Since Tim and I have been back from our trip to Africa, we’ve been asked about it dozens of times. Tim always says how amazing and wonderful it was, and I always say “it was adventure” with a slight bit of drama in my voice. And being someone who appreciates a little drama, I know the story that I am going to tell them has the right amount of tension and humor to make it a story worth telling. It’s a long one, but see if you agree.
It was our last day in Fes, quite possibly one of my favorite cities in Morocco. We had a full-day walking tour where we saw as much of what the old medina had to offer. It was a hot day (as every day in Morocco in July and August is), so lunch in the middle of the day was a welcome stop. Everyone enjoyed the cold drinks before the boiling tagines were brought out to our table to remind our bodies of the heat waiting for us after the meal.
At some point during lunch, Tim started to get really hot and said that his stomach wasn’t feeling quite right. Tim doesn’t like to admit it, but he has a rather cantankerous stomach, so upset stomachs aren’t highly unusual for him. (Read about our experience in Egypt for another example of Tim’s stomach throwing a wrench in travel.) Because of this, we never travel without a good supply of Phenergan.
Tim toughed it out for the afternoon, but decided a Phenergan and an early night were in order for him. Our guide had arranged a special dinner for us, which I didn’t want to miss, so I left Tim to rest, knowing from past experience that he’d be sleeping like a baby before I was even out of the medina. Tim’s twin brother, Aaron, and his wife decided to stay behind as well because they were tired and wanted to rest.
The dinner group having more fun than the group back at
The rest of our group was having a blast at dinner when we got a text that Aaron was really sick and might need to go to the hospital. Familiar with how Tim’s upset stomachs sometimes ended up, we texted back, “You mean Tim?” No, came the response. It was definitely Aaron who was sick.
By the time we got back to the hotel, Aaron could barely stand, he was so weak and dehydrated from the sudden sickness that hit him. I went upstairs to check on Tim and to let him know that Aaron was going to have to go to the hospital, but was greeted by a retching sound in the bathroom. The Phenergan had not worked, and Tim was past the point of no return. He needed an IV pronto as well.
Our driver had kindly waited and offered to take us to the hospital, so my sister-in-law and I limped the poor boys to the van and headed toward the hospital.
Let me provide a moment of context for this next bit: Last fall, Tim and my brother went to a haunted house that was outbreak themed. Tim had described to me the scenes they encountered, and the general activities that took place inside. When we walked into the hospital, that haunted house experience immediately came to mind, and I suddenly had a clear visual of exactly what it must have looked like. This hospital was far from welcoming and like none I’ve seen before. The lights were off in the waiting room, and I could just make out the forms of people (perhaps nurses?) sleeping on benches along the walls. The temperature was barely lower inside the building than it was outside the building. Our driver spoke to someone at the desk, who motioned us to a room with “Infirmerie” marked over the door.
Inside the infirmary were two metal examining tables, a sink and countertop, and a glass cabinet filled with medications that appeared to have just been tossed onto the shelves in no particular order. The countertop had various instruments in varying states of use. The air was still, and the lights flickered.
I quickly surmised that no one spoke English, only French or Arabic. Aaron was past the point of misery, his wife was zonked out on Phenergan, and Tim was pacing anxiously around the room. I finally convinced him to lie down, and I fanned him with the pages of my neighbor‘s novel that happened to be in my purse. I realized it was up to me and my high-school French to get us through this.
“I’m going to throw up!” Tim said suddenly. I did a quick scan of the room, and the only receptacle for vomit was the sink. Tim didn’t want to throw up there, so I ran into the waiting room shouting, “Toilette?! Toilette?!” I was only met with stares in the dim light. I went back into the infirmary and told Tim he had no choice but to use the sink, when a nurse suddenly appeared, picked up the tray of surgical instruments, dumped them in the sink, and thrust the tray in front of Tim.
We were told the doctor was not in, so we’d need to wait for him to arrive. When he did, he immediately whisked the boys back for ultrasounds. My high-school French was not serving me well, though, as all I could think to say was, “Les hommes estomac est mal” (the mens stomach is bad). Why couldn’t I think of the word for fluid? IV? Anything that I knew would be helpful? The doctor started saying things to me, of which I only understood bits and pieces. He finally looked at me with a bit of patronizing pity, and in French, said, “You don’t understand, do you?”
I knew the boys didn’t need ultrasounds, but I couldn’t think of the words I needed, and the screams of the woman giving birth in the next room didn’t help my concentration. Tim said that was the most unsettling thing for him. He didn’t realize we were in the maternity ward and thought someone was being tortured or operated on without anesthesia. Our poor driver tried to help, but his English skills weren’t such that he could understand and translate medical terminology. He finally got someone on a phone who could, and I stepped into another room (away from the screaming) to explain what was going on so that this translator on the phone could help us with the doctor.
