Recently read a report from a seasoned missionary who worked in the rural, northern part of Ghana. The report detailed some of the travails he faced getting back to the United States in June because of COVID-19. I asked him if we could share some of that experience here and we thank him for saying yes.
He was two months overdue coming home by June and had a great attitude about the situation. He was enduring and them became gravely ill with a high fever – never a good sign in sub-Saharan Africa. After a couple of days of this, he made the 90-mile trek to a regional hospital where he spent three days getting pumped full of antibiotics by IV. Maybe it was bacterial meningitis, a serious inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can be caused by bacteria which spreads from person to person or can be spread through food. Meningococcal vaccines can protect against some the form of bacterial meningitis caused by N. meningitidis. The vaccines are not 100% effective. The highest incidence of N. meningitidis is found in the so-called “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa which is where our friend was working. He was wise to get to the regional health center, because meningococcal disease can be fatal. It should always be viewed as a medical emergency. CDC recommends that travelers to this Meningitis belt be vaccinated with MenACWY before traveling. Bacterial meningitis can be caused by other organisms, including Listeria monocytogenesincase it generally comes from contaminated food. After being discharged from the hospital and making the 90-mile trek north to his in-country residence, our friend relapsed into a high fever again. The Africans carrying for him kept his fever from reaching a deadly level by covering him with wet cloths repeatedly throughout the night until his fever broke. A fever of up to 105 °F or 40.55 °C causes exhaustion and weakness, but it is the immune systems way of killing pathogens. Scientists recently learned that a fever aids immune system cells in getting out of the blood stream and to the invading pathogens. Once a fever gets over 105° F it is getting to the dangerous level and a fever of 108° F can itself be deadly.
Imagine this, friend in the story had been waiting two months to get home to the US. He got news that an Ethiopia Airline plane was departing the capital (hundreds of miles away) on just a couple of days after being released from the hospital. The ticket had to be purchased in the capital with dollars rather than local currency. The airline company was willing to create a ticket for a day but would not take a credit card number over the phone. The next day, there were not tickets. Our friend who lived through these woes himself arrived in the capital on Wednesday, five days after being released from the hospital to stand outside in a cue of 70 or 80 other people trying to get information about the flight or tickets on it. Weak from his bout of illness and no longer able to sit outside, our friend went to the place where he was staying. He decided he would just go to the airport on Friday, the day the plane was scheduled to fly to the US. Although he arrived three hours before the flight, there were 20 people ahead of him in line and another 30 behind him. By the time our friend arrived with his e-ticket, the flight was boarding and the agent sent him to the sales desk. Standing in line, he began to pray the agent would have empathy. Because of the e-ticket, the agent called the main office and was authorize to sell our friend a ticket – but his credit card would not go. Fortunately, he had just enough cash to pay for a ticket. He got the last seat on the plane, middle seat, last row. Because there were to connecting flights to take him home after he arrived on the east coast, his wife drove half way across the country to pick him up. He is still recovering.
We share this story with his permission because it is a cautionary tale of traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic.