Infection and Rejection

Sunday, May 04, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Around the World, Days 12 & 13:  Casablanca, Morocco

When we awoke on Saturday morning, the thick yellow mucus seeping from Ken's eyes had dried, sealing them shut.  Following the advice of our eye doctor, we used a warm compress—prepared with bottled water—to clear the crust.  Having traveled to Morocco herself, the doctor warned us against introducing new bacteria by using tap water.

This helpful advice prompted us to research the safety of drinking local tap water, a practice Ken habitually follows.  There was no ambiguity in our search results.  Tourists are universally cautioned against drinking Moroccan tap water.  Good information, which we should have identified prior to our arrival.

On our way to breakfast, we stopped and talked with the hotel concierge, Mounia, about Ken's problem and his need to be examined by an ophthalmologist.  Before we finished eating breakfast, Mounia found us in the restaurant to notify us that she had contacted a local eye doctor who would work Ken into his schedule if we came to his office and waited.

Mounia offered to find us a taxi to drop us off at the doctor's office, but we asked instead for the driver to wait there for us and return us to the hotel.  By 10 a.m., we left the hotel in the care of  M. Redwane, driver of a "grand taxi" (a local term), an aged Mercedes sedan.  As we were about to enter the taxi, the concierge gave us her card and the doctor's name and telephone number, as she described in general terms the location of the office to M. Redwane.

"It would be very helpful if we had a driver who speaks some English," we mentioned to Mounia.

"Well, this driver does not, but you have my card.  Just telephone me if you need any translation," she replied.

Since Mounia did not give M. Redwane an exact address, it took a couple of attempts for him to locate the correct office building.  By this time, we realized that M. Redwane did, indeed, speak a bit of English.  (We caught on when he asked, "Do you have doctor's address?")  In due course, we located the building, and, much to our surprise and relief, M. Redwane entered the building and went into the office with us.

The doctor's receptionist spoke no English, so M. Redwane helped us provide the very limited information she required for the new patient intake.  Then we sat in the waiting room, with the faithful M. Redwane seated nearby.  Within about 30 minutes, Dr. Berrada called Ken back for his examination.  M. Redwane ensured that the doctor had some English skills and remained in the waiting room, though we were quite willing for him to accompany us into the examining room.

Ken shows Dr Berrada where the problem is.
Using familiar equipment, Dr. Berrada took a look at Ken's eyes.  His first reaction was, "This very contagious."  Then in broken English, he diagnosed a bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotic drops and ointment as well as a 'lavage,' saline to cleanse the eyes.  He advised Ken to return on Monday or Thursday if he had not improved.  His office is open Thursday through Monday, closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.  For this office visit and examination, Ken was charged 300 Moroccan dirhams (about $37).

From the doctor's office, M. Redwane drove us to a pharmacy nearby.  We arranged to meet him back at his car after visiting the pharmacy, but apparently he reconsidered our ability to conduct our business on our own (a well-founded concern) and showed up in the pharmacy just as it was our turn to speak with the pharmacist.  "Glad to see you," I told him and meant it.

With M. Redwane translating, we obtained the four medications (two prescription and two OTC) and instructions on dosage, costing us a total of $26.  Without insurance in the U.S., the two prescription-only meds would have come to the mind-boggling total of $324.  Medicines in hand, we were spirited back to the Sofitel Hotel by our Moroccan hero, M. Redwane (almost like having our own Passepartout).  When we thanked him profusely for all his invaluable assistance and raved to the hotel doormen about how helpful he was, M. Redwane modestly demurred.  He didn't even want to accept a well-earned tip.

The remainder of Saturday we spent doctoring Ken's eyes and letting the medications do their work.  By Sunday morning, his eyes looked much clearer and were feeling better.  We spent most of the day on laundry, trip planning, organizing accommodations for the next weeks and attempting to sort out our ongoing problem with obtaining local currency.

Rejected by an old friend
For at least 20 years, we have been using our ATM card to withdraw local currency when we travel to other countries and the connection has been seamless.  Enter the era of the security chip cards, in use in most countries around the world except the United States.  For the first time ever, when we tried to withdraw Euros from an ATM machine in Portugal last week, our card was rejected, even before a PIN was requested.  We tried banks that share a global alliance with our U.S. bank and obtained the same result.

Fortunately we had a few Euros left over from our trip last fall and—with use of a credit card—stretched those out over the times when only cash was accepted.  Since we had been successful with our old-school ATM card in Iceland and the UK on this trip, we thought maybe Portugal was an outlier, but we have experienced the same rejection in Morocco.  As in Portugal, the machines expect your bank card to have a chip and even illustrate the proper position for the chip when inserting your card.

Known as EMV (a joint effort of Europay, MasterCard and Visa), this technology was developed in the 1990s and rolled out in the '00s in most countries—except the USA.  EMV cards are designed to thwart some of the most common ways thieves clone credit cards and steal data. Their onboard microprocessor chip encodes your personal information such as account numbers as it is transferred to the merchant, and the data is encoded differently with each transaction. So, when events like the Target breach occur, the thieves have obtained useless data, like stealing an expired password. EMV chips are also tougher to clone than magnetic stripes are.

Few merchants in the U.S. have upgraded their equipment to accept chip-and-PIN technology, which requires the use of a PIN rather than just a signature to complete a transaction, another measure to disrupt credit card theft.  Since several major U.S. retailers have experienced massive breaches recently (Target, Michael's, Neiman Marcus, etc.), the major card networks (Visa, MasterCard, AmEx and Discover) have given both merchants and the banks that issue cards a new incentive to upgrade to chip-and-PIN by October, 2015.  After that date, the networks are instituting a "fraud liability shift."  No longer will the credit card company absorb the cost of fraudulent charges.  That responsibility will be shouldered by either the bank that failed to issue EMV cards or the merchant who neglected to upgrade to EMV machines.

Wow.  That was quite a lengthy aside.  But it's a frustration we have been dealing with not only in cash machines.  Unattended ticket machines, parking garage pay stations, gas stations and other such locations outside the U.S. often require use of a chip-and-PIN card.  Otherwise, you need to track down assistance since currency may not be accepted either.

Meanwhile, we found a temporary if undesirable solution to our cashless situation.  When a bank machine won't accept our ATM card for a withdrawal, we are using our chip-embedded credit card to obtain a cash advance, for which our card issuer charges a hefty transaction fee and begins applying interest the moment the cash is withdrawn.  We attempted this at a Moroccan ATM today and weren't sure whether to be happy or sad when the machine promptly dispensed the dirhams we requested.

Tomorrow we'll take the train down to Marrakech, but only for one night since our flight to Milan is booked for Tuesday.