I was going to Zambia and Tanzania in their winter and was told I had to take anti-malarial medication. I thought this was entirely unnecessary since I had been to Africa in July twice before and had never seen any mosquitos. But my doctor insisted. So I was prescribed Larium, the once-a-week pill that I had taken the previous two trips. I took the first dose a week before departure as directed.
It happened our second night in Zambia. My fifteen-year-old daughter and I were the only guests in a sixteen-tent camp. We were zipped into our tent. There was no one around. There was no electricity. There was no flashlight. It was very cold and silent. We decided to go to sleep. It was 10:00 pm.
I awakened terrified. I looked at the clock. It was midnight. It felt as though the walls of the tent were closing in around me. I thought mosquitos were attacking me and I buried myself deeper in the covers, pulling them over my head. I heard the sound of buzzing and wondered if I was going crazy. Then my arms below the elbows all the way to the tips of my fingers became numb. There was no way I could go back to sleep with all this pandemonium going on.
Yet I didn’t want to alarm my daughter. I waited and waited, hoping the terror would subside. It didn’t. I looked at the clock again. 3:00 am. I needed help right away. I began to mutter out loud finally awakening Juliet. She was not happy as evidenced by her grumpy remarks. What I said to her was this: “I don’t want to alarm you but I think I’m losing my mind. We have to go home tomorrow.”
I told her what was happening to me. She reacted with aplomb and with what seemed like extraordinary maturity beyond her tender years. While quietly reassuring me, she pulled back the curtains from around the screens to give the illusion of letting in light. She gave me her Walkman with music from Lord of the Rings to soothe me.
Although insomnia prevented me from further sleep, I started thinking. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I was a pretty level-headed person. But wait! I suddenly remembered the pharmacy instructions about Larium that I had briefly glanced at weeks earlier. Possible side-effects included paranoia, insomnia, numbness below the elbows, and suicide! I was experiencing most of these symptoms.
This realization gave me some comfort. And I made a decision then and there: I would rather die from malaria than have this experience again. So I didn’t take another dose on that trip and, needless to say, since then, any time my travel plans have called for an anti-malarial drug, I have chosen anything but Larium.