The Peace Corps Roller Coaster

I’ve been in my village for a couple weeks now and have had some successes already. People here were very interested in getting a community garden up and running again. Another village resident and I went around looking for committed people, held a couple of meetings, and started clearing the land and repairing the fence this past Monday. I also had a nice meeting with the principal at the secondary school about a week ago and I am going to start teaching a health class once a week to grade eight students. I enjoy the company of the family I stay with and have made progress towards transforming my concrete box into a nice little home for myself. I feel like I am starting to connect with some of the villagers through my attempts to speak the local language. I know how to get around and where to go to purchase my everyday household and food items. I guess you could say that things were going pretty well. In regards to everything I mentioned above, they were.

However, life is complex, isn’t it? While all of the aforementioned was going on, I was also battling some little illnesses here and there. One day I was achy and congested, the next evening I had a fever. After that it seemed like I was having allergies, and then I was sure I had a sinus infection. I like to think in many ways I am a well balanced person, but in some ways I am a typical man. And when it comes to admitting I am sick, I am a typical man. I hate being sick so much I just won’t admit. Well after about a week of all of these various symptoms and a pretty annoying cough, and with some encouragement from someone who is smarter than I am, I decided I would make an appointment to see the doctor.

On Monday morning, while working in the garden I mentioned earlier, I stepped aside for a moment, made the appropriate phone calls to discuss my symptoms and find out about seeing the doctor. My instructions after the first call were to go home, take my temperature, and give myself rapid malaria test, then report back to the medical staff. Well, I screwed up the self-test so I had to go to the health clinic and have them take the test there. I went, got my finger pricked, waited twenty minutes and found out I was free from malaria. I reported back, they said OK, and then I awaited for a return call from them for next step instructions. It was after 12pm at this point when I received the call back and I was informed that if I could make it to the medical center in Rundu, I could be seen by a doctor that day. I figured, sure, let’s get there and get this thing over with.

Here are a couple things to know about what it meant for me to get to Rundu before 5pm from Mpungu, when it was already afternoon:

1.) We are not allowed to drive vehicles as PC volunteers

2.) There is no public Transportation from Mpungu to Rundu

3.) Rundu is about 200k away from Mpungu.

4.) Mpungu is a small place, and I would need to hitch hike from there to Rundu.

Here is how I got to Rundu:

I told my counterpart on the garden project that I had to go see the doctor. I called my host sister and asked where the best place to get a lift to Rundu was. She called her other sister and asked her if she would drop me off at the T of two major highways to try and catch a lift there. While this was happening, I was marching back to my homestead to throw a quick overnight bag together and to refill my water bottle knowing I was not going to be eating or drinking anything for the rest of the day- I wasn’t excited about this considering I had eaten breakfast at 7am and was already getting hungry again. As I was finishing up those things at home, my host brother knocked on my door and said that he and I were going to walk down to the little shop in the village, wait for his sister there, who was going to drop us off at the T so I could get a hike. My host brother was going with me in case there was some additional translating that needed to be done for the driver of the whatever vehicle we flagged down. That all happened as planned, and pretty timely, which was great, except the actually finding a ride part. About an hour had passed with us sitting on the side of the road and I still hadn’t found  a ride yet.

By the time a car pulled up that could give me a litf, it was just after 2pm, later than I wanted to be leaving, but still technically leaving with enough time left to get to Rundu before 5pm, assuming there were no delays- haha. I laugh because you can’t assume there will be no delays in Namibia. We actually build delays into our schedules here. The delays on this trip weren’t too bad. There was about a 50k total detour to drop another guy off in his village of residence, a random stop for a money exchange that I asked no questions about, and a few stops to pick up and drop off other hikers along the way. I ended up getting into Rundu about 20 minutes too late to be seen by the doctor.

This wasn’t the end of the world. I had already lined up a place to sleep for the night, and I was told I could just come back at 8am when the medical center reopened. I went to a fellow volunteers place, had a nice little dinner and a conversation and got ready for bed. Here is what I left out of the story so far. During the ride to rundu I noticed this little white head pimply looking thing on the top knuckle of my right thumb. It was a little red and irritating, but nothing I thought much of. It was annoying reaching into my pocket for stuff, but it was basically one of those things you shrug off and go on about your day.

I tell you this now, because at about 11pm I awoke at the other volunteer’s place and my entire thumb was red. I had sore spots at the base of my thumb, somewhere in the middle of my forearm, at the pit of my elbow, and also I had two red streaks heading up my arm. Needless to say, this made me a little nervous, but I had a decision to make. Do I try and get to an emergency room to have this thing looked at, or could I just wait about 8 more hours for my normal appointment. I was considering many things when trying to make the decisions, such as will the quality of care be the same either way, was safe transport to the hospital likely to find at night, and most importantly if this thing I was experiencing was serious, how much time could pass before it was really serious?

I decided to wait until the morning to go to the hospital as scheduled. My thumb was in some serious pain by then, and it looked like the thing would burst if I tried to bend my thumb too much. Of course this didn’t stop me from trying to do a few dishes for the person who was kind enough to put me up for the night. I ate a quick breakfast and by about 7:30am I was trying to flag down a taxi to get me to the medical center. Every taxi I tried was full or heading in another direction, so I started walking and figured I would get one eventually. Well eventually never came and I ended up walking a 5k to the hospital.

At the hospital I gave my name and was told to be seated in the waiting area. By 9am I finally saw the doctor who asked why I was there. I told her I was technically there for some sinus problems and a cough, but asked if she minded taking a look at my thumb first. She grabbed my thumb, inspected it for a few seconds, looked at me and said “this is serious.” And in my head I said “shit.” She treated it aggressively with some mega antibiotic through an IV and said I had what people used to call blood poisoning and it was working its way into my system and eventually to the heart. If I saw her a day later I was most likely going to be in a seriously bad way.

So that was my yesterday! The good news is I responded well to my treatment and at the follow up appointment today the doctor told me she wasn’t worried about me and I’d be just fine…phew! The PC has put me up in a nice lodge in Rundu so I can be close by the hospital for the next couple of days, but that is really just a precaution, please don’t worry about me anyone.

But that is the PC roller coaster I am on. One morning I’m at the garden working on what has the potential to be my most positive and long lasting project during my time here; 24hrs later I am walking a 5k to a hospital in some large town in Africa with blood poisoning; and 24hrs after that I am overlooking the Kavango river as the sunrises with a cup of tea in my hands knowing that I am going to be just fine and thankful for the pretty awesome health care that is in this country, even if it’s a little hard to get to sometimes.

I also can’t help but be thankful in many ways to something else. What that something is I don’t know. Many of you call it God, and I am ok with that. But think of everything that happened. If I hadn’t be a little under the weather for the previous week, I wouldn’t have already been on my way to Rundu when the real bad thing happened. If I hadn’t seriously discussed this with someone whose opinion I truly value- who encouraged me to call the medical staff- I wouldn’t have been on my way to Rundu when I needed to be. If I hand’t gotten into Rundu late, I would have been treated for less serious stuff as planned and would have been on my way back to Mpungu when the real serious symptoms started showing. So let me just say that there is no poor me cry baby stuff going here. I am thankful for all that happened that has me healthy and is allowing me to tell this amazing story to you all right now.

Thanks for reading.


(These words are my own and don’t reflect the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.)

2 responses to “The Peace Corps Roller Coaster”

  1. Amazing, Andy. I am so glad the universe lined up for you and got you where you needed to be when you needed to be there. Any idea what caused the infection?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I have no idea about the infections- maybe a spider, scorpion, or just one of the dirty tools I was using, I guess.


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