The World’s Biggest Killer: My Malaria Story

There’s some sort of brain teaser people ask one another: Can you guess the world’s deadliest creature? What living thing is responsible for the most deaths across the world? Most people might guess something like lions, bears, maybe even humans?

Nope, the deadliest killer out there is the mosquito. A creature that tiny is absolutely filled with the power to stop life in it’s tracks for hundreds of thousands of people every year. Particularly in my home of Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Since I was a child mosquitos have loved me. If I so much as touched any bite I received it would completely swell up, sometimes to the size of a baseball. I have always said one of my first questions to God when I get to heaven will me “God, Mosquitos….why?” But these days I am believing more and more than mosquitos and malaria are the work of our enemy. 

One year ago, I had malaria. It was October, the peak of raining season in Uganda, and the peak season for mosquitos to breed. 

On October 28th I went to a birthday party. It was a Saturday, I had a great time at the party, did more running around later in the day and felt completely normal. The very next day I woke up, and I was wrecked. I had to skip church because I was extraordinarily dizzy. I laid on the couch for hours hoping to feel well enough to play an orchestra concert that evening. When I finally got myself up and dressed and to the concert venue, I sat in a chair feeling completely outside myself. The conductor came up to me to chat and told me I really didn’t look well. I was dizzy, I was shaky, I felt outside myself. I couldn’t even tell you how I made it through the concert.

At the time I thought I had some sort of bacterial infection, which is common here in Uganda. The next day I woke up and I felt the same. I went to work like normal because I lead worship for my students first thing Monday mornings. I thought maybe the feelings would go away but only two hours into the work day I knew I couldn’t keep working without seeing a doctor.

I asked to leave work and went straight to the hospital that is 4 minutes from my job and directly across the street from my house. I remember literally sleeping in the waiting room. I could not stay awake for anything. After waiting I received a blood test. I walked home and slept the hour it took for my blood results to come.

When I walked back to the hospital and saw my results on the paper they handed me, I broke down crying. I had been living in Uganda for almost 3 years at that point and I remember thinking this was the first infection I had come into contact with that could actually kill me.

The doctors told me I had most likely contacted the infection within the past two weeks, but within the last month I had been in three different rural areas of Uganda, yet sleeping under a mosquito net every time. 

That week was one of the hardest of my life, but also one of the least memorable because I literally slept all day, every day…

A few things I remember were walking to the hospital every 12 hours to receive my medication through IV. My husband holding me tight in blankets as I shook uncontrollably from the medications effects. Michael reading to me Isaiah 56:3-4 over and over again at the foot of the bed. Him waking me up to guzzle water and sugar drinks to keep my blood pressure up. Being admitted to the hospital when my blood pressure rebelled and plummeted. Looking up and seeing my friends horrified expressions looking back on me when I was first admitted. Hearing my boss come ripping down the hospital hallway looking for me. Getting so sick of my IV I just wanted to rip it out! And Michael sleeping at a 90 degree angle in a plastic chair beside my hospital bed. 

Malaria is a really strange disease, because sometimes it shows up mild, and sometimes it is extremely deadly. 

My doctors told me my malaria case was serious, but I was so fortunate because I have people who love me and took care of me alongside access to medication and early detection through health care.

The reason I tell this story now is not only because it is a year after I left the hospital, but because two days ago we received news of a young American missionary woman who used to live in Uganda, now residing in Ghana, who died last night of malaria. Her last post on Facebook was October 31,just two days later, she was gone. 

I didn’t even know this woman but I have weeped for her today because of the two little girls she has left, the tragedy of this story, and also the thousands of other people she represents who die every day in villages and cities around Africa. 

I’m not quite sure how yet, but I intend to use the stirring in my heart over this tragedy, and my own story in a way that advocates to see an end to malaria related deaths. I would love to live in an Africa where everyone sleeps under a mosquito net, where everyone knows the warning signs of the disease, and everyone has access to the medical care they need to save their life. 

Above: Photos of Michael at my bedside at the International Hospital of Kampala.

I have included a link to a GoFundMe page raising money for the funeral and airlifting expenses for Meghan Liddy, mentioned earlier in this post. Please consider donating even a few dollars towards this cause.

Meghan Liddy’s GoFundMe Page

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