When I came out of the room, everyone in my group had disappeared. I walked toward what I assume was the family of the woman who had just given birth (the baby was now crying mightily), and toward a room. I pushed the door open a crack and found another postpartum patient looking back at me. I saw a nurse, and called, “My people? Mon peuple?” He nodded and led me to the rooms where they’d settled Tim and Aaron and finally started the fluid IVs they needed.
The doctor told me that the boys likely had a traveler’s sickness and were severely dehydrated—nothing I didn’t know when we walked in the door. Then he said the boys would need to stay for observation for 48 hours, a proclamation I immediately shut down. We were flying out in less than 48 hours. We weren’t staying in this hospital any longer than we had to. I said, again in my terrible French, “In the United States, four hours. Home.” The doctor looked absolutely dismayed. He couldn’t believe that a hospital in the US would allow someone in Tim’s condition to leave after four hours. I couldn’t communicate well enough to say Tim was usually nearly fully recovered after two IV bags. He tried to negotiate with me, saying we could leave in 6 hours. I knew even 6 hours in this place was more than any of us wanted, but I didn’t argue.
The doctor left, and I looked around the room. A single hospital bed, a tray table, and a small loveseat made up the entirety of the room. The AC unit was sputtering, and barely offering any cool air. When you’re sick to your stomach, heat is not your friend. I went to see if the windows opened, but discovered they did not. I also discovered that the curtains were hiding one of the most enormous cockroaches I’ve ever seen in my life.
We turned out the flickering lights, and both of us tried to get some rest as the first bag dripped into Tim’s arm. That proved to be impossible for me after seeing the cockroach. Tim’s relief was not coming as it normally does, so his rest was nearly impossible as well.
The nurse came in and put something else in his IV, and Tim immediately began throwing up. Thus began another translation adventure. I called my mother to Google what was in his IV (we had no Internet, but thankfully had phone), and discovered that the number one side effect of the painkiller they were infusing was vomiting. That was the last thing Tim needed. The nurse came back into the room, and I tried to explain through gestures and broken French that she should stop the IV and return to the glucose, which was really what he needed in that moment. Our driver, Mustafa, sweet man that he was, had stayed and came in and tried to intervene. (He was the MVP of the night!) An argument broke out between the nurse and the driver, but she finally relented and replaced the glucose drip. Thanks, Mustafa!
It was at this point that my stomach started to turn. I ran to the bathroom, only to discover there was no toilet paper, no paper towels, and no soap to be seen. I started to panic. My stomach turned harder, and I knew that it wasn’t just going to settle. I dug desperately through my purse and found a small packet containing three tissues and a package of Clorox wipes. My saving graces! In between my trips to the bathroom, Tim was back in the bathroom throwing up, asking me for Kleenex so he can blow his nose afterward. Sorry, bud, it’s every man for himself in this hospital! Even in this “desperate” moment, I couldn’t help but laugh at the comedy of the situation. Tim and I fighting over Kleenex in moments of a traveler’s example of “in sickness and in health.”
Tim continued to get worse. I had never seen him like this in all the times his stomach had sent him to the ER for fluid. I began to feel desperate and helpless. Why hadn’t I brushed up on my French before we came?! Tim, wild with misery, began adjusting his own IV. Despite my protests, he continued to turn the IV until it was rapidly dripping into the tube. I had sudden fears of him flooding his system with fluid and something terrible coming from it. This is what being in a haunted hospital at 2 o’clock in the morning does to a person.
Four hours into our time at the hospital, now nearly 3 a.m., Tim was finally starting to feel well enough that we could discuss leaving. After some more negotiating, the doctor finally agreed (with plenty of declarations of “I am not responsible!” thrown in). The doctor said he would complete our paperwork, including our bill and prescriptions.
Though we bought travel insurance, we knew we were going to have to pay out-of-pocket for this visit until we could submit it to the insurance later. Tim wondered what the charges would be, and I worried that we only had about $60 in cash. This was clearly not a place that would take credit cards. When the doctor came with the bill, we were astonished to discover the final bill was 1750 dirham… or 185 dollars. Whaaaat?! Our driver loaned us what we were short, and we would have run out the doors of the hospital if we hadn’t all been so tired and weak.
After a few hours of sleep, our group was back on the road. And, being the true travelers we are, Tim and I participated in the scheduled hour-long walking tour of Volubilis in the heat, despite the fact neither of us was feeling anywhere near 100%. If we’re only somewhere once, sick or not, we’re determined to see it!
For all Morocco had to offer (and there was a lot—stay tuned for other posts!), our night in the hospital had to have been, for me, the most interesting adventure of them all. Guess who will be carrying a pocket translator in future? 😀
So, what do you think? A story worth telling?