Friday, April 04, 2014

ALIENS VS PARASITES: Fiery Serpents from Hell

If you think that vampires, ghouls and slithery things are creepy and scary this story is going to give you the shivers for some time to come, mostly because it’s not a legend but factually correct! Today’s narrative is about a creature called the guinea worm, which though that name sounds quite tame, is in fact one of the most horrible ways to suffer and sometimes die, in the tropics. See, from ghouls and vampires you can run, but this creature, much like those hideous internal parasites in Aliens Vs Predators, actually lives inside your body and moves around like a flesh eating train inside your system! And there is no way of getting it out, not even extensive surgery, because if you damage the worm and it dies it becomes septic and poisons you! The pain of the worm travelling around has been described as similar to being on fire, which is why the ancient Israelites called it a Fiery Serpent from Hell, although it is known by scientists as Dracunculus medinensis. The name dracunculiasis is from Latin and actually means  "afflicted with little dragons” and this disease has been known since ancient times and is mentioned in a very old Egyptian papyrus called the Ebers Papyrus as long ago  as around 1550 BC.

Out of all the animals in the world, guinea worms only infect humans. The worms are small, about one to two mm wide but quite long, maybe 60 – 100 centimetres long, and outside humans the eggs can only survive up to three weeks without a human host! They have to be eaten by water fleas (microscopic anthropods)  before they get into a human body and then they can survive inside the water flea for about four months.

Unfortunately in poor areas of Africa, local people have a tendency of unsuspectingly drinking water from streams and rivers without boiling or filtering it; the water fleas are so tiny and microscopic that people swallow them too. Once they reach the stomach, our stomach acids dissolve the water-fleas but not the guniea worm larvae because those are so tough, they can survive fine inside human beings, even in our acidic tummies.  These worm larvae are fine and grow in size for about three months, and even mate inside the human body, after which the female grows even bigger and starts to eat and tunnel her way through the persons flesh, towards his/her legs. What happens next is quite gruesome. The worm eats a hole in your leg, which is basically a rotting wound which becomes a very painful ulcer, so that she can stick her back out and lay eggs  whenever the ulcer is placed in water. Meanwhile the pain is so unbearable, like being on fire, that people by instinct want to put their legs in water, and then, with the drop in temperature the worm  quickly releases a cloud of her young contaminating the drinking water. The wound which does not heal due to the secretions from the worm, allows bacteria into the body and can result in death if left  untreated due to a condition called septicemia, which happens if decaying matter is kept within the human body.

Now guinea worms just tend to head for the legs, but not always. There is no gurantee that one might not migrate to your eye, or your face or even your private parts. Either way the common agreement is that the pain is incredible. Not just because something is eating its way through your flesh, but it secretes acidic fluids that cause ulceration and necrosis of human tissue. Just imagine a claustrophobic hell when something is eating you like this from inside and you cant get rid of it ! Surely this is a punishment straight out of hell!

Now the only way to even begin to treat this is to actually grab the female while she is extended out of the ulcer under water (ugh!!). You then have to very slowly pull at it,  being very careful not to break the worm which would result in all hell breaking lose, literally as it would poison you inside! So while gently easing the worm out, you rolled onto a small stick, which could be the basis for the coiled ‘serpent.'symbol. Remember that the whole process hurts terribly and there is no way to escape from it!

You have to have patience, and you can only pull the out the worm at the rate of  a few excruciating centimeters per day. This may take weeks or even months. During this whole time, the person is not able to work or take care of their children and can hardly walk or talk but must spend their time in hellish pain.

There is only one good point to this whole story and that is to note that the World Health Organisation has been valiantly fighting Guinea Worm Disease for years by creating awareness in affected regions on the importance of boiling or filtering water, and therefore this may be the first parasitic disease that is eradicated in the world: numbers of suffers have declined from millions in 1986 to only about 148 people last year, and it is expected that 2015 will see a complete eradication of this parasite from hell.

So now you know ! And, even if we don’t live in areas where such a freak does, isn’t that something we should be thankful for?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


And so by strange and wonderful coincidence the two sweetest guys in my life were born on the same day….although, eighteen years apart. In families I have heard that this happens quite often but  no one can really explain , how out of three hundred and sixty five to chose from, my tiny son decided to take his first deep breath of air, on my brother’s birthday …amazingly these two resemble each other too and would have looked almost like twins at the same age, tall, fair skinned , gangly and knobby jointed, with spiky hair, and sticking out ears…


The first thing I remember long ago about my kid brother was soft flannel , a sweet milky baby powdery smell and a cherubic face in a woolly cap; and then as now, an overwhelming sense of pride and protectiveness in possession of such a kid brother ….. (not that they will allow themselves to be protected by us). My son too is the kid brother of his elder sister and in this wherever they go in life they will have a loving and concerned mother substitute , even if we do occasionally boss them to distraction…


I called my brother  Malli or Malls, and that somehow shortened into Mouse and that stayed, although the man is now unpredictably, a slightly overweight six footer. You will find his character in many of my stories, if and when some day you read them. In the American TV series MONK,( which I have had nothing to do in producing,) we find a lot of Monk’s gentle phobias and eccentricities in Mouse, but he wont admit to any of them. His can best be described as a very naughty and tech savvy  Ghandi who in interested in power phones…

Apart from being a cleanliness freak, he is very soft spoken, a pacifist and a vegetarian and very very talented with computers and machines. He also finds himself owned and controlled by the pitiable stray cats  he rescues and brings home, with apologetic sentences of introduction like “This one was eating cardboard ,” or “ someone had kept this thing under my wheel” and I am now sure that some of our neighbors simply keep their sad looking four legged rejects out on the road when he is due to take his daily trip out to the supermarket for fresh veggies…

Mouse is my first shoulder to cry on and now has got so good at counseling me that I have told him I will buy him a couch and he can make it into a business.

