Sunday, July 9, 2006

Cat Got Her Tongue?

I lost my voice yesterday. Not my literary voice (because I have yet to find it) but my literal (or physical) one. In the second time in less than a year, I have been struck down by an insidious Moroccan headcold. To say that I am annoyed is the Mother of All Understatements. My last Moroccan cold - the first cold I had contracted in almost 4 1/2 years - began towards the end of Ramadan last year (early November) and ended in mid-February, and was characterized by (I kid you not) brown viscous mucus and a lingering "Rabat cough". As a Canadian, I take it as a personal affront to be felled by a cold (my hubris was punished by the virulence of my last cold); as a human being, I take exception to anything brown coming out of my body north of my netherbits. Now, after a particularly taxing week, I had really been looking forward to this weekend, a weekend of:
  • Sleeping in
  • Washing my floors (no futher details supplied but suffice to say, they're nasty)
  • Going to the medina
  • Buying groceries
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Doing Cat in Rabat Stuff (which may or may not involve anything at all)
Instead, my Saturday (which followed a sleepless Friday night during which my throat became fiendishly lined with razor blades) looked like this:
  • Willing myself to not swallow
  • Wiping the tears from my eyes when I foolishly did swallow
  • Blowing my nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sucking Ricola lozenges (brought from Canada, thank Allah)
  • Drinking tea
  • Peeing (averaging 3 visits for each gulp of tea)
  • Wishing that I had satellite TV
  • Feeling sorry for myself
  • Repeating often
The one activity that did not involve any of my orifices was a sprint to the pharmacy which is mercifully across the street from me. I have a love/hate relationship with Moroccan pharmacies. I like the fact that, for the most part, you don't need a prescription for many drugs that you would at home, and that drugs are inexpensive - a notable exception being vitamins which are mindbogglingly dear. What I dislike about them is that there is a gatekeeper mentality in effect, a lingering French mindset which insists on locking everything behind glass panels or from plain sight altogether. In fact, on first glance, Moroccan pharmacies look like clearing houses for anti-cellulite creams, wrinkle removers and sunscreen. You have to look hard for anything medicinal. Or, more likely, ask.

I confess that I prefer walking into a drug store and taking what I need from a shelf because this is what North Americans do best: self-medicate. Here, you have to ask a pharamacist (or person in a lab coat, as they are not all trained pharmacists) for pretty much everything, from cough syrup to hemorrhoid medicine. If your grasp of French is limited or you have laryngitis like me, this exercise will quickly devolve into a quirky little game of charades which (again, if you are like me) only adds insult to injury. Word to the wise: always know the word for diarrhoea before you go see the pharmacist (or person in a lab coat).

I also find it curious that just before the pharmacist (or person in a lab coat) hands the box of tablets (thusfar, the pills have never been in a bottle) over to me - grail-like - he or she will scribble their own directions and dosage on it. After comparing these cuneiform markings (1 dosage = a scratch) and the enclosed information pamphlet at home, I can say with much certainty that they always differ. Is this cause for concern? Who knows best? The French pharmaceutical companies that dumps cheap drugs in Morocco, or my pharmacist (or person in a lab coat)? Who knows?

Morocco has no universal health care system (although I've heard rumours of one in the making) and most Moroccans can't afford private health insurance; indeed, most Moroccans cannot afford a visit to the doctor. In 2004, the average income here was reported to be 1133 dirhams a month while a visit to the doctor (assuming one has access to a doctor) is anywhere from 150-250 dirhams. Do the math. The rich pay through the nose for their private health clinics; the poor go to pharmacists (or people in lab coats). There are modern hospitals (notably in Rabat & Casa) and there are less than modern ones - last week, a premature infant died in a hospital in Fez because there were not enough incubators.

What I have seen of one of Rabat's hospitals confirms in my mind that when that Petite Taxi With My Name On It finally finds me, I want to be killed instantly. After I sliced open my head last month (made completely worthwhile by a lovely Frankensteinesque scar), I was asked why I hadn't called an ambulance. Well, I've asked a dozen or so Moroccans how long the average waiting time is for an ambulance, and have been unanimously told that if one has not arrived by the next day and I am still alive, I should grab a petite taxi. Enough said.

But until that Petite Taxi With My Name On It finds me, I'll do as most Moroccans do and stick with my neighbourhood pharmacist (or person in a lab coat) and hope that my voice comes back before I have to return to work tomorrow. Hmmmm, I've been unable to talk now for a day and a half but some 8 paragraphs later, perhaps Cat in Rabat is not speechless after all.

No comments: