Monday, October 12, 2009

Marrakech Mischief

Hazel threw up all over our new rug. So even though Abderrahman had said to bring it back if it doesn't completely please (“People have brought rugs back from France!”), I think we’re keeping this one. I was alone with her at home (this was last Tuesday October 6), it was after her nap, and she calmly stepped away from the couch and onto the rug to be sick. I think it was a shock to her—first time her body had done this particular involuntary thing to her, though she seemed to take it all in stride (and then stepped in it). Over the next two hours she threw up another six times—nothing is more anxiety producing than to be with your sick child, partner is away, and no phone. Paul wasn’t due back for another hour and half, and when he did walk thought he door, the battle was well lost. My sponge couldn’t keep pace with Hazel’s tummy. I’d tried to clean the rug with fair to middling results (the colors began to bleed), but I was opting for clean over color. I got her in the tub and was washing the rug in the sink beside her, trying to manage both concerns (it’s a beautiful rug!). This worked until she was ready to get out, get dressed, sit back on the couch—and then start the cycle over again. Umm—wash, rinse, repeat? With Paul back (bringing with him the single mobile phone that works—note to self: activate the other one we brought), I called another American from the school (she’s been here eight years and is married to a Moroccan). Her recommendation was to go directly to the pediatrician. I made the mistake of calling the office first and was met with a surly and thoroughly unhelpful receptionist who wanted, at 5:45, to go home. I explain the situation, tout en francais, comme il faut—my French is not bad—and yet:

Receptionist: Flat, without affect. Unconcerned. Oh, you can come in tomorrow morning.

Me: Raging silent disbelief for a split-second. My daughter just threw up five times in the last hour and half—and you can’t help me?!

Receptionist: No.

Me: Barely containing myself but doing an admirable job, all things considered. Do you have any recommendations for where to go?!

Receptionist: Non. Au-revoir.

I was gobsmacked, as my friend Sravani says. I could not, could not believe that that’s what this woman had just said to me. Come in tomorrow?!! I was in tears (pointless angry ones) punching the tiny ‘off’ button on the mobile phone. Where’s a clunky rotary phone with its dead-weight receiver when you really need to slam the phone down? We ended up taking Hazel to a local private clinic and emergency room where—eventually—she was seen by a Paris-trained Moroccan pediatrician, all brisk efficiency, no-nonsense shushing when Hazel wailed at the shot in her bum. We’d waited a good twenty-five minutes in the incredibly high-ceilinged examination room, blinking around at the bright unrelentingly white, watching each other and Hazel and a couple black bugs on the white tile floor. Before that we'd waited at the buzzing front desk. I was nudged ahead in line by a really nice young woman after several people had just stepped up in front of me—clearly I am here with my sick daughter!!—but it was every patient for themselves. It's the same thing at the little grocery store across the street. No patient lines, just assertion. So the woman behind me, in gentle tones but insistent, pushed me on ahead and we got seen.

By then it was dark outside the barred windows of the examination room and the florescent lights only added to the general nausea. We hadn’t brought our phone, couldn’t remember the number when the nurse asked us for it as she’s entering Hazel into her graph-paper logbook. The weird name, the awkward address (no one seems to have heard of our street—but then, why should they have?), the taking of all this information without a phone number seemed to be an exercise in futility. Anyway. The two triage nurses (tiny, slim, both scarved—they just seemed so young—does this mean I'm turning 37 this month?)—they both leave and we wait, and wait, and wait. Hazel throws up again. By this time we’ve had enough time to really begin to panic, to feel disconnected, maybe even to be lost in the system. And it’s happened to me before! In New York City once (late afternoon, busy, a community clinic off Union Square), I waited for what seemed like hours in the airless examination room before I finally poked my head outside the door—Oh! There’s someone in there! I got a startled look from a nurse, and then the doctor came. They had forgotten me. So I step out into the hallway with Hazel on my hip (now in her last clean outfit), and walk, gingerly at first—but dammit, my girl just threw up for the umpteenth time! down a ways and peek into the next open door—one of the two nurses talks on the phone. She looks up at me, puts down the phone, slightly annoyed—“She just threw up again,” I’m trying to convey a meaning and urgency that maybe my French alone cannot convey. “Le docteur n’est pas encore la? Soyez patiente, madame.” The doctor’s not here yet? Be patient, ma’am. And she turns unmoved back to her phone.

It all works out. Time exhales once the doctor arrives and Hazel, aside from the few tears shed when receiving the shot, was brave throughout—and seems fairly unimpressed by the whole episode. She takes sickness like Paul does, with a minimum of fuss and not much energy squandered on the drama. We pay (320 Dhs, about $40), go around the corner with our prescription to one of the dozens of pharmacies, one to a block almost—get our three different potions for about $10 and then we’re home. (I find it interesting that on their prescription pads, doctors here advertise where they received their degree. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in the States.) Hazel throws up the several huge gulps of briney water she has rushed down, she eats a bit, she (slowly!) drinks some more, then she is—to our great relief—asleep.

