Shakin’ All Over – Ninigo Islands Pt 1

Many people assume that a cruiser’s worst fears are facing big storms or pirates. To my mind they’re always possible, but probably unlikely if you take sensible steps to minimise the risk. No, my biggest fear is something happening to Bruce through misadventure or illness, particularly if we’re in a remote area with little help at hand. And now here we are in the Ninigo Islands, possibly the remotest place we’ve ever been, 200NM from the mainland with no airport, ferry service or hospital and I’m having to face my fears.

It’s the day after our arrival and Bruce has a fierce headache and fever. My first thought is “Malaria!” – I had Malaria when I was a kid living in Kenya, and believe me you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.  But surely not? We have insect screens on all our hatches, we haven’t been ashore at dusk or dawn, we use mozzies coils in the cockpit and liberal quantities of insect repellant.  Before leaving Australia we talked to our GP about Malaria prevention – Quinine used to be the medication of choice, but it’s no longer effective. Nowadays it’s Doxycyline, an antibiotic. Fine if you’re only travelling for a couple of weeks, but not feasible if you’re away for months, so we gave the Doxycycline option a miss. I’d also intended to buy malaria testing kits and medication, but somehow they got missed off the list in the last frantic weeks before leaving Australia. 

We’re anchored off the isolated island of Ahu – it’s beautiful with great snorkelling and sandy beaches, but not somewhere you want to be if you need medical assistance.  In the afternoon I snorkel while Bruce sleeps and I hope he’s just coming down with a random virus.  

some pretty coral formations at Ahu Island
Black surgeonfish amongst the coral

But that night his fever gets worse. I spend the dark hours with ‘what if’s’ swirling in my head – What if I can’t get him help here? What if I have to sail the boat to the mainland without his assistance? What if he has to be admitted to hospital in Vanimo and I’m stuck on the boat in an unsafe place? The fears multiply as the night wears on, and I feel very alone and helpless.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall mention of a health centre on Mal Island, the big island on the south side of the lagoon, but I have no idea how to find it or even if it’s still operational.  

The next morning I rouse Bruce and tell him we’re going to Mal – he helps me get the anchor up and then I motor to the waypoint our cruising buddies on ‘Field Trip’ gave us for Thomas & Elizabeth’s village  ( 01’ 24.030 S: 144’ 11.580 E) – hopefully they’ll be able to tell us where the health centre is.

Approaching Mal Island

They’re a delightful elderly couple, very welcoming and hospitable and they give us directions to the health centre, unfortunately right down the other end of the island. We promise to be back for a more leisurely chat, and then we zoom off in the dinghy, picking our way through the reefs and bommies to get to the beach. It’s low tide so the last 200 metres we have to drag the dinghy across the shallows. Not easy when you’re not feeling well, and certainly not as easy as rocking up to your local medical centre!  But we find the health centre and meet Brendan, a lovely man who runs the place with two other people.  I guess he’s the equivalent of a paramedic in Australia.  He tests us both for Malaria (he thinks if Bruce has it, I’m pretty sure to have it too) but both tests are negative, which is kind of a relief but also a concern. If not Malaria, what is it? Brendan thinks it might be too early to pick up the Malaria parasite in the blood test, or it could be the start of some other viral illness, possibly flu, and he suggests we come back in a few days if things don’t improve.

Mal Health Centre
Brendon, his son and Bruce outside the clinic

Well they don’t – at times Bruce seems a bit better but then the fever and headache come back with a vengeance, despite regular doses of Panadol.  Two nights later and he’s alternately shaking uncontrollably with chills or sweating so profusely that the whole bed and mattress is soaked. He’s also talking rubbish (yes, I know, “what’s new” I hear you say) but this is complete delirious gibberish.  It’s a long, lonely and scary night’s vigil.

By now there’s no way Bruce is well enough to travel to the clinic, so as soon as there’s enough light in the morning I jump in the dinghy and race over to find Brendan. It’s Saturday so I’m hoping and praying that he’s there, and that the tide’s not too low. It isn’t and he is, and he quickly puts together a medical bag containing not only malarial tests and treatment but IV fluids and IM injectibles in case it’s not malaria. I’m reassured by his professionalism, and we race back across the bay to the boat. Another test confirms what we suspected – Bruce has Malaria, probably contracted a couple of weeks ago either in Manus island or the Hermits. Brendan tells us it’s a parasitic disease caused by a bite from the female Anopheles mosquito which affects the red blood cells, liver and spleen. Without treatment it causes severe anaemia, coma and death. More than 2.7 million people die of malaria each year because of lack of treatment, but Bruce is one of the lucky ones  – Brendan has the necessary medication. It’s three days of heavy duty stuff to knock the parasite out, and then another two weeks of Primaquine to ensure all the parasite eggs are destroyed in the liver.  Nasty little critters.

