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Comedian Shares Malaria Battle to Fund Fringe Shows

Comedian Shares Malaria Battle to Fund Fringe Shows

Comedian John Tothill recently shared his harrowing experience of contracting malaria as part of a drug trial to fund his Edinburgh Fringe shows. The financial reward for participating in a malaria trial can be substantial; as advertised on the Oxford Vaccine Group website, participants can earn up to £9,100.

Tothill, initially expecting to endure only a mild case of malaria, ended up facing severe symptoms, including hallucinations and a high fever. In an op-ed for The Times, the 27-year-old wrote about how he came across the medical trial two years ago while attempting to fund his Edinburgh Fringe show, Thank God this Lasts Forever.

Faced with an estimated cost of £9,000 to live in Edinburgh for a month, Tothill saw the trial as a financial lifeline. Although he was rejected from FluCamp due to a high white blood cell count, he qualified for more intensive trials, one of them being a “malaria camp.”

The trial’s plan was straightforward: Tothill would contract malaria, have his parasite count rise to 500 per millilitre of blood, take a few tablets, recover fully, and walk away with a significant sum of money. But things didn’t go as smoothly as planned. After two weeks of feeling fine, Tothill’s condition took a drastic turn on the 14th day of the trial.

“The clinicians took my blood and revealed (to the best of my feverish recollections), half nervously and half delightedly, that my malaria count was 28,000,” Tothill wrote. “‘You’ll be fine,’ the doctor smiled. ‘But you’re going to feel pretty awful.'” The term “pretty awful” seemed an understatement for Tothill, who described enduring “the Genghis Khan of fevers.”

Tothill recounted that he suffered extreme nightmares that morphed into waking hallucinations. “Like any good Catholic, mine largely featured being dragged into hell by the devil as punishment for making such a Faustian bargain,” he said.

Tothill elaborated on how the only time he sat up was to take his medication, which he washed down with Coca-Cola in his hospital bed. He noted that while the physical pain was sharp and stabbing, it was somewhat mitigated by the knowledge that he knew exactly what was wrong with him and that this situation was a result of his own choice. “It’s a peculiar way of experiencing disease,” he reflected.

Fortunately, Tothill started to feel significantly better within five days of beginning treatment. “Where would scientists be without underemployed creatives?” he humorously pondered.

Despite the hardship, Tothill considered it a privilege to contribute, however minimally, to the development of new treatments for malaria, a disease that may have killed half of all human beings who have ever lived. He humorously concluded that perhaps the real privilege was for the scientists who helped him take his stand-up show to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Tothill is set to perform Thank God this Lasts Forever at the Edinburgh Fringe from 31 July to 25 August at the Pleasance Theatre.

Source: Oxford Vaccine Group, The Times