Then the scary things started to happen. I had crazy muscle spasms, especially in my back and legs. I had terrible pain in my bones, especially in my rib cage. I had swollen glands off & on. Sometimes I had a hard time speaking, like I couldn't get words out or I stuttered. I couldn't concentrate. I was taking on-line college courses & I noticed my ability to concentrate on class work & reading dwindling rapidly. I even noticed here, on my blog, my ability to think through writing a post getting harder & harder. I couldn't smell very well, I couldn't taste very well, & my eyes were watery & blurred sometimes. I told my husband, "I feel like I have a fever behind my eyes sometimes."
Then came the numbness in my legs, especially the right one. It was a painful, stiff, creeping feeling. It tingled from my toes, up the back of my calf. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my leg completely numb. My foot would feel big & fat. As the pain & numbness in my legs grew, I spent more & more time examining them. What could it be? I thought maybe I had to stretch more, walk more, but it didn't help. And then I noticed something else . . . the kind of weight I was losing. It was muscle mass. My leg muscles, & arms also, were losing mass.
The funny heartbeat had returned too, a strange symptom from years before had come back & it was scaring the heck out of me. I was living in one of the least developed countries in the world, if I had a heart problem there were no options. I tried to be calm & logical, but I knew something was wrong. I was worried, "If the something is very, very bad, what about my daughter?" I was petrified thinking about the repercussions for her, if something went seriously wrong for me in this place. I made plans to see doctors when we had our annual home leave in the U.S.
Then one afternoon the pain & numbness in my leg got intense. I tried to stretch it. I tried to rest it. I elevated it. I put ice on it & then heat. Nothing was working. It was such a strange horrible sensation, it made me a bit short of breath. I took some Advil & by bed time thought maybe I could sleep through it & in the morning everything would be okay. It was not. We called our medical evacuation insurance, which provided consultation over the phone. They asked me questions about the pain & numbness, how long, how much, my lifestyle.
"How old are you?"
"Do you take birth control?"
A long pause. "It is possible this is a blood clot. You should arrange to go to the nearest hospital."
Again, hospital conditions in West Africa are awful. I had done this before though. I was not and am not, appalled by those conditions, my heart is broken by them. To be perfectly honest, I did not want to expose myself to the deep sickness of heart that lingers in an African hospital again, but I was now terrified. My husband & I drove to the nearest hospital.
I won't describe all the details, but basically we arrived, had to wake-up a young doctor who had trained in the U.S., but was not actually finished with medical school, I was admitted, & started on blood thinners . . . without an ultrasound. Three days later, still in the hospital, the staff admitted that the only doctor in the country able to do the ultrasound I needed was not even currently in Sierra Leone. I had my second medical evacuation, again to Senegal. This time I went alone, because I was totally unwilling to put my husband & child through the stress a second time.
After three days on blood thinners, a Senegalese doctor performed an ultrasound on my leg. He declared, in angry French, that their was nothing wrong w/ me & berated his nurses for calling him into the hospital on a Sunday. I was taken back to my room where I cried alone for a few minutes. I was so relieved, but I was also more worried than ever & I was ashamed. What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind? What had happened to my leg? The nurse came in with one last meal before my discharge. She served me tea, a Senegalese fish dish . . . & bread. If I had only known.