“Stop taking the pills. Live on the edge…”
Prior to arriving in Africa, work required me undergo a barrage of vaccinations, everything from Yellow Fever and Typhoid to Cholera and Rabies. Twelve shots in all. The experience left me with the most confused and terrified image of Africa in my mind. Imagine an entire continent filled with diseases I’ve only heard of on the Oregon Trail. I hope I don’t die of dysentery.
Like the good little neurotic I am while packing for the trip, I pretreated all of my clothes with the insect repellent clothing spray as I was instructed to do by the Center for Disease Control and Department of State. I am sure all international travelers do this. Now there was one beast to confront: to start taking the Malaria medication.
When I was medically briefed on the medication I was warned that there were severe and bizarre side effects. I was also informed that sometimes this drug was sold on the streets as an imitation form of a hallucinogenic. I was intrigued. Enjoy the ride?
I was handed a pamphlet with a list of possible side effects. Most are too long to list, so I have included the one worth mentioning: “emotional problems and transient emotional disturbances. Behavioral changes, strange or vivid dreams, mania, nightmares, delusions, tension, anger, organic psychosis, hallucinations and dysphoria have been reported. Sleep disorders, night terrors, anxiety, depression, mood swings, panic attacks, aggression, psychotic or paranoid reactions… have been reported…”
Now for those who know me, you may be thinking these side effects read more like my –hypothetical- online dating profile, but I will have to tell you, these pills are unreal. Unreal.
When I finally arrived, and met the thriving expatriate community here, I was shocked to hear not only does nobody take these pills, but those who do are considered weak. Like the Masai warriors who drink the blood of a lion to prove they are men, Western Expatriates in Africa are expected to undergo their own test of maturity: to flush their malaria pills.
This week, I become a man. After four weeks of waking up screaming in cold sweats, paranoia, and neuroticism (more than usual). I will no longer be taking the mefloquin. I am off the wagon.
My name is Matt, and I used to take Malaria pills.