10 September 2006, Fez, Morocco, 1014 hrs local time
Not a good first week-end. My scratchy throat is now moved on to annoyingly painful; and T’s hacking cough kept her up through the night. She spiked a temperature up to 102 degrees, and had a spell of vomiting this morning.
I have brought her fever down to 99 degrees with some Tylenol (which she had not been taking last night, because “someone” told her it can cause liver damage. Do you see my eyebrows crawling up my forehead? Do you see that? I carefully (and gently, as she is in pain) explained to her she would have to down the bottle, all at once. Ah hum.
I have the local doctor’s number recommended by the school here on my desk, but she is resisting. I do agree with her in that I think it is bronchitis brought on by irritation from the dust (most likely culprit in the condition of my throat. I recognize my symptoms from similar ones I normally have when in India.) However, her symptoms are progressing not receding. I believe one can here, as in India, simply go to the apothecary and get antibiotics and some cough syrup without a Rx. We have made a compromise; she is sleeping now. If she feels better on waking we will hold off treatment until tomorrow, if not, some action must be taken this day.
If she is unable to negotiate a trip to the apothacary, then she needs a doctor. Oh, get this – a house call is 250 dirhams (that is around $25 usd). If she is not better in a couple of days I would like to get her on a nice wide spectrum antibiotic like Tetracycline. Neither of us really wants to go the way of blood work; but if it comes to it, I brought enough needles so I can do it myself. Poor kid, she is exhausted from the hacking cough. The good news is she is sleeping quite soundly just now.
The outside temperature is to drop (do insert a sarcastic tone, oh do) to 92 degrees today. Oh, don’t think I am not grateful for any lessening of the oppressive cycle of heat. It was much cooler last night. I actually slept rather well; except for the “mother-hearing” that woke me every time she coughed.
T managed to nap off and on during the Moroccan siesta time of one to three this afternoon; and her elevated temperature remained around 100 degrees. At three she felt well enough to walk the three or four blocks to the nearby apothecary. We found not one, but three – all closed. Thank you La France (again with the sarcastic tone).
We headed over to the posh meeting place in Fez, the place known as the most wonderfully frigid cool there is, as it was 95 degrees at this time (so much for the forecast drop) it seemed the smart move – MacDonald’s. What an experience. It has the Walt Disney clipped and colored cutout appearance, and it is pristine spotless. The parking lot sports the finest cars in town.
As we passed the meticulously tended rose garden at the entrance, we entered the first floor (Yes, there are two floors, and a separate building off to the right that houses a playground for children). Standing in front of us in the queue was a young woman of 15 or so years in a baby pink djellaba, pink thong sandals, with her hair in white netting, and a pink baseball cap perched firmly on her lovely head with the brim off to the side in the current hip hop manner. She was rattling off her order to the dark beauty on the other side of the counter who was listening in professional rapture in her immaculate MacDonald’s costume. The teenager in pink ordered for her entire group without having to consult the menu – a regular I take it?
After securing a bounty of carbonated, cold, and caffeinated drinks for my ailing youngster, I followed her up the stairs to the second floor where she assured me it was even cooler. The staircase opens onto a walkway that divides off into two rooms one to the right and one to the left. Both areas are walled in glass with elevated ceilings done in the stacked wood and tile, Moroccan style. Looking out at the view from our table we saw a huge fountain on the other side of the lush green lawn that surrounds the MacDonald’s. Women in pastel djellabas of various hues were strolling with their families and friends; they appeared to be sprinkled over the landscape like summer flowers as they enjoyed the relative coolness of the afternoon in the shaded environment. The other windows to our back looked out on subtlety shaded hills of sand and shrubs rising in undulating heights to a ridge that ran the distance of our view.
