A Tribute to Moroccan Medics
It was September and Europe was getting cold, so we found ourselves a quaint fishing village on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. With our hostel situated right on the sand, we closeted our shoes and from our balcony stared into the sunset, beaming at what the following week promised. I envisioned catching wave after wave, fisherman grilling up freshly caught fish for lunch and Tom and I camelback, taking sunset strolls. We’d source black-market beers to accompany our bonfire, and it would be all sunrays and happy days.
Being weak boned and accident-prone,₁ I should not have been surprised when instead, I found myself lying on the side of a desert Moroccan road, baring the weight of Tom and our hired rental scooter. It was just when I thought I had parted with my old ways, and was starting to forget what the inside of a hospital waiting room looked like.
Tom was tentative at best when it was my turn to navigate our rental scooter. Latching on for dear life, he warned, “The accelerator is sensitive, okay H?” I distinctly remember verifying this warning when I thrust it towards me, but that’s about all I recall. The rest was a panicked fast-forward to the rock we arrived face to face with. It’s accurate to say I nailed the acceleration phase of driving, but not so much the steering or braking that typically follows.
My flexibility has in the past been compared to that of a concrete slab, thus the unnatural U-shape alignment of my body that resulted from the crash was likely owing to the 85kg man, motorbike and rock face that I was sandwiched₂ between. I could feel the chalking bone of chipped and loose teeth, as well as a stream of lukewarm liquid running down my neck. When the white spots and darkness eventually cleared, I learned that I had in fact not been shedding tears, but valuable blood.
Our friends Fergus and Sam, having watched the whole episode unfold, were quick to peel me off the rock. Dazed and confused Tom, stared on. Fergus appropriately adopted a paramedic’s touch and tended to my wounds. He kept calm and denied my efforts to pass out, insisting I maintain my semi-conscious state. Meanwhile Tom, continuing his streak of uselessness, took one look at my chin and yelled, “Holy fuck it’s bad!”
With not a single taxi in a 15-kilometre radius, Sam₃ waved down a tattered Mercedes van. He negotiated with its occupants, who were just arriving for an afternoon of paradise at the valley,₄ to drive the hour back to Agadir. I sat in the back seat between Tom and a sweet lady sporting a patterned headscarf and a maternal smile. Chaabi folk music blared as I was passed joint after joint. The men in the van even insisted we try their picnic lunch of freshly cooked sardines sweating in foil on the dashboard.
The desert dunes were vast and the driver sped through them, stopping only to let a caravan of wild camels and a Berber man herding goat pass, which Tom assures me today, were not flying. As the sky dimmed and the sand turned to concrete, our Mercedes saviours came to a halt and pointed to the large jail-like quarters over the 15-way street of peak hour Agadir. As we approached the wrought iron gate, the guards pointed to a concrete slab poking out of the dirt a few hundred meters further. We hobbled on towards a lady propped behind more iron bars, who ripped a blank piece of paper in half and handed me a pencil. I looked to Tom and he gave her an exaggerated shrug. In an ongoing game of charades, she pressed her index finger against my chest and pointed to the paper. I wrote my name rather illegibly and made my way into the next concrete room. Absent was the scent of sterilisation and fluorescent lighting, cushioned chairs and ice-cold water dispenser.
In a matter of minutes a doctor in a not-quite-white coat appeared waving my piece of paper. “HARIYT, HARIYT!” he cackled. The next concrete room was no bigger than the average bedroom, containing one single operating chair.₆ A concrete bench on one side of the room revealed a chaotic array of open pillboxes, while a wheezing sultana hooked up to a respirator, a weeping middle-aged man strapped upright against the wall and a young woman coddling a screaming child occupied the adjacent sides.
The doctor wiped the chair with his coat, indicating hop on. Tom paled when someone appeared behind my head wailing, a trail of blood in my peripheral. “Okay so just keep looking at me H”, he ordered.₇ Tom’s hand was beginning to lose circulation when the doc proceeded to spray and wipe my chin.₈ With the flesh and bone now exposed, he filled a seven-gauge needle with a bottle of serum, which entered the wound head-on a total of four times. Administered and empty, he proceeded to toss it over his right shoulder like spare salt, muttering something in Arabic.
The actual stitching process was not dissimilar to that of a performative dance; I was his prop. With an arm hyperextended to the roof, he tugged the flaps of skin back together, and in one final swift motion, wiped and plastered a sloppy bandage, which by my yelling “Ow!” had already become detached. The doc then propped me up, lifted my top and stabbed my tummy with a tetanus shot to send me on my way.
And that was it: 10 minutes, no questions asked, no insurance necessary.
But alas here I am, back home and I have managed to contract tonsillitis yet again. It’s a Wednesday afternoon in flu-season Melbourne, and my doctor’s appointment is well and truly scheduled for the morning. As I feel for my glands, I find myself stroking the neat scar under my chin and credit its craftsmanship. Now on Woman’s Weekly number seven, I long for that dust patch and concrete slab.
1 10 bouts of tonsillitis, appendicitis, ACL surgery, three broken arms, wisdom tooth infection, wisdom tooth extraction, post-wisdom tooth extraction infection, cigarette burn, cigarette burn infection, white tail spider bites, white tail spider bite infection, another 10 bouts of tonsillitis, thrush, UTI, pregnancy scare, recurring wisdom tooth infection, slipped disc…
2 A soggy Wonder White, stras and dead horse combination, with me embodying the latter
3 The only one to carry out French through to year 12
4 The irony in the destination’s literal name being, ‘PARADISE VALLEY’
6 Identical to the ones a serial killer straps his victims to before defacing them in horror movies.
7 I would later learn he was staring at the remnants of a man’s leg wrapped in a cardboard box.
8 The unlabelled bottle contained what felt, smelled and tasted like gin, likely homebrew or Gordon’s.
Cover by Paul Morris