Mouse’s amazing sense of humor and happy go lucky attitude on life has taken me, time and time again out of the desperate problems I thought had when I was trapped in an unhappy marriage – he has admittedly, although he probably does not know this, saved me time and time again from the brink of self made pits of despair, and put in the time and energy to drag me back to the cheery character I usually portray.

He has also tolerated with long suffering patience, being my literary punching bag, when I’m angry at life and circumstances, but he withstands this with amazing grace, which I hardly ever think I will be able to thank him for.

Mouse has an answer for anything and often since it is not the one you expected , you take a step back and start thinking beyond the box. He dosnt believe in silly Sri Lankanisms like bogusly  calling people machang or constantly showing off your material possessions, or boasting about what you can do , even when you cant. He dosnt go out to work because “its dangerous and polluted and there are crafty people out there waiting to relieve me of my cash,” but he works in the basement and loves staying at home

and Mouse cooks .


Mouse may in some cases be the reason my family is alive and fairly coherent. When he was due to be born we were living in Uganda and this was a couple of months before its dictator Idi Amin decided that he hated Asians[1] and to throw them out, with all its accompanying savagery. Ugandan hospitals did not have the best reputations those days so our family doctor had recommended my mother travel to Kenya for the confinement which was ok with my father’s employer as he had offices all over Africa. We escaped the chaos and bloodshed with a space of a few weeks and settled in comparatively calmer Kenya, although that country too has never been without the potential for disconcertingly sudden explosions of violence.


My darling son Hishy , the little man in my life was born on this shared birthday 11 years ago, and of this wonderful day I remember walking about the house extremely pregnant and heavy and feeling rather entranced by the pains which were not due for two weeks,- I had been  wondering how to set about making my brother and his friends a Birthday Lunch…around ten o clock when I was wondering if I should actually start dismembering a chicken, I decided to go to the nursing home and have my “gas” pains analysed , and then I decided to stay and walk about and read magazines, but  then almost to my own surprise I had a baby. And a sweet smelling bright eyed round faced little angel he was and always will be, although of course, just like his uncle was at that age, he is a mass of long bones and joints and spikey hair at the moment ….


Unlike my quiet , book loving daughter, my Hishy is an out-doorsy man, and  he has a wonderful sense of making adventure whether it is among trees,(when we dig for the bones of dead fossils in the back yard)  on my bike, (when we have to go through puddles to see how high the mud will fly ) or at home in the kitchen, cutting beans ( searching for the furry green caterpillars that sometimes surprise us and make me scream and jump about to his amusement) or in finding new ways to make us fruit drinks (with very strange ingredients )…he is a budding scientist and  I know he will not be one of those people who follow the herd.

Hishy needs answers and wont accept anything simply because it’s the done thing. If he wants a doll , and once long ago he did, he certainly wanted answers as to why it was only the small women who were encouraged to play with dolls. And if bats fly about at night , he wants to know why.

…Hishy cooks too.


Hishy and Mouse, the times they are a changing, and you are one year older, and I am glad to see you change with the times and yet remain the sweet guys you have always been. You  are both wonderful guys who I know I will have to sacrifice to pretty women some day, and all I can say to you is that if you treat them with respect they will make your life the most beautiful it has ever been. Remember the power in compromise, and remember that caring for someone transcends gender. The way to a woman’s heart is by helping her around the kitchen, by finding adventure in your  home, and .…. believe it or not, that’s a trick only the foreign guys seem to have figured out so far, and Sri Lankan blokes seem to view it very unmanly to be even seen anywhere near the pots or holding a broom…[2]

But luckily I know you both have got over that silly notion, for after all, if man can walk on the moon, why would he be afraid of the kitchen?


Then, since I have run out of space in my page, let me cut out the old-matronly cackle and proceed to wish you both: wonderful times ahead, love, peace and good health and most of all may you always have each other to count on, as a very special uncle and nephew and good friends always. HAPPY BIRTHDAYS to you!  


[1] This was all because of a pretty Indian Lady who prudently would not accept his marriage proposal. We understand why she couldn’t considering he was a man who liked to keep the heads, livers and other smaller pieces  of people he disagreed with in his fridge. But alas due to her successful escape the rest of the Asians in Uganda had to pay. You can read more about this in my mothers “Nairobi Diaries” which I shall be typing soon.

[2] DHANES are the worst examples, aren’t they,  where you see the guys sitting about belching and the women have to clean up…and this was supposed to be a charitable act but its actually slave labor for the women!