A text from Patch.
“Can you go to the clinic and relieve Shereen and Sarah so they can eat lunch, please?”
And so I go.
Inside the portacabin I find Shereen talking in Arabic to a young man who’s glaring at a bottle of rehydration solution, his shoulders slumped, his feet balefully swinging on the trolley.
Shereen hands over to me.
“19 year old racer, in yesterday with dehydration and back again today with the same. He’s been throwing up all day, so we’ve given him a couple of bags IV.”
And then, a little quieter…
“He needs a bit of encouragement, he’s…not very responsible.”
And so began my first experience of dealing with Arabic teenagers.
I’ve had discussions with ex-pats out here about the difficulties young people face when handling the transition to adulthood in the local society. A typically affluent social background with staff to cook, clean and tend to you doesn’t necessarily engender an independent mindset. Alex tells me about living with flatmates who’d phone her, frantic, while she was at work.
“Alex! I have no socks…how does the washing machine work?”
In addition to this, let’s bear in mind the family picture. Your elders are revered, your parents’ friends your aunties and uncles, regardless of blood line. There is no problem that can’t be solved by your family, or knowing someone whose brother runs a business.
It’s a water tight, unshakeable foundation on which to build a community.
But it’s not so hot at generating young people who can stand in their own two sandals when the shit hits the fan.
As is, the young man sitting on the bed was the picture of Kevin the teenager in a dish-dash, texting rabidly and occasionally stopping mid-conversation to answer his phone, his sunglasses blanking his eyes. When he spoke English to me, it was with a mid-Atlantic snap, punctuated with the occasional “awwww, shit…” (though that came with a sideways glance for my reaction to his vulgarity).
“How you feeling?”
“I feel sick, man. I need to eat dinner.”
“We can do that. I think you should stick around here for a little while, though. You’ve been throwing up all day, yeah?”
“Ok, you need to drink some fluids too.
“I already did…and the lady doctor gave me this.”
He points to the IV in his arm.
“So you can go ahead and take that out, and I’ll go eat dinner.”
“I think, first of all, you need to drink that bottle and we’ll check it stays down. If you eat dinner and then throw up, you’ll be sicker than you are right now.”
He sighs and stares again at the bottle in his hand.
“Go ahead, just drink it slowly.”
“It doesn’t taste nice.”
“I know, but it’s important.”
He unscrews the cap and take a sip, screwing up his face dramatically and hacking like a cat with a hairball.
“Awww, c’mon. It’s not that bad.”
“I hate it. It’s horrible.”
I leave him to it for five minutes while I write up some paperwork, figuring maybe he’ll get on with it without me hanging over him. Every now and again he sips again and repeats his ostentatious poisoning routine.
“Can’t I just go?”
“Not yet. You’ve got to drink it first.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You’ll only get sicker if you don’t. All you have to do is drink it. If you drink it all and it stays down for ten minutes, I’ll take the IV out of your arm. If you can wait twenty minutes after that without being sick, you can go eat dinner.”
He mutters something under his breath in Arabic.
I don’t ask for a translation.
Another five minutes passes while he fails to drink any solution and I decide to change tack. If he’s not able to approach his role as patient as an adult, maybe I should stop expecting him to do so.
“I know it tastes bad, mate. But really, your body needs it.”
He flounces back on the couch.
“It’s SO disgusting.”
“Ok, look. Do you want another flavour?”
He immediately perks up.”
“What flavours do you have?”
I dig around in the box of spares. Different manufacturers make rehydration solutions in different ways and I’m sure last year’s supplier had some variety. There, in the bottom of the crate are some left over sachets.
“Here, do you want lemon or lime?”
“Can I just drink water?”
“Nope. Lemon or lime?”
He literally pouts his lower lip at me.
I mix his bottle at the work station and hand it over, unable to resist a dig.
“Would you like a straw?”
He doesn’t answer, takes a mouthful.
“It still tastes bad.”
“But better than before?”
“Good. Carry on.”
He slurps at the bottle a little and then apparently decides that, dammit, he’s a man. An adult. He doesn’t have to put up with this. If he wants to go to dinner, he’s going to. And nobody’s going to stop him.
He’s on his feet. Slamming the bottle on the table. I look up.
“I’m going to dinner.”
“No you’re not. You’re going to sit there until you’ve finished that drink.”
He sighs dramatically.
“Do you think I’m telling you to drink this because I’m trying to be funny?”
“Right. You’re lucky right now, but if you don’t look after yourself you’ll be really sick and we’ll have to drive you to the hospital. Now sit.”
And he does, his butt pulled to the couch as uncontrollably as an obedient border collie, his costume of grown-up clothes apparently not fitting that well yet.
“The doctors yesterday were nice.”
“Yeah well, the medic today isn’t. Drink.”
And slowly, surely, he does.
His co driver joins him, an older guy in his twenties and we tease the patient about his youth. Ten minutes pass and I slip the IV out of his arm while he winces and turns his head away, giving a short “aiii!” when a bead of blood runs down his arm.
Continuing on the “three more bites” theme I set the alarm on my phone.
“When my phone beeps, you can leave, as long as you haven’t vomitted. Ok?”
He sits patiently while the countdown runs. Other patients come and go. As I pass his bed I say to him.
“How are you feeling?”
His friend nudges him in the ribs, glares at him until he contiues.
And then, passing him my phone as it counts down and then rings.
“Three…two…one…! Bingo! No vomit!”
“Go eat dinner. Slowly”
We high five and he slouches off behind his co-driver, still texting as he goes.