Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Uninvited Guests

Poor little Ivy cat is being tormented by fleas. It happens at this time of year, more often than not, in Delaware, where living is much closer to the outside. A colony of feral cats lived under the trailer back in the days before we came and reclaimed the interior for human habitation. The cats are long gone but progeny of their fellow travelers remain in the dirt all around. As we people go about our outdoors business, the fleas hitch rides on our clothes and come inside with us, where they jump off and eventually hit a furry little black and white jackpot. Of course, Nicky the yellow cat is there, too, but the fleas don't seem so interested in his offerings--maybe because he's fatter, so his blood is harder to get at?

Anyway, both cats are wearing smelly flea collars now and the problem should abate in a few days, but it's hard to see Ivy awakend from a slumber to scratch, lick, or bite some spot that a flea has drawn his attention to. Of course, I have no inkling how a cat manages to deal with any of this. I'm like most normal humans in that feeling tiny things crawling over me would drive me over the edge. But cats, and for that matter many other creatures, just seem to be able to put up with it, or maybe not even be aware of it until a major bite occurs. Even some humans, forced by extraordinary circumstances to life in extremis outdoors, seem to be blessed with this de-sensitization. I guess sentient organisms can become too sentient and defensively get used to anything when they have to.

Malaria is endemic in Ghana, as it is in most of the tropical countries where the Peace Corps works. We Peace Corps folk, volunteers and staff alike, were required to take a drug called Aralen to suppress any parasites we may have been exposed to by random mosquito bites. (More modern drugs are used now.) The thing about this weekly Aralen dose was that there is still something called a "malaria breakthrough," which could happen if you were exposed to more mosquitoes than normal and the malaria parasites become numerous enough to overcome the prophylactic effect of the drug. If that were to happen and we should find ourselves felled by a sudden, raging fever, a specific parasite-destroying regimen was printed right on the Aralen bottles we all carried with us.

I was as idiotically assured of my own immortality as any other kid of 24, and couldn't see any sense in "poisoning" myself with a drug a) whose prophylactic effect could be overcome by sufficient exposure to the malaria parasite and b) could beat back even an OD of parasites with a specific regimen anyway. So I didn't take my weekly Aralen (the only Peace Corps rule I ever broke), and I did get a fever.

It happened on a late Saturday morning as a group of us were gathering for the curry lunch at Kumasi's City Hotel--an occasional treat we'd indulge in if enough folks were in town to form a party. My temperature rose dramatically within minutes; I could do nothing more than sit on the curb, and I was hard-pressed to find the strength to remain upright even to that degree. My friends rushed me with them to Michele's house, where I was bundled into a bed to trip out on fever dreams. Somebody had my unused Aralen bottle and dosed me with the prescribed amounts at the prescribed intervals. I do remember realizing that I had provided an excuse for an early start to the party that would have taken place at Michele's place after lunch anyway. Some part of me wanted to be there, but I couldn't move.

The drug did its work. After just a few hours, the fever broke as suddenly as it had begun, and I was able to join my friends in the next room, decidedly worse for the wear, but grateful to be among the welcoming, smiling faces . At the end of the day I went home and crashed. It was about a week before I felt completely normal again.

When my Peace Corps service was over and I was back in the States, I related this episode to my doctor and asked for a blood test to see if I had indeed had malaria and if there were any parasites left--could I expect a relapse? I tested negative for the parasite. Either my body had sloughed it off, or I had simply succumbed to some random tropical fever that happened to respond to Aralen. To this day the story has no horror in it for me. Malaria was simply one of the myriad risks I had accepted as part of doing business in the Peace Corps. Whatever that fever was, I survived it; the Aralen and my body danced together as intended, and here I am telling the tale. In my much wiser dotage now, of course, simply crossing a street can engender shaky, white-knuckle fright. I'm honestly not sure which is better: the caution of age or the blissful ignorance of the young. Then again, maybe you become cautious in direct proportion to how dumb you were before. Given my risk-averse life now, I must have been really good and stupid. I'm so glad!


Nan said...

What a story (and nicely written!) Glad the fever broke when and how it did. And you are all the more experienced by it.

Bob said...

One of the newer flea and tick medications, like Front Line Plus, will solve the problem for the cats.

Ralph said...

Good advice, Bob. Thanks.

Kat said...

I'm with Bob on the Front Line Plus. My house and my cats were once inundated with fleas, pre-dog days. I had to bomb the house.

We stopped taking Aralen as soon as the rains ended because the mosquitoes and all other insects disappeared. Aralen tasted so nasty we didn't mind foregoing it. We'd start to take it again if we were going down south, and we always took it during the rainy season.

Ralph said...

I'm going out for the Front Line Plus as soon as I can get out of the house this morning, Kat, before we take off. I appreciate the advice.

Aralen: oh, yeah, the taste. I always wondered why people were tasting it. I just swallowed it with a big gulp of water.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ralph, it's Glo!! I'm having a friend help me with these comments to you. I will try to keep up after this. Take care on your trip. Give my best to Steve.
Talk to you soon,

Gloria Leffridge

Ralph said...

Gloria! We got here OK and the weather has cleared completely. We should hae a great week. So cool to see your name here! Next time use your name!

See you soon, I hope.