listen to africa

an audio adventure through africa

Geotag Icon Huw’s health, and an unexpected homecoming

Blog posted by on Jan 25th, 2010
Huw and the District Chief, near Shenge, Sierra Leone. © Listen to Africa

Huw and the District Chief, near Shenge, Sierra Leone. © Listen to Africa

[Update (6th April 2010): The diagnosis was eventually confirmed as Blackwater Fever and Huw’s recovering in the Yorkshire Dales, doing well.]

When we said we were going to take some time away from the blog, we didn’t plan to take seven weeks away – sorry about that. But then we didn’t plan to get quite so ill and get evacuated first from Liberia and then from Ghana. I’m going to write the long version when things have calmed down a bit but, for now, here’s the short version:

We got stuck in Freetown for far too long, got moving, got a few kilometres before Huw’s bike spontaneously imploded, got moving again, got blown away (in a good way) by Sierra Leone and (in a bad way) by its poverty, got close to nature (primates and green mambas, most memorably), got to Liberia and, on New Year’s Eve, got engaged (in a brothel).

A couple of days later, we got malaria and / or E Coli, depending on which hospital tests you believe. I mended very quickly but Huw deteriorated and developed jaundice, among other things. With our (excellent) insurance company (and us) worried about organ damage and the quality of medical care in Liberia, we were evacuated from Liberia to Ghana by air ambulance. At excellent hospitals in Ghana, Huw got a bit better and then a lot worse, suffering acute renal failure (the doctors suspected Black Water Fever, a (rare, nowadays) complication of falciparum malaria that can be triggered by quinine). After two days of dialysis in Ghana, we were evacuated by air ambulance to the UK last Thursday.

Huw’s now doing well in hospital in London and, while the doctors are very excited about all sorts of rare tropical diseases, they say the chances are we’ll now never know what he had – although they have ruled out a few of the nastier possibilities. Whatever it was has cleared up so now we’re just crossing fingers and toes that his kidneys start working properly soon – the signs are encouraging and getting better by the day.

Neither of us has the headspace at the moment to think about what happens next; for now, we””re just focusing on Huw getting better. Whatever we decide after that, we’ll let you know – but we’ll certainly be spending at least a couple of months here in the UK.

While Huw’s recovering, I’ll slowly be writing a few blogs about the last couple of months, adding a few galleries and posting some sound recordings from Sierra Leone (primates, mostly). Once those are up, you might find yourselves Listening to London for a while instead of Africa…

For the time being, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone sending us good wishes – and especially to Renee (in the US), Ralph (in Liberia) and Dean (in Liberia) for all their help. And to these people and these people.

We’ve had a pretty scary time but, that said, we’re very aware of how privileged we’ve been in all this compared to, say, the majority of Liberians, who have no choice but to muddle through with the country’s abject lack of medical staff and facilities. (In both Sierra Leone and Liberia, we learned that civil wars keep killing people long after the fighting is over, but that’s another story.)

In the meantime, here’s to a slightly less eventful rest of 2010, wherever it takes us!

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  1. Glad to hear you both well and hope that Huw keeps recovering.
    greetings from the Sahara where there aren’t many deseases due to the heat and dryness of the air!

  2. I have the deepest respect for you and Huw. You have truly conquered some of the greatest challenges Africa has to offer. I wish Huw speedy recovery and am really glad that you are both safe.

  3. Hi Huw.

    Didn’t know you’d gotten so ill. Glad to hear you’re back and on the mend, anyway. Take care.

    Chris H. (GP UK now and then, mostly junior doctoring in Derby)

  4. Wow, that kind of puts a crimp on the bicycling. Glad the both of you are on the mend.

    Thanks for sharing the experience.

    Don’t know what your next steps are, but there’s a (fairly urgent) opening for a web manager at Greenpeace Africa. Drop me a line if your interested.

