It seems in recollection as if everyone I encountered overseas eventually had something. As in “I don’t know what I had last week but it was something.” Even spoiled young princesses whose parents had sent them to Shefayim to learn Hebrew would talk about their digestive problems with a frankness you would never hear in their hometown mall. (Shefayim was the name of the kibbutz near Tel Aviv where I stayed for … but that is another post for another time …. )
I fell victim to something myself on my way out of Morocco. I have told this story to friends, safely within North America, and they find it hard to believe. However, this is the truth as I remember it ….
I began to feel chilly and a bit dizzy as I left the desert settlement of Goulimine heading for the long journey to Rabat in northern Morocco and the embassy. (Since I had overstayed my visa I figured I would need some help.)
A doctor (or a pharmacist) gave me some vials of clear liquid I was told was liquid aspirin. (I have since been informed by several North Americans – to whom I have referred above – that there is no such thing as liquid aspirin.) Whatever. I traveled along the dusty trail injecting myself with the stuff every time I felt ill, (One reason I never became a drug addict: I hate needles.)
I recall walking into a place (it could have been a hospital, I don’t remember) where a tiny wizened Catholic nun who spoke nothing but French punctured me with a large needle in the (ahem!) behind and seemed to take great delight when I yelled. Like I say, I hate needles. (This is another recollection my friends had trouble believing but I swear it is true. Some things a man doesn’t forget.)
I recall taking several rickety old buses ( I was the only Caucasian aboard) and sleeping under a table in a building somewhere in Casablanca because I couldn’t afford a room.
By the time I reached Rabat I was sick as a camel. In fact, a young guy who was also suffering from something offered to exchange addresses. In case one of us didn’t make it out alive the other would notify the folks explaining what had happened to their son. (It sounds melodramatic now but at the time it seemed like a realistic idea.) According to the rules of the hostel, residents were required to be out of the building during daylight hours. However, the staff told us they were making an exception in our case because they thought the two of us were too ill to be out of doors.
After a week of bathing in fluish perspiration I managed to make it to the embassy. It turns out there was a fellow there (I seem to recall it was the head guy) who was from my neck of the woods and kindly wrote a letter explaining why I had stayed in Morocco past my due date. (The gist of the letter was that I had become too ill to make the three month cutoff date.) I decided not to attempt the Rabat border crossing because a) I was informed it was too busy and b) the letter might not be enough to save me from being detained. Instead I took some advice and decided on a remote border crossing somewhere in the mountains. The officials processed my exit quickly. (Must have been a slow morning.) However, the guards also took my backpack apart looking for illegal drugs. (Like I said, it must have been a slow morning.) Watching as my pack was slowly and systematically dismantled I was glad I hadn’t taken advantage of a number of “get rich quick” offers to smuggle hashish across the border.
My visit to Morocco continued to haunt me once I returned to North America.
A few months after arriving on the homefront I began to suffer from similar symptoms to the condition I thought I had kicked during my extended stay overseas (20 months altogether).
I was working at a commercial radio station when I suddenly began to feel feverish and weak. I was overheated above the waist while the lower part of my body felt as if icewater was running through my veins. I couldn’t drink any alcohol (a glass of champagne at New Year’s sent me back to bed for several days). The doctors were baffled. After awhile I suspected they felt it was my fault they could not arrive at a diagnosis despite subjecting me to numerous (and increasingly exotic) medical tests.
After my last test one doctor asked me (in desperation?) if I had visited any other countries. I listed off a number of destinations and when I came to Morocco the cabal of medicos immediately came up with the idea that “an intestinal parasite” I picked up in Morocco must be the cause of my mysterious illness. Their prescription, not surprisingly, was to ride it out.
My boss was very generous in allowing me time to recover but sooner or later I had to go back to work. I soon found that the chills I was experiencing in the lower part of my body would creep up my spine like tendrils of fear (eat your heart out, Stephen King) and I adopted the idea of sitting on a hot water bottle in a futile attempt to regulate my body temperature. (Fortunately I was working the all night shift.)
Gradually my body temperature returned to normal and I regained my strength. However, some time after I had recovered from the initial attack I was hit again although this time the symptoms were not as severe. Over a period of years I experienced echoes of my illness. Each time the symptoms were a little less severe. Today it is nothing but a bad memory.
Illness/condition/disease/virus …. after all these years I still don’t know what it was. My diagnosis satisfied the doctors (and precluded any further tests.) I am not as confident.
But it sure was something.