As she drank the cola, instead of perking up, T began to fade and shiver. Her face was flush and heated and she was having chills. She took my long sleeved over shirt for additional warmth, and we left to begin the relatively short walk back to the villa, that loomed all too long in view of the heat and her fading strength. I found it amazing that even in the heat, and in spite of the fact I was much cooler in only my t-shirt and slacks; I felt somewhat embarrassed, is the only word, at my lack of covering on the walk back as we passed both women and men along the sidewalk and streets; even though no word was spoken, no look of disapproval was given – and I am so obviously ‘alien’ I felt I had committed some cultural faux pas.
Upon returning to the apartment, T collapsed into bed. Her temperature was elevated now to almost 103 degrees. It was all I could do to maintain the illusion that I was calm and certain of my actions. I set her to bed, gave her two Tylenol and went about finding some way to find a pharmacy that was open - now. No longer did I even consider waiting until tomorrow and hearing the doctor’s judgment; I trusted my own instincts at this time far beyond any physician’s; it is no matter if the M.D. was granted from Johns Hopkins or Mohammad V University. This far from the certainty of quality extended medical care; she was going on the antibiotics now.
The only apothecary listed in the Lonely Planet (the third world traveler’s bible) was in the old city, and more did not open until nine this night. That was too long to wait by the sound of her coughing, and the flushed appearance of her face. Lucky for me (Thank you Kali) Jason, the just-did-a-two-year-stint-with-the-peace-corp.-in-Morocco, was out in the lobby working at his computer. I told him I had tried the nearby pharmacies to no avail. He said that piece of paper I had noted on the pharmacy nearest the Villa was in actuality a listing of nearby pharmacies that would be open. Joy and rapture!
Now ‘all’ I had to do was go alone out into a city that spoke only two languages; one of which I can not speak at all; and the other I speak only in what my daughter describes as “gutter French”; but I have had no exposure for years. It takes a few days of rubbing up against the language for me to get my chops back. It is however like the old Navy joke, “What does a Marine say when you tell him to take that hill?”
“Yes sir. Which hill sir?”
It works the same way for mothers. I gathered my little bag with credit card, passport, change for the cab, bigger bills for whatever-might-happen, paper and pen to write down the address, slapped my hat on my head, and headed out into the city. I would be returning with the needed medications for my child, or I would not be coming back (too many John Wayne movies in my youth).
Now let me tell you the ending to this tale which makes the luck of the Irish sound like a bad day in Baghdad.
I walked back to the pharmacy where I almost melted into a puddle leaning against the metal door of said pharmacy that lay in the direct path of the sun, copying down three addresses of nearby apothecaries, three just in case. I then made my way to the nearest large avenue and immediately one of the Petite Taxis pulled up. The driver looked like the lead character in that HBO series The Sopranos. I showed him the address.
“Pharmacie? Du Passage, Champs de Course Hay Rajae N* 13?’’ He rattled off, along with a string of French I could not comprehend.
I pointed to the address and said, “Je parle peu le francais.” (I speak very little french)
He took the card from me, as he headed off into the street traffic in the Moroccan version of driving which greatly resembles the suicide wish of a drunken hedgehog. “English?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Oui, Aye” I answered in a polyglot of what I was sure was incomprehensible. “ Je suis Scotland.” (I meant to say I am from Scotland, but in fact I said, I AM Scotland!)
He turned about a full 180 degrees in his seat; the only reason I did not fear for my life was I have been driven about in India, which makes these chaps look as safe as a day at the park in Mountain Brook. “Ah Scotland! Football!” He grinned as he added some more sentences that I am sure were complementary to my homeland, but football? There are a few things we Scots are known for worldwide, but football? Hey at this point I was smiling, nodding, and perfectly willing to go along with it.
We arrived at the pharmacy in short order as it was quite close by on what appeared to be a major street. I took out 10 dirhams to pay him, but he said he would wait. He would wait?! All of a sudden the heat seemed ten degrees less, the dust that had coated my apartment and my throat for four days was inconsequential, and I had feelings of great affection for this man and his country. He would wait.