  5. So glad that Huw is better! Thanks for keeping us updated here. I am glad you’ll still be putting a few more things up on the site. To be honest I very selfishly felt like my very own virtual trip through Africa had been cut short. I always loved the idea that I could join you whenever I wanted to – right here. It’s been BRILLIANT! Thanks for bringing us all along for the ride. Hope you’ll be back on the road again soon and are able to enjoy a well deserved rest. Wishing Huw a speedy and full recovery.

    All the best

  6. Oh and WHEN’s the wedding? :-)

  7. Wishing you both a lot strength, courage and love…

  8. Gday Bec and Huw,
    Best of luck with the health.
    New years eve engagement on the road…so cliche….congratulations!

  9. It is hard getting ill and it is even harder when you are somewhere where either you don’t know the system or there are very poor facilities.

    I got falciparum malaria in Mali in 2000. I remember a crushing headache, lying down in a hut to get out of the light, a long car ride back to Bamako – I had lost my sight temporarily and had spastic movements which made walking hard – a poor but caring hospital with hardly any facilities – no mosquito nets for example which I’m sure was the VERY least of their worries. And no insurance. What an idiot I was.

    Anyway with their kind help I recovered there and then we went home to London for a couple of weeks to make sure but we missed the adventure we were in the middle of and so went back but this time to Burkina Faso.

    It was the first plane we could get. We were keen ;-)

    Not long after that I had the weirdest dream which had a funny metallic taste to it and my head felt huge. I was just a head. A floating enormous head. A MASSIVE head and my jaw was so heavy that I could hardly lift it to close my mouth. I see it now as one of the heads on a Pink Floyd album cover – The Division Bell. I felt absolutely fine but I said to my boyfriend “I think I’m going to be ill again.” And I was.

    This time I had insurance and thank God I did because literally a few hours later I was sitting at the side of the road and then I sort of awoke to a vision of Jesus looking down at me. He must be Jesus I thought because he was an extraordinarily beautiful man with long curling brown hair, though I seemed to realise, even in my delirious state – maybe when my boyfriend was holding me up to pee bloodily because I had ripped the catheter out – that he probably wasn’t.

    I was air ambulanced on a stretcher back to the UK with not only my boyfriend but Jesus too and I woke up in the Neurological Hospital in a very nice room on my own in isolation with a doctor asking me to describe his tie which I apparently described as time going backwards.

    As with Huw they said I probably would never know what I had. But it certainly makes you count your blessings that you can simply get on a plane, fly out and have first class medical facilities at your disposal. It made me see how lucky and carefree our lives are and how crushing it is to be poor and cast adrift, left to fate. I don’t want to get into how I feel about that situation.

    On a funnier note. My brain must have been functioning normally in some way because I got a letter from the lovely doctor Jesus asking me to go to the Hospital of Tropical Diseases and get the stretcher I was brought in on and send it back to him. Luckily it wasn’t one of those things you see in “Casualty” – I did have visions of me wheeling it away wondering how on earth I was going to post it back. But no, it turned out to be a simple canvas sheet with handles.

    I went to the hospital and asked for it – still thinking it was a Casualty style stretcher and, of course, no-one knew what I was talking about. I understood their confusion. I mean why would anybody be going to the hospital wanting to take away a stretcher and post it to Africa. I was confused. But then I mentioned the Doctor by name and the all nurses in the vicinity rushed over and in a swooning unison went “Oh, my God, THAT doctor! He is gorgeous!” wanting to know every detail about him which I obviously – to their slight chagrin – couldn’t supply being a few hundred thousand brain cells lighter.

    Beautiful AND good. A heady mix :-)

    Also, that weird dream? I described it to the doctor at the Neurological Hospital when I was sane again and he told me it is quite a common experience. It is called a Herald’s Dream. So sometimes it is good to act on your intuition. Interesting isn’t it. I’m sure it can be explained in some sort of chemical in-balance way but still.

