Amelia fainted yesterday.
We were in the pharmacy in town. It is small and airless and forever filled with a crush of people paying for malaria drugs which the WHO insist no longer work but which are still sold here (by shopkeepers who either don’t know or don’t care what the WHO says) and purchased by desperate people who either don’t know that the WHO feel so strongly about combined drug therapies in the treatment of malaria that they have articulated a desire to have anything else pulled off dusty shelves across Africa. Or cannot afford them.
So I – because I can read English and because, given our geography, have had to educate myself to a degree about medicine and because I have a tome about health care published by the BMJ and a copy of the drug bible, BNF – am leaning over the counter having reached the head of the hot little crush and am reading the insert in a box of antibiotics.
Amelia is behind me.
I feel sick, she says.
I only half hear her. I presume this is her fourteen year old way of complaining about the wait and the heat and the warm-body smells exuding all around us.
I feel sick, she says again. A bit more insistently this time.
I turn around. She is the colour of chalk. I realise I need to get her out fast.
But we don’t make it. As we turn to leave, she crumples in a heap on the floor, her head is saved from crashing to the cement because of the heaving density of the crowd and the counter she collapses against.
For a few seconds I do not hear anything. I don’t see anything except my young daughter’s blanched expression and pale lips and glazed eyes. And then, thank God, thank God, the colour returns to her face, she registers mine, and bursts into tears.
We stumble out of the pharmacy, I try to put my arm about her shoulders to draw her protectively towards me but she is too tall. Instead I clutch her elbow and guide her to the car, watched by a gathering crowd, and we drive home, all windows wide open.
I used to faint. My mum did too. We were swooners who ought to have been armed with smelling salts.
But it’s different when it’s your daughter. It’s not something, then, to boast to your mates about, ”I fainted you know”. Now it’s something to worry about.
And it’s a big worry when you live this far away. In the bush. Living in the bush exacerbates your health paranoia to the point of hypochondria. albeit by proxy in the case of loved ones.
We get home and I make Amelia drink a pint of coke and eat a bar of chocolate and lie down with a book. And then I fuss over her all day, shadowing her, insisting that she leaves the bathroom door unlocked when she goes to the loo whilst I hover outside anxiously.
“I’m fine, Mum”, she says, sweetly trying hard not to sound impatient at my clucking.
Teenage girls are liable to faints. Especially when they’re so tall. Especially when they’re growing. Especially when they can’t be bothered with breakfast. Especially when their mothers make them stand and wait too long in hot, airless, little dukas.
I know all this. But I get online and re-read it all anyway.
My children’s health is my greatest concern here. Where the medical facilities are lacking. Basic. Extend, at most, to a laboratory where you can get a blood slide read – though not necessariy accurately – for signs of malaria. Or a stool sample, dysentery. If any one of us were really sick I would be obliged to phone Flying Doctor in Kenya for an airlift. And even if they could scramble a plane then and there, we’d have a nail-biting, sky-scanning, three hour wait for it. And during that interminable wait, I would forget that I am lucky I can afford such a luxury.
I try not to think too hard about it.
I resort to the internet. I make calls to friendly doctors. I put my worries to them. Which is unfair: how could they diagnose over the phone. I subject Amelia to a blood test to check her iron levels. I make a promise to myself to make her eat breakfast.
And I continue to watch all three like a hawk.
Whilst my daugher MSNs her mates, ”I fainted, you know!”