I girded myself for my next hurdle. I could only pray the pharmacist spoke French as well as Arabic or this was going to be a mime show for sure and for certain. I have great faith in pharmacists in general; they tend to have a better working knowledge of medications, their uses, effectiveness, and possible interactions than do the majority of physicians.
There were several people at the counter. The shop was filled with a general air of bustle and activity, but not frantic (except for my vibes I am sure) emotions, or the resigned expectation of generalized woe one encounters in an American pharmacy. The pharmacist saw to me right away (I have no doubt my face conveyed my state of anxiety). I managed to convey to him I wanted antibiotics, as the word is virtually the same in French, which he did, mercifully, speak – and the trade name of Tetracycline is as it is. He was wonderful with the cough syrup. I ask for the phenergan with codeine syrup. He showed me what he had, which was only a phenergan syrup; I managed with a combination of words I could not believe I brought up from the recesses of my memory of a lifetime ago when living in Paris, and miming to convey to him the need for an “expectorant”.
‘Ah!”, again a universal expression, he said as he reached for another bottle instead. “Expectorant.”
He smiled. I smiled.
We then agreed upon the dosages and times, and he suggested a medication for her elevated temperature. Mon Dieu! I could feel the tension rushing out of me, and the relief was so great I could hardly stand.
He then very carefully showed me the total due on his calculator. Did I care? Would I have paid whatever he asked? Did I not have in my head the price it would have cost in the U.S., not to mention I could not have obtained any of it without a doctor’s prescription obtained after hours waiting in an emergency room? I saw several sevens, I could not find the decimal, but I figured around seventy dollars American was dirt cheap and I was happy to pay it. I pulled out 700 dirhams, and he quickly pushed the money back at me, taking only the 100 dirham bill. He made to push the rest toward my wallet out of sight. The entire bill was 77 dirhams; that is less than ten dollars! I thanked him profusely and ran out to my waiting taxi.
Alrighty here we go, now I had to tell the driver how to get me back to the Villa. Not obsessive for nothing – I had written the address down, and apparently most of the taxi drivers know the American Language Institute in Fez. As he headed back, I began to recognize streets, and felt the relief of familiarity no matter how new. I gave him the entire 20 dirhams, even though the ride was less than ten. He had been grand. I mean come on, and he knew where Scotland is – well, sorta.
For some unknown reason, again from the recesses of my memory came the phrase, “ Je pense donc je suis”. I raced into the villa. Mom to the rescue.
2151 hrs. Local time
Much improved T is watching “Stargate SG-1” on her laptop and bemoaning the reality she may not make class in the morning. The very fact she feels well enough to complain about anything is music to my ears. Her fever is down, and the cough syrup is controlling the cough. She has the second dose of antibiotic in her, and I think she may get some real rest tonight thanks to the fever medication.
I ventured yet again out into the heated, exotic, folds of Fez to fetch her home some food from the all Arabic menu, but has the great sandwiches kiosk she pointed out to me yesterday when we made a run to the bank. I could not make myself understood to the very busy men behind the counter, but fortunately there was a-would-be-Lothario in the outside café who was happy to help the “English”. Obviously he is unaware of Scotland’s new fame as a contender for the World Cup.
I end this day exhausted, but content in my abilities as “the mother”. Tomorrow I shall tell you of the dog who lives next door who thinks he is a wolf, and the Berbers with their drums in the bright red and yellow robes, climbing the hills behind our apartment up to the Kasbah, with the jingle of bells following behind. The sounds of their drums is coming though the darkness now, and flowing onto our patio stirring my imagination. You may rest easy that the spiders still reside in plentiful abundance in Fez. On our first night in our apartment T and I stood on the balcony cheering on the two geckos backlit in the high window of the bathroom. We wake in the mornings to the corners of the bedroom hosting the night creatures who have roosted there. We saw a cockroach on the sidewalk the other day that I swore had relatives back in Alabama. But it is life here, one adjust. I am willing to let them go their way, as long as they stay out of my bed and off my skin. A reasonable compromise I feel.