My wife and I decided to visit Morocco, to test the maxim that my fellow columnist Joe Eastern often cites: The words you won’t say on your deathbed are, “If only I had spent more time at the office.”
Though I’m not convinced he’s right about that – he’s never even seen my office – I thought I’d give being away a try. My office manager comes from near Marrakesh. While bound for Morocco, we could check out her hometown, even if there is no obvious tax angle.
As I contemplated exotic travel, the first things that came to mind of course were what rare diseases I might catch, which vaccines could prevent them, and how to get insurance to pay for getting immunized. Alexa helped me find CDC recommendations for immunizations for travel to Morocco, which included:
• Typhoid ... contaminated food or water.
• Hepatitis A ... contaminated food or water.
• Hepatitis B ... contaminated body fluids (sex, needles, etc.).
• Cholera ... contaminated food or water.
• Rabies ... infected animals.
• Influenza ... airborne droplets.
This trip was indeed starting to sound like an awful lot of fun.
My PCP called in several of the relevant vaccines to my local pharmacy, who informed me that typhoid vaccine is not covered by my health insurance. This spurred the following (somewhat embellished) dialogue with my insurer:
“Why is typhoid not covered?”
“Contractual exclusion. We don’t cover anything starting with “typ-,” including typhoid, typhus, typical, and typographic.”
“Do you cover bubonic plague?”
“Only for high-risk travel.”
“Such as if you travel to Europe during the 14th century.”
“How about Hepatitis B and rabies?”
“That would depend.”
“On whether you plan to have sex with rabid bats, or rabid sex with placid bats.”
“I wouldn’t say I have plans. But, you know, in the moment ...”
“Sorry, not covered.”
“How about cholera?”
“Have you ever been threatened by cholera?
“Not exactly. But I did have a cranky uncle. When he was irritated, he often said, ‘May cholera grab you!’ ”
“You’re not covered. Your uncle might be.”
“We’ve decided on a side trip to Tanzania. As long as we’re already in Africa ...”
“Do you suffer from Sleeping Sickness?”
“Only at Grand Rounds.”
“We do cover eflornithine, but there is a problem ...”
“Our only eflornithine manufacturing facility is in Bangladesh, where it takes up two floors of a factory that also makes designer jeans. That factory is closed for safety and child-labor violations.”
“For how long?”
“Then what can I do?”
“You can apply eflornithine cream for your Sleeping Sickness and hope for the best.”
“Vaniqa. It may not help your sleeping symptoms, but you’ll need fewer haircuts.”
“Oh, thanks. What about River Blindness? Do you cover ivermectin?”
“Only if the preferred formulary alternatives have been exhausted.”
“What are those?”
“Metronidazole and azelaic acid.”
“Hold on! Are you looking at the page for onchocerciasis or the one for rosacea?”
“Yes. Did Montezuma ever make it to Morocco?”
“I don’t have that information. You’ll have to ask Alexa. Anything else?”
“No, I’m all set. Just remind me what you said about bats?”
In the end a family situation came up, and we had to cancel our trip. Instead, we watched the movie “Casablanca.” That is an excellent movie, with many pungent and memorable lines. Not only that but watching it does not cause jet lag.
As for the typhoid vaccine, in the end, it was not covered by insurance. Nevertheless, I haven’t had a bit of typhoid, so the vaccine seems to be working very well.
Dr. Rockoff practices dermatology in Brookline, Mass., and is a longtime contributor to Dermatology News. He serves on the clinical faculty at Tufts University, Boston, and has taught senior medical students and other trainees for 30 years. His second book, “Act Like a Doctor, Think Like a Patient,” is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Write to him at.