My husband came back from London a few weeks ago with a cold. This turned very quickly into bronchitis, which then triggered off his asthma. Lots of coughing, sleeplessness, nausea, tightness across his chest, and no voice. Time to see a doctor.
Making the decision was the easy part. What happened next was something else.
1. Ringing for an appointment
We tried ringing on a Friday. That was our first mistake. Despite the hospital website and phone answering service saying that appointments could be made on a Friday, even though it's the Islamic holy day, no one answered. We eventually got through the next day.
2. Arriving at the hospital
Upon arrival, you’d expect to see the doctor. Wrong. My husband had to visit the administration section first, so that his insurance status could be checked to ensure his insurer was able to pay for the visit.
Coughing, wheezing and now with a splitting headache, my husband proceeded to the reception area where his paperwork was checked again and he was directed to wait until the nurse called him. (Point to note: if you are visiting a hospital in Saudi, take a book with you and be prepared to wait. Waiting areas typically only have copies of the Koran, in Arabic of course, and a few scattered prayer mats.)
The next stop was the Vital Signs room, where two nurses were checking and recording details. As routinely happens here, one was calling the results loudly to the other.
Nurse One: “Yus, Mohammed is 450 kg.”
Nurse Two: “Did you say 450 kg?”
Nurse One “Yus, and Mohammed is 35. And blood is 180 over 95!”
Good for Mohammed, to have that shared with everyone waiting outside in the formally screened male and female waiting areas.
Eventually it was my husband’s turn and he coughed and rattled his way into the doctor’s room. Success at last.
After listening with his stethoscope, the doctor agreed there was clear evidence of bronchitis and asthma. The breath test next made my husband double over in a parallax of coughing and wheezing. Chuckling to himself, the doctor turned to his nurse said, “Listen to that breathing, nurse. Absolutely classic bad asthmatic wheeze.”
6. Sickness leave
In a husky half-whisper, the only voice he had left, my husband asked for days off and went over his symptoms; sleeplessness, coughing, nausea. Smiling again, the doctor handed him a prescription for antibiotics, some syrup to reduce throat inflammation and a new asthma inhaler. “No need,” he said. “You’ll be fine,” and then spent some time explaining how clever the new asthma inhaler was.
After a really bad weekend and with no improvement, my husband headed off to Doctor #2 at Hospital #2.
7. Doctor #2
This doctor prescribed a new and different asthma inhaler, a nasal spray, and sent him down to radiology for an x-ray to check for pneumonia. The x-ray, which was emailed directly to the doctor, confirmed pneumonia in one lung.The doctor explained that he’d usually recommend two days in hospital for an intravenous course of antibiotics, but it was also possible to get the treatment through ER. My husband would need to drive to the hospital for the next three days, where each time he’d be given 750 mls of antibiotics directly into a vein. Then there’d be a week or so of the usual antibiotics tablets. (Note that a drive into hospital is about a 2 hour round trip, against the usual fierce Saudi traffic. Not for the faint hearted, but apparently fine for those suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic asthma.)
8. Sickness leave
Time for the same question, this time for Doctor #2.
Answer: “No need. You’ll be fine.”
9 ER and Doctor #3
Down in ER for his first course of intravenous antibiotics, my husband figured he might as well try the same question with Doctor #3, the one in ER.
H: “Can I get a medical certificate for two days off work?”
ER Doctor: “Do you need to be admitted to hospital?”
H: “No, I do not need to be admitted to hospital.”
ER Doctor: “Are you too sick to receive the treatment?”
H “No, but I am too sick to go to work.”
ER Doctor: “Please come this way for your treatment.”
Having been assured by the ER doctor that there were no side effects and, yes, he’d be fine to drive, my husband made it home, after going back to work, of course. He had an impressive array of medication.
As he checked through it all, (a wise thing to do here, since one instruction was incorrect and would have had him taking double the maximum permitted of one of the medicines) he also double-checked the