My brother, Kyle, is getting married in March. He seems real happy. If you don’t believe me check out his wedding’s website (at which they’ve yet to link to WAIW? – the nerve).
I’m happy for him, but in the interest of keeping him even-keeled, I thought I would bring him back down to earth with two columns I wrote that feature him. I’ll post one now and one later on in the week.
(Jenn, I think you know what you are getting by now, but please read carefully. Don’t let the PhD fool you.)
Have Malaria, Will Travel
By Kelsey Timmerman
We are on drugs and invincible…so we think.
“Dude, know what’s cool?” My brother Kyle is sitting in a metal school chair thumbing through our Honduras guidebook. I am swinging in a hammock. Between our bungalow and the vast unmapped jungle flows the Rio Mocoron.
“It’s likely that we’re being bit by malaria carrying mosquitoes as we speak.”
Kyle and I both stare down at our arms and torsos half expecting to see a super hero-like glow radiating. We think that we are faster than a speeding infected mosquito! Our immune systems more powerful than locomotives! That we are able to leap wide, mosquito-spawning rivers in a single bound!
But we can’t.
“Dude. You know what’s not cool – Chagas’ disease.” Kyle paraphrases from the guidebook, “The triatomine bug bites you while you’re sleeping and then defecates in the wound. 10-40 years later you come down with chronic symptoms including heart problems, enlarged esophagus, and, enlarged bowels. There is no prevention. The disease, if full blown, takes an average of nine years off your life.”
“Whoa. Let me see.” Kyle hands me the book and I look at the list of exotic diseases trying to find a worse one yet. “Dengue fever, aka bone break fever – it’s from a mosquito. First you get a fever, three to five days later you break out in a rash and your body is wracked with unbearable pain, hence the lovely nickname. No pill for this one either. Cross your fingers.”
After days filled with jungle hikes and soccer games by the river with the local children, our legs and feet are dotted with various insect bites and blemished with open, seeping wounds. We worry about the diseases we cannot take measures to prevent, but we don’t worry about malaria.
Kyle will return to Purdue University in Indiana and while he is studying for his preliminary exams for his doctorate in Exercise Physiology, Ma and Pa parasite who settled down in one of Kyle’s red blood cells, despite his strict regimen of anti-malarial pills, will be getting busy making their little parasitic families. As their family grows and they become great-great…grandparents, the cell will become overcrowded and explode, forcing their family to separate and find new homes. Light fevers, fatigue, and headaches will come and go and Kyle will write them off to his long hours of stressful studying, completely unaware of the malaria Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, and general merrymaking. Exams over, he will hop on a plane to France where he is to attend a conference in, of all things, Immunology in Monaco. After three failed spinal taps, a fever of 106, shivers, aches, vomiting, and three days in a hospital in Nice where doctors, having eliminated a number of horrible deadly diseases, inform him, “Good News, you’ve got malaria,” Kyle will finally make it the conference on its last day with the help of his caring advisor Mike Flynn.
Kyle, a true man of the world, will be the first person to contract malaria in Honduras, ignore the signs in Indiana, and be hospitalized with it in France.
Back in the days when two men traveling in Honduras were known as explorers, not tourists, the remedy for malaria was gin mixed with sugar, carbonated water, and quinine. Today, we pop our little white pills and run off to play in the jungle.
It’s amazing how much confidence a pill can give a fella.
Each year, nearly a million people across the world die from malaria. In some hard-hit areas of Africa, nearly two people die from malaria every minute. The disease is treatable and largely preventable, but many do not have access to the proper medicines. Kyle is lucky.
Heading out on a trip somewhere tropical? Visit the CDC’s website (cdc.gov) to learn about areas where malaria is a concern. Malaria varies by region and different prophylactic medications are recommended depending on where you are going. Some are taken daily and some weekly. Once you have the info, visit your doctor to get some drugs.
But remember that Kyle took drugs and look what happened to him. He’s walking around campus talking to anyone who will listen, “What, you’ve never had a tropical disease before? Oh, I have. It was no big deal. My brother dragged me out to the Honduran jungle. A mosquito carrying a very rare type of malaria was heading right for him. I pushed him out of the way and took the bite. Some would say I am a hero. I think I’m just a regular guy…”
Whether he is trying to place guilt or brag, I’m not sure, but Kyle is quick to remind me of the score:
Exotic Tropical Disease Scoreboard: Kyle- 1 Kelsey- 0