Into the Bush (continued)

Thursday, September 20, 2012
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joel hartter

It only takes one tick

Ticks are a danger in any part of the globe, but when a tick bit Hartter's foot last summer in Uganda, all hell broke loose. Two days later, his lower leg swelled up to the size of his thigh. He was dizzy and nauseous, head pounding. One moment he stripped down to his underwear, burning with fever. The next he wrapped up tightly in a sleeping bag, shivering under hat and gloves. Suspecting malaria, he called a boda to take him to the hospital. He barely held on during the 25km drive to the nearest town. After several tests, the local doctors were stumped—it wasn't malaria. Off he went to the capital, Kampala (a five and a half-hour bus drive), where an infectious diseases specialist gave him a cocktail of drugs, though this doctor, too, was unsure of the diagnosis.

"I was within days of dying, apparently," Hartter found out later. "If I had not been seen in Kampala on that day and had not been given the specific drugs I was given, it would have been very serious."

Back in the States, Hartter saw a raft of doctors—he worked with the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Michigan Department of Health (where his wife's family lives), Dartmouth Medical Center, an infectious diseases specialist, and his own primary care physician. The diagnosis? African Spotted Fever. The CDC said it was the worst case of the disease ever documented. Full recovery took six months.

Keeping your wits

Despite the near catastrophes—or heart-pumping adventures, depending on how you look at them—Hartter does not find Uganda overly threatening—not the people, not the wildlife, not the diseases, and not even the bodas. He plans to continue his summer research treks for years to come. It's all about being aware of your surroundings, going with the flow, and staying calm. "In the bush," says Hartter, "you just have to keep your wits about you."

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Originally published by:

College Letter, Newsletter for the College of Liberal Arts

Photos courtesy Joel Hartter