Brendan also leaves us with a course of treatment for me if necessary, and some test kits. All for free, courtesy of the PNG government. We’re very, very grateful and at his request load his external hard drive up with a bunch of movies for him and his kids – it’s the least we can do.

I breathe a HUGE sigh of relief – Bruce is going to be OK. It’ll just take a few weeks to recuperate and get his energy back.  I guess there are worse places to convalesce than the Ninigos Islands…. 

A tranquil evening at Mal Island now that the medical emergency is under control

22 Replies to “Shakin’ All Over – Ninigo Islands Pt 1”

  1. Wow, my heart is racing. I hope things have continued to improve. You did it girl. You conquered your fear, faced the problem and got a solution. Hoping all goes well.

    1. Thanks Cindy! It’s interesting what you can do when you need to. Yes, he’s made an excellent recovery so we’re both very relieved. Hope you guys are well xo

  2. So sorry to hear of Bruce’s illness, Dianne, but very relieved to hear he has been correctly diagnosed and is on the mend. What a scary time for you. Lots of love from us both. xxx

    1. Thanks Anne – yes, not a lot of fun, but it all worked out OK in the end, so onwards and upwards! I hear Shirley will be with you soon – how lovely! Give her a big hug from us both and hope you have a lovely time together xx

  3. Hi Bruce and Di

    It is no fun – I had it 7 times when we lived in the Solomons. Lots of lonely vigils for Sheerie!

    Rule #1: Don’t eat Bananas in the tropics. It causes your skin to give off an odor that is attractive to the mozzies. You seem to understand the rest 😉


    1. Hey Tom, wow, Bananas?! That might explain it – we’ve been given mountains of them by the villagers so have been munching on banana bread, banana muffins, banana pancakes…! That’s it, no more. They do say they’re bad luck on boats! Hope you and Sheerie are well, best wishes from us both 🙂

  4. What a scary situation for you both but thank goodness you are so resilient and cool headed and hopefully perking up as time is moving on. I remember you coming back to Wadhurst saying you had had Malaria and you had been really sick..awful disease..

    Great to hear about your travels again..and of course love your blogs – do you have an itinerary or are you like Edwards Monkton’s ZEN DOG
    “He knows not where he’s going – For the ocean will decide – its not the DESTINATION…It’s the glory of THE RIDE” (or not sometimes..)

    However not quite so glorious at times… all the best for the next passage.

    1. thanks Sue – yes he’s made a full recovery thank goodness. I like that quote, how true is that. We’re currently trying to get to our next destination, Sorong, before heading into Raja Ampat for some diving, but the wind gods are not co-operating today – wind on the nose, of course. We’ll hang around in Indonesia as long as we can and then maybe Malaysia and Thailand, although who knows…first we have to get some repairs done to our sail drives in Sorong. Hey ho.

  5. Streuth! Far out! Crikey and OMG came to mind. Your blog had me hanging from the edge of my seat. Thank god for you and finding Brendon and that Health Centre. I heard the theme song from Raiders of the lost ark in my head picturing you motoring soooo fast in the Dinghy to get Brendon. So glad this had a happy ending. Poor Bruce and so glad he’s OK. Glad to hear he’s back to old self. Pheweee. Bloody hell!!! Love as always ?????????

  6. Oh Di, what a situation for you both! How marvelous of you to keep pretty calm and clear thinking, not an easy situation at all.
    But very pleased to hear that Bruce has been diagnosed correctly and on the right treatment.
    Speedy recovery and hope you manage to escape the malaria.
    Love to you both xx

  7. How awful for you both! Being in such a remote place makes you realise how vulnerable you are when things go wrong. Very relieved Bruce will be ok but it’s going to be a hard few weeks! Good to be in paradise while you recouperate! X

  8. What a nightmare, I’m so glad there was a ‘happy’ ending (for you and me). Well done to both of you. Hope you’re 100% very soon Bruce.

  9. My respect has grown (if possible) for both of you dear friends. Poor Bruce, as I said on the phone, what a awful experience for you both and thank goodness there was a positive outcome. But, I have to ask, how was the ‘erring’ mosquito? My goodness it must be very sick by now????
    Stunning pics as always and wonderful blog. xx

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