Letaba camp sign at the gate

Malaria – our mad dash to the doc in Skukuza


The whole of Kruger is a malaria area. And the past year and a half the malaria season, if one can call it that, has been quite hectic, with the last reported case of malaria only a week ago.


I personally have never taken any prophylaxis, apart from when I was doing a FGASA field guide course for two months in the area south of Phalaborwa. My GP in Holland actually told me he would rather have me have all the symptoms of malaria if I ever got sick, rather than taking tablets that mask symptoms. Besides, when I was still flying I was in and out of malaria areas so often; I would have been on the tablets permanently.


The same goes for us living here now, so neither Steven nor the children or myself are taking any preventative tablets. We are very aware of the risk though and of the real possibility that one of us might actually get malaria at one stage. So I always have mosquito repellent aerosols, creams and sticks at the house. Our bedrooms have air conditioning, which helps us at night. When the mozzies get bad at the end of the day, I usually just bring the boys inside. Better be safe than sorry, right?


Last summer, a lot of people got sick. The lady that helps me clean my house phoned me the one morning in tears saying that her sister was very sick. I quickly drove to her house. My other neighbour was already there and she had phoned the ambulance to take mama Nancy to the hospital in Phalaborwa. She was in hospital for three days with malaria. My other neighbour had had malaria a few months before.


We always have a few home malaria tests at the house. They look like pregnancy tests and work pretty much the same. (I posted a picture of Stevens positive malaria test on Facebook and people were congratulating us, thinking I was pregnant again! Ehm, two busybodies is enough for me thank you very much; Steven would get a heart attack if I were to fall pregnant with his 5th child!) In any case, when one of us, or one of the neighbours gets a fever, we do the test just to make sure. You don’t take chances with malaria!

U-test, the home malaria test
the home malaria tests we used for Alex and Steven

Steven came back from trail on a Wednesday. He works for two trails and then he is off for two trails. He is usually quite tired, but that day, I struggled to wake him up after he went to ‘just lie down’ for a bit. Steven had slept for hours! The next morning he felt fine so I went to town for some groceries. Now our closest town is Phalaborwa, which is 50 kilometres from Letaba. I usually only go to town once a week so it takes me a good few hours to get back. When I got home, Steven came into the kitchen and said: I can’t stop shaking.


positive home malaria test
Stevens positive test

I took one look at him and knew: this is not good. He was pale; he had a jersey on even though it was 40 degrees outside and his hands and whole body was shaking lightly. We did a home malaria test and while we were waiting for the results, I phoned the doctor in town letting him know I was going to bring my husband in with malaria because my instincts already told me that that was the case. Steven was very brave at that stage and wanted to drive himself. Yeah right! As we got in the car, the test showed positive.


Steven got worse and worse as we drove. He was so lethargic I was getting worried. 50 kilometres is long when you need to get to town in a hurry. Luckily the doctor had already faxed the prescription for coartem to the pharmacy, so I could get him his meds quickly.


Back at home, Steven climbed into bed and slept and slept. I had to wake him up forcing him to drink water and take his meds, but the next day he was already feeling a lot better! That coartem really works like a bomb. Another day and Steven was up and the day after that he was fine thank goodness.


Then a few weeks ago, Alex’ older brother and sister were visiting. They live with their mother in Skukuza and come up to us every other weekend. They are all crazy about each other. Aiden lets Alex ride on his back like a horse, Ava cannot get enough of Jack, they always have a massive jol together.


So when Alex didn’t want to play but just lie in bed the one Sunday morning, I knew we had trouble. I took his temperature. 38.3. Not too bad, but definitely needed to keep an eye on him. Steven and I chatted. When do we test? When his temperature spikes over 40? Or earlier? We weren’t sure.


I took his temp again. Still 38.3. Alex fell asleep and we decided to start packing for in case we had to take him to the doctor or the hospital. When we got most of the packing done, Steven phoned the doctor in Skukuza. He told us to rather test Alex, so we woke him up and did the home test. Initially, it looked like it was negative. The control line showed very clearly, and I could not see anything else. But my gut feeling did not like this one bit. Ten minutes later, I checked again. And saw the beginning of a very faint test line. All hands on deck!! We quickly packed all the kids in the car, hooked the trailer and started heading south to Skukuza where the doctor knew we were coming.


Halfway between Letaba and Satara, Alex started vomiting. This was getting bad! Steven stopped the car so I could clean Alex up a bit. As I walked behind the car to the other side, I noticed a trail of drops behind our car. I tested it with my finger. Oil! Lots of oil! We had the car serviced a few weeks before and when Steven went to fetch Ava and Aiden two days earlier, there was not a drop of oil in the car! He filled it up, but we were still leaking oil like an elephant bull in musth!! Quickly, Steven topped up the oil and we were on our way again. We needed to get Alex to Skukuza as soon as possible. But now our car was giving problems. What a nightmare!


In Satara, Steven phoned the ops room. Maybe the chopper could come and fetch Alex and me so long. Or we could go with the ambulance. The ambulance was there quite quickly so we just jumped in and went. Steven trailing behind, topping up with oil every chance he got.


Alex was sitting next to me on the front seat, resting his head on my lap. I had my arm around him and could feel the heat from the fever through his shirt. He was so quiet, nothing like his chirpy old self. I was wishing the kilometres away. We got to Skukuza as the sun was setting. The ambulance took us straight to the doctor’s office in the staff village, where I phoned the after hours number. The doc was there in a heartbeat, took Alex inside and did another malaria test. This test was a different one than we have at home and strangely enough, it tested negative! The doc wanted to start Alex on coartem nonetheless, giving his symptoms and our positive home test, which was probably more accurate.


I wish they would make coartem in a syrup because it is no joke trying a 3-year-old to take two tablets… we eventually crushed the tablets and dissolved them in some milk which we had to give to him in a neurofen spuit. That was the only way we would get him to drink it. The second dose should be given 8 hours later, so we set the alarm at 3 am to give him his next dose. Then every 12 hours after that. The next day Alex was already doing a lot better! We caught Alex’ malaria very early and the meds were clearly working. A day later, he was back to his chirpy old self, talking and chatting to us in his own ‘Alex language’.


Oh and the car? They had replaced the fuel filter at the garage where they did the service, but it did not have a seal! No wonder we were leaking oil like crazy! Luckily a garage in Nelspruit was able to sort it out quickly and our Chev was once again reliable as always!

12 thoughts on “Malaria – our mad dash to the doc in Skukuza

  1. I am really enjoying these stories. Well written and you are so lucky to live in this wonderful place!

  2. Phew ! A mom needs nerves of steel ! Especially in the bush veld no doubt ! Love your stories !

  3. I got malaria at Orpen around Christmas 96. I believe it was the communal toilet block where the smokers always leave the windows open. You get on the throne and the air around you comes to life with that droning buzz…
    I wrote a suggestion once that they need fans over the toilet areas at night as Mozzies don’t like it when the air is disturbed. I suppose it went into file 13….
    I was also lucky, although very sick and hospitalised for two days in Joburg – never had a recurrence thank goodness.
    The wife of a colleague at the time was disdainful saying that I had not had it as badly as her brother who nearly died. A competition I quite happily accepted last place for because if my mild attack could make me SO SICK you can keep it – any of it!

  4. Thankfully I’ve taken malaria pills each time before going to KNP. I loved the incident of the Ellie Bull spraying you with water. Your son’s face is comical.

  5. I had a friend who picked up cerebral malaria when he went on a trip to Zambia. He nearly died (we all prayed very very hard). Its been 2 years since his recovery and his body is STILL recovering… malaria is no joke 🙁

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