I don’t know if other field researchers have had the same experience as I have had after several weeks “alone” in the bush. When I was in Nigeria in 2004 I had malaria. I didn’t know I had malaria but I knew I was sick. My only companions were Nigerian villagers and park staff who experience these diseases differently as they get them often.  All the other Western researchers I was with were at a different camp so I had days to stew on what I had contracted. Of course malaria was at the top of my list but my symptoms didn’t match those described and even though I checked my temperature every hour but never had a fever. I also wasn’t vomiting. For a while I was convinced I had Lhasa Rat Fever. There were these rats in the house that I was continually at war with. Being lowest on the totem pole I got the room where the rats lived behind a stack of metal trunks.  They would come out at night. I developed a way to keep them out. After they slipped through the door to raid the kitchen I began stacking books on either side of the door so they could not slip back in. So…as Lhasa Rat Fever was named after a disease first discovered in Nigeria I was certain I had it. How did I know? We had a large book listing all tropical diseases and their causes and symptoms. When I finally got sick enough I traveled by Landover to boat to Landover to town to discover I did have malaria.
I have a different book with me in Zambia. It is called “Where There is No Doctor”. Knock on wood, I haven’t gotten sick yet. I have had only small accidents including a broken toe. I find myself perusing the book for one reason or another. This time to figure out what the equivalent of paracetamol is in the U.S. Acetomenophin. Then I look at how to repair a break even though I know broken toes, like broken ribs, another thing I have had here, must heal on their own. After looking at my small ailment that has a few lines in the text, if any at all, I start to peruse the entire book. What are the signs of Guinea Worm, Tuberculosis, River Blindness, etc…
The positive thing about the book I have now is that it focuses less on diseases and symptoms which of course there are too many to count. Instead its focus is on how to deal with medical issues where there is no doctor… I am glad I have the book but also think it can cause my mind to over worry when I have time on my hands.  So today I wrote on the cover with a sharpie… “For reference only: Do not diagnose yourself!” I put it there so my staff do not try to diagnose themselves when perusing the book :)