    Glad to hear you are both getting better and I hope that you soon get back to your adventures as I live vicariously through yours and a few others. But maybe not TOO soon :-)

    A long ramble but I thought I’d share it.

    PS What a great place to get engaged! Congratulations :-D

  10. Sorry! That was much longer than I thought ;-)

  11. Isabel, Sherinne, Chris and Marlene – thanks so much from both of us for your kind comments.

    Andrew, thanks for adding to our what-to-do-next confusion ;) Seriously, thanks for thinking of me – email on its way.

    Lisa, wedding?! Aargh!!! ;)

    Rich, heh, yep, so cliche… (Huw didn’t know you’d popped the question to Cath on NYE by the way, and I wasn’t going to refuse just for the sake of originality :) Anyway, you can rest assured that your African-Cycling-New-Year’s-Eve engagement was almost certainly more romantic than ours :)

    Sarah, I loved your story (especially describing the tie as time going backwards… :) And if we go back, we won’t be going back TOO soon!

    Yep, it’s a strange feeling – as we took off (especially from Liberia), I had extremely mixed feelings of gratitude/relief (because we could get somewhere with good medical care) and guilt/shame (because we could get somewhere with good medical care)…

    The Herald’s Dream thing is really interesting – I’d never heard of that. Anyway, I’m glad you made it safely back to the UK (twice!) and wishing you no more dreams of ginormous heads (although possibly a few of gorgeous doctors)!

    Thanks all,

  12. Hey there bex.

    Just heard on the MT list that you’ve needed to be flown back to the UK by your insurance company. Didn’t know what it was all about so came here to find out. Shit!

    Pleased to hear Huw is on the mend and things are looking good.

    Take care.

  13. Lovely to chat to Mum tonight but thought I had better look up on your web to see what had happened to you. Wow! Delighted to hear that you are both up and better – keep it up. luv Jocelyn

  14. Dear Rebecca and Huw
    Very glad to know, you are both up and better…. What are you thinking now witn your wonderfull projet ?
    Nice too meet you again in le Thiossane…..

  15. Jim – thanks! We”ve just moved up to not so far from your neck of the woods (the Dales) – will be in touch!

    Jocelyn, thanks – and for all your supportive messages all the way through the journey and, especially, for the chocolates for Huw!

    Alain and Alicia, we still don”t know what we are thinking with our project. The doctor said we were to do “nothing adventurous for at least six months” so we have time to think about it! We will certainly let you know. At the moment, we are trying to earn some money… Yes, one way or another, we will be back to Le Thiossane one day. Bisoux to you all (including the hyenas),

    Bex xxx

  16. Bex and Huw, I”m so sorry to hear about all of the health problems! When will you resume the journey? Were you lucky enough to record any chimpanzee vocalizations?

  17. Hi Huw and Bex,

    Im so sorry to hear that your bike ride has ended in such a way but glad to see your on the mend in a more suitable hospital in London. I also had health scare in Zambia and now its not nice to be in a third world hospital worrying about your health. Alan and I are nealry finished on our bike ride we have made it to South Africa and are only 8 days cycling from Cape Town. Its crazy to be so close to the end, wish we werent but it”s got to finish sometime plus the moneys running out :)

    Send us a message when you get the time would love to hear from you both.

    Best wishes

    Ian and Alan

  18. wishing good health to both of you.

  19. I”m planning a trip to Africa, driving from Denmark to Ghana. It”s been really enjoyable reading your blog – excellently written! You should make a book of it some day!

    Shame your trip got curtailed because of illness. Sierra Leone/Liberia seem to be dodgy places to go when it comes to malaria, a person I used to know, Kinga Freespirit from Poland, got sick in the same area, was taken to Ghana and died there back in 2006, apparently from the same thing Huw caught.

  20. Nice to see your Blog

  21. G’day,

    Its a pleasure to see you’re in good health and firing all the cylinders. Your Blogs shows all is well.

    Keep up good work.

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