Despite taking antibiotics, my ankles are swelling up again in the afternoon. The infection doesn’t seem to have improved at all, and the sores look as nasty as ever.
I go to bed early again and google for “sandflies Zambia”. The bites very much resembled sandfly bites I had in Malaysia 15 years ago (minus the infection). I’m simply curious to find out whether my suspicion is correct, whether there are sandflies in Zambia at all.
Articles about leishmaniasis show up in the search results and immediately attract my attention. What’s that? I’ve never heard of that disease. As I read, it’s transmitted by sandflies and potentially lethal if untreated.
So do they have that disease in Zambia? I find articles about an outbreak of leishmaniasis in Western Zambia in 2016, as well as a massive sandfly outbreak in the Luangwa river delta just earlier this year. LUANGWA river—that’s exactly where I had gotten my bites!!!
I compare the leishmaniasis sores on the google images with my infected bites—they look exactly the same! I read more about it’s symptoms—intermittent fever, night sweats, loss of appetite,…—that’s exactly me!!!
Alone in my tent, my mind is playing doomsday scenarios again. I was going to cycle to the Zimbabwean side of the Victoria Falls with Kim & Peter in the morning, and to join them and a big group of riders for High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.
None of that matters any more. I have new priorities: go to a clinic to test for leishmaniasis first thing in the morning, and then do whatever I can to make sure I will be able to ride again in three days when we continue the tour.
I head back to the bar to find Helen and tell her about my plan. She doesn’t think it’s likely that I have contracted leishmaniasis, but agrees it’s not a bad idea for me to get a proper check anyway. Back in my tent, I call my health and emergency insurance travel providers to confirm next steps. I also google for best private clinics in Livingstone, but my search is not conclusive. I’ll just have to ask the lodge receptionist for their recommendation.
Throughout the night, I wake up again and again, convinced that I have caught a potentially lethal disease.
Fast forward one and a half days:
- It’s not possible anywhere in Livingstone to test for Leishmaniasis (or any other more sophisticated tests of any kind). Proper labs only exist in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
- The doctor recommended by the lodge seemed most interested in charging me as much as he could by doing some blood tests that—as I would only find out later—cannot test for leishmaniasis at all (samples from the wound would be required, but that again could only be tested in Lusaka). Having said that, I trust the lodge gave me a good recommendation and he still was one of the better doctors in Livingstone, sadly so.
- As recommended by the doctor (and separately also by Helen), I’ve started taking different, stronger antibiotics in the evening after my doctor’s visit, to which my body has responded overnight. The swelling and infection has almost disappeared. I had been simply on the wrong antibiotics to start with.
- Riders Greg (pharmacist) and Bridgette (doctor), as well as Helen and my own more detailed Internet research have all convinced me that it is highly improbable that my infection would have been caused by leishmaniasis. It was much more a normal infection that commonly occurs from open wounds in tropical climates.
According to Greg, it’s common for patients to get fixated on highly unlikely worst case scenarios. Seems our brains are just wired to assume to worst. Bad idea—it steals our limited time & energy.
Many many thanks to Helen for advising me throughout her rest days, to Greg and Bridgette for their advice and emotional support as both experts and friends, as well as to Charl for running my scary leg photos past specialists in Dubai!
Stage 62: Ruze Chalets – Victoria Falls (Zambia), 151km
Road & traffic condition:
Good Waterfront bar & restaurant at our lodge.
- Very nice campsite with hot showers and clean bathrooms, two swimming pools and a nice bar with a proper coffee machine, directly at the Zambezi river waterfront.
- Three rest days at the Victoria Falls coming up—our longest break since Nairobi. The Victoria Falls are so powerful that we could see the mist already when cycling into Livingstone from 20km away!
- Our third bike donation ceremony: I had missed the first two, so I made sure to attend this one. Half way through my shower, I rushed to get there own time. Luckily, it hadn’t started yet. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. An hour later, the mayor (guest of honor) still hadn’t shown up yet—TIA (This Is Africa)!!!
Meanwhile, we were partially entertained by a local drumming and dancing performance. Anyone thinks the movie Dirty Dancing shows dirty dancing? Then watch local Zambian dancing. It couldn’t have been any more sexual!