By the way, you were eight years old when you told me you were going to teach in a mud hut village .... and you did. Yours proudly, Mum xx

  2. Wow - you should put more of your memories of Ghana in writing. What an interesting tale (and from your photo I would have thought you were only in your 20's now). Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Awww! Thanks. I just had my 36th birthday on Monday! But people often think I am ten years younger. I have many and am thinking I will use Thursday prompts for True stories - I have many (not just from Ghana) as I am a walking disaster area.

  3. You are stronger than I could ever be...I am in awe of you!


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