In the past several weeks, I have spent more than six hours in a hospital ER—not for my own medical treatment, mind you, but to help others with their unforeseen emergencies. So, after these curious curative experiences, I thought I would spend this week’s post detailing them and ruminating about the state of medicine in Qatar.
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A couple weeks ago, I received a Whatsapp message from my mentee, T, regarding our insurance coverage and where to go should she need to see a doctor.
“Dunno,” I responded.
While living in Qatar for the past year, I have not been sick nor have I made any use of my insurance coverage—aside from getting a new pair of glasses before the start of this school year. I recommended that she talk to a mutual friend of ours, C, who was also female and had more experience with the various medical facilities here in Doha.
Later, I inquired with C, “How did it go?”
She told me that T went to the female clinic on the female side of QU’s campus.
“There’s a female clinic?” I asked.
“Yeah, women get a clinic on their campus,” she responded, “and men get an Olympic pool.”
Hmm. Good to know. I would like to swim laps at some point.
The next day, I received an email from an instructor saying that T was ill and needed her classes covered for the day as well as someone to take her to the hospital. I wasn’t able to cover any of her classes because their times conflicted with mine. However, I did have a four-hour break between my morning and afternoon classes. Usually this is my time to eat lunch and take a nap, but I thought I would do the right thing and take T to the hospital during this time. It would be a good opportunity for me to learn about the medical facilities here.
I informed T that I would take her to the hospital and picked her up from her hotel. When she came out of the hotel, she looked like a model with a book balanced on her head because of the way she was walking upright. I wondered why she was walking strangely, so I got out of my car and asked her what was wrong?
She told me that her neck was causing her a great deal of discomfort and the slightest jarring would shoot a bolt of pain up through her head. In order for her to get into my car, I had to help her lower herself into the seat and tilt her body to get her head inside.
We made it to Al Ahli hospital in less than 10 minutes, and I pulled up to the emergency room entrance. I helped T get out of the car and then went to park the car while she checked herself in. While I was parking my car, I saw a Maserati behind me. Its license plate was 120.
A little digression…in Qatar, it used to be fashionable for people to buy license plates with 3 or 4 digits. Plates with an interesting sequence of numbers, like 1122 or 1007, could command a very high price. Additonally, I was told, there were no plates lower than 3 digits, and the lowest numbers with 3 digits were reserved for the Emir of Qatar and his circle. I believe one of the Emir’s cars has a plate that says 101. So, either the person behind me had been given his license plate by the Emir, or the person paid around 1 million ($270,000) QAR for the prestige of the number.
After parking my car, when I made it back to the ER, T was at the front of a very small queue. There were Qataris and non-Qataris waiting to be seen by the hospital staff. Aside from the Qataris wearing their national dress, and there being a separate seating area for men and women, the hospital’s ER seemed like any urgent care lobby that I visited before in the US: a clean facility with various sick or injured people milling around until they can be treated.
When it was T’s turn in the queue, she gave the receptionist a printed copy of her insurance card because the new QU cards had not been distributed to us yet. Next week, inshallah! Then she had to pay the co-pay to see the doctor, which was 25 QAR, or $6.87 USD. After she was checked in, I found T a wheelchair so that she could sit down and not jostle her neck when she needed to be moved.
“T, have you eaten today yet?” It was my lunch time, and I was starting to get hungry.
“No,” she replied.
“Do you mind waiting here while I run to the cafeteria and get us some food?”
She didn’t mind at all, so I was off.
I found a cafeteria in very little time and was surprised by its offerings: fattoush, tabbouleh, hummus, Egyptian rice, biryani, shawarma. All the dishes seemed delectable and inexpensive. I bought T some cut fruit and yogurt, brought it to her in the ER, and then returned to the cafeteria to treat myself to some Egyptian rice with a side of fish curry.
By the time I was done eating, T had made her way to a hospital room and was waiting for the doctor to see her. I sat with throughout her treatment. Actually, T wasn’t able to lie on the gurney because of her neck, so I decided that I would lie down, since it was about the time of my daily nap, and I was full after my lunch in the hospital cafeteria. I reclined and chatted with T until her IV was down to its last drop and the nurse discharged us to the pharmacy to pick up her medication.
Then I took her home and returned to campus for my afternoon classes.
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After spending time with T at Al Ahli, I was curious about the purpose of the experience. Was I just being a good Samaritan or was the experience meant to be instructive?
I was excited because my brother Francis was coming to Doha for a layover on his way to Nepal. He was spending a month traveling, and I would be able to entertain him for 8 hours before he had to be back at the Hamad International Airport (HIA).
The days leading up to his visit, I was trying to figure out the best locations to show him in the city during his short stint. The plan that I settled on was visiting the Museum of Islamic Art, then eating dinner at Al Mourjan near the corniche, and finally wandering Souq Waqif before I would return him to the airport.
That afternoon, I arranged to have my classes covered and arrived early at the airport to wait for my brother. His plane landed, and it seemed like he was taking a long time to make his way through the airport. It takes me less than 30 minutes from the time I exit the plane to the time I arrive at the baggage claim area. However, I don’t have to wait in line at customs because I’m a resident of Qatar and can check in and out of the expedient E-gate. Still, no word from my brother. I was wondering if everything was ok.
Then I received a Facebook message from him. “Made it through customs. Moving slow. Food poisoning.”
Ugh. Before his visit, I imagined scenarios where he was jet-lagged or wanted to refresh himself with a shower, so I was prepared to entertain him at my place. However, I didn’t imagine he would succumb to an illness.
When he and his travel companion finally made it to me, he recounted how he spent the majority of his 10-hour flight in one of the plane’s bathroom. Now that he was in Doha, he wanted to go to a clinic for fluids and medication to alleviate his symptoms. Was there a hospital where I could take him?
Of course. I knew just the place. Back to Al Ahli.
Now, in Qatar, everyone gets medical care. The public hospital is Hamad Hospital. However, the queue there can be quite long because treatment is relatively free. Al Ahli is a private hospital, but your insurance must allow you to go there, or you have to pay out of pocket. I was curious if Al Ahli would treat my brother because he wasn’t a resident of Qatar, and he didn’t have medical insurance.
Sure enough, they saw him. However, unlike T, his co-pay was 400 QAR, or $110 USD, and he received a bill for his treatment and his medication after his visit.
He apologized profusely for his state during the short time that we had together, but hanging out with him while he received his IV drip was no big deal to me. I was glad that I was able to help him while he was visiting and hoped that he would recover enough for the rest of his travels.
We went back to my apartment after Al Ahli, and he slept for a couple hours before I had to return him and his companion to HIA. Not the visit that I imagined, but it worked out nonetheless.
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A week later, after I received my new insurance card, I went to the eyeglass store in my favorite mall and treated myself to two new pairs of glasses. I bought a pair of Prada frames, and because the second pair of frames were free, I received a pair of Tree Spectacles. Aside from my annual eyeglasses, and maybe a teeth whitening, hopefully I was done with my medical matters for the rest of the year.