It turns out that the doctor is an aunt of one of Paul’s students. “I heard you saw my aunt last night,” he says to Paul the next day at school. “Short hair,” the kids says, further identifying her. The doctor did have close-cropped hair. It must take a certain amount of strength here to wear yourself differently like that. It’s the same kid whose uncle owns the artisinat around the corner where I bought Hazel’s pouf, and whose other uncle famously kidnapped us to go buy rugs at his glorious emporium. Marrakech, it turns out, is a small town.

Another small-town moment. We ran into Abderrahman on our Saturday morning walk to get groceries (see photos, previous post). Paul had said let’s go a different way, off the exhaust-clogged Yacoub el-Mansour, and so we followed our noses and the map, and just as I was dashing across the street to check out this language institute we stumbled upon (courses on offer in Arabic and English), Paul runs into Abderrahman on his way to pick up two of his daughters from their English lessons at the very same place. He of course knows the gentleman who runs the institute, in fact knew his father thirty years before when he first came to Morocco. We talk and laugh in the morning sun and sheer lovely happenstance of it, and tell the tale of the rug and Hazel. He says to bring in the rug, that he’ll clean it using a combination of sulfur and water and shampoo, sulfur to keep the color true.

24 hours after Hazel felt it, I did too (I was really sick—something is going around), Paul felt horrible 24 hours after that, and then felt better and now, for the last 24 hours, again horrible. We went to a doctor this morning—a German woman who the same American friend had recommended—she’s been here for years and years, has quite a good reputation and speaks English, good for Paul. “She’s very German,” says Paul as we’re walking away from the appointment. Dr. Michaelis had called me in at the end of the visit as she wrote out Paul’s prescription. Her manner, just like the pediatrician, is efficient, a bit gruff, but clear and firm. She scolds Paul for sitting up before she has given him leave to do so, tut-tuts at Hazel as she reaches out and touches the speculum which sits on a cart at Hazel's waist-level (EEK! There will be time enough for those later)—“Good thing she didn’t touch the other end,” the doctor says, not altogether grimly—there is humor there, a little anyway. But Paul has been sick for longer now than ever before, or for as long as he can remember. It is unnerving in a foreign place to be at the mercy of the mystery of your own body and of the medical culture at large. I think this same situation is true at home as well—but the familiar elides some of the uncertainty and smoothes over, at least in part, that yawning chasm of the unknown.

In the waiting room this morning a woman in full chador, clearly in some distress, had enough energy to smile warmly at Hazel, receive Hazel’s offering of several goldfish crackers, give her a kiss and a wave—many times over, while Paul lay on the couch. And then later a woman with a baby and an older girl and her husband came in—we talk, as you do over the heads of your children. She is an art teacher from Agadir (nearby), invited us to call her before we come to the city if we happen to be traveling there. And last night (before round-two of Marrakech Mischief descended on Paul) we happened into a really lovely conversation with a trio of men sitting outside a café. We’d gone out for pizza at a place we’d seen, again on the Saturday walk, and were tootling back through the dusk at Hazel’s pace. This means climbing up on café chairs one after the next, stopping to hide behind the telephone pole (“I’m hiding!” she shouts with glee), and generally taking an interest in her toes and the sand pile and the sky and the concrete wall all at once. This older guy, cane leaning on a nearby chair, calls out almost sharply, “Elle est mignonne, cette fille!” gesturing to Hazel, and moments later Paul is speaking in English to one of his neighbors, the man is maybe Paul’s age—they’re talking about the state of education in Morocco and the States, and I’m talking with a third guy about the tourist industry and travel in general (“There are tourists who travel with their eyes shut—these should stay home. Others travel with curiosity.”) I am generally terrible at recounting conversations verbatim and wish I had an NPR-issued tape recorder to catch even half of the remarkable conversations we’ve had with people. These moments bloom out of sheer proximity, eye contact, out of Hazel’s being the insouciant age she is. The man who spoke English (he teaches in an International Baccalaureate program outside of Marrakech) used one expression in particular that I’m now struggling to remember—how is it these gems slip by? It’ll come. Meanwhile, Marrakech Mischief still lives at our house. It’s about time for Hazel’s nap to be done, to look in on Paul. (And I have to credit my friend Martha for coining the term—her version is “intestinal mischief”—IM for short. The Marrakech version is a doozie.)

1 comment:

  1. oh, mon dieu! child sick in another country--gack! just reading about it sent a spike of useless adrenaline coursing through my body. hope m.m. has moved out. ellie had a doozie of a fever a few days ago--103, enough to make her a bit delirious (though that is sometimes hard to identify in a kid with an active imagination). evidentally the new wisdom is to let the fever run its course, so we did. it was disconcerting how hot she was, but she bounced back speedily.