Clarity in confusion

Clarity in confusion

Thursday, September 1, 2016 12:26 pm

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

In September 1988, I came down with a severe case of malaria fever in London. I had just arrived London from Nigeria and after two weeks of the sharp autumn cold my body’s defence mechanisms gave way. I was admitted to the London School of Tropical Diseases where I was their guest for a week. On my first evening in the hospital, I woke up to see a number of doctors hovering on both sides of my bed. They were all white and in white coats, and in my fevered state, they looked unearthly. I thought to myself perhaps I am dead. The lead Doctor spoke to them while they all peered at me and took notes. Then the Doctor leant over me and asked me how I was feeling. ‘Not very well’ I responded. I was alone in London. My parents were back in Nigeria. My boyfriend (my future husband) was also in Nigeria. I was scared.

Tears welled in my eyes. I looked at the other Doctors again and had a feeling of dread. If I was not dead yet, then perhaps I might be soon. I asked the Doctor what was wrong with me. He pulled himself up and with all seriousness pronounced, ‘You have malaria fever’. I stared at him, waiting for what was to follow. Nothing else came. I asked him, ‘Is that all?’ He was very surprised to see that this was not an earth shattering moment for me. ’Yes, that is all. Have you had malaria fever before?’ He asked. ‘Yes, many times,’ I told him. Right up to that point, I had malaria at least twice a year. There was no long ceremony to it. You were given a Quinine injection, a Novalgin injection and if you were lucky some Phenergan too for the side effects of the medication. It also helped you sleep. After being treated at the London School of Tropical Diseases all those years ago, I have not had full blown malaria ever since. Till last week.

On Monday 22nd August, I left Lagos to attend an African Women Leaders Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya, hosted by OXFAM International. My plan was to arrive on the evening of the 22nd, and spend the 23rd with my good friend Zeedah. She lives in Zurich, but she also has a farm just outside Nairobi, and I have been promising her for years that I would visit. We had arranged to have lunch together on the farm, and I was going to eat grilled chicken and basmati rice with the delicious hot sauce Zeedah makes.

By the time I got off the plane in Nairobi on the night of the 22nd, I knew this plan was in trouble. I was running a temperature and I felt as if I had been beaten. I said a silent prayer of thanks that I had not landed at Hong Kong International Airport, where they have sensors to detect your body temperature. I was so grateful to see Ivy, the young lady who had been sent to receive me that I almost collapsed into her arms. I thought I was coming down with a cold, and since it is a viral infection, I was not unduly alarmed. Bad colds can be very uncomfortable, but not life threatening. The next day, instead of going out to the farm, I stayed in my hotel room to rest.

I started feeling a bit better, and was prepared for my presentation the next day. The following morning, I was feeling pretty awful, with a hundred bells ringing in my head. I made it to the conference room and managed to give my presentation. After the photographs with other speakers on the opening plenary, I was taken to the clinic. Apparently I had become so dehydrated I needed two drips. After tests had been run the Doctor confirmed a diagnosis of ‘Acute Malaria’. Considering the fact that I had not felt this ill in 28 years, I could understand the ‘acute’ diagnosis.

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Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]

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