The sudden aching in my eyes had returned, as had my 104-degree temperature and monstrous headache. My shivering turned to violent shaking. “God, what is it? It hurts so much.” Did I say that out loud? I heard the familiar slapping of approaching flip-flops.
“So, it’s happening again?” Anna, as the Africans called her, was standing in the bedroom doorway, staring at my shaking body, wrapped in a sheet from crown to toenails like some kind of ancient mummy.
“Yeah, and it’s not malaria this time either. I’ve been fine since that first episode, until 4 o’clock today.” Anna lifted the huge mosquito net and sat on the bed opposite mine. Checking vital signs, she agreed it was puzzling.
Once the maximum temperature had been reached, the sweating began, and the sheet tossed off; I was too hot now. How my head hurt! The vomiting didn’t help any either. Sometime during the night, it was over and I collapsed in exhausted sleep.
By morning, I felt like a limp rag doll. As with the episode three days earlier, I was tired but didn’t have pain anywhere. I worked in the clinic all day, anxiety starting slowly as 4 o’clock drew near. Nothing happened.
Six days later, four o’clock arrived with a vengeance. I was enjoying the shade under our thatched-roof reception hut when the attack suddenly gripped me. My eyes ached so profoundly that I groaned and pressed my fists into my eyeballs. Hurriedly, I headed for my room, collecting the items I knew would be needed. Again, it ended sometime in the night. This time I was too spent to get up; breakfast was frozen lemonade cubes.
“Lord, I’ve just got to find an answer. This thing’s zapping me.”
Funnily enough, except for fatigue, I had no symptoms after any of the 12-hour assaults. About mid-morning, I slipped into my yellow, v-neck dress and sat in the blue recliner. “Okay, Lord, I’m here in my prayer chair. What’s wrong with me?”
I waited and was about to doze off when I felt a tiny critter crawling across the exposed skin on my chest. Automatically, I reached up and grabbed the little beast between my thumb and forefinger. Hmm, what’s this? It looks like a tick but has a soft shell. Tick Fever? Was there some kind other than Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? I bolted from the recliner to get my favorite textbook on tropical diseases.
According to the experts, the cause of my suffering was Tick Fever, more commonly known in the tropics as Relapsing Fever. It comes from the bite of a soft-shelled tick, normally living in the crevices of old mud bricks; unless someone lets go an insecticide bomb, forcing them out. Exactly what we had done. My heart raced with excitement because God had just used that little beast to answer my question.
The sad news was that the Relapsing Fever would be back. The usual number of relapses was somewhere between three and eleven, with six being the average. Since I had just had Number 3, maybe it was over? Oh, please God.
As each day passed, I dreaded the approach of 4 o’clock. Adrenaline was drained from me whether I endured another attack or just lived the stress of waiting for it. I had never felt so exhausted. If 21 days passed without any symptoms, the textbook said it was over.
Attack 4 seemed like a drop-kick of my hopes. On Day 19, unaware of the clock, the sudden aching in my eyes released a stark reminder; it was 4 o’clock. I left my office to cry.
By the time I had survived five, I was desperately begging God that it be the last. When Day 20 had been reached, my only thought was, just one more day.
Anna and I were alone in the house when 4 o’clock came, never had there been two more hopeful ladies. “Well, how do you feel?” Anna asked with such cheerful expectation. I could not speak. Throwing both hands up to cover my face, I sobbed inconsolably, as much from disappointment as from the wracking pain in my eyes. It simply was not over.
After Relapse 6, hope filled our hearts again on Day 20. It had been two months since the Relapsing Fever first began. No pain on Day 21 but let’s give it another day to be sure. Day 22, no symptoms at 4, 5, 6… finished! God totally restored me. Such indescribable joy.
Author’s Note: This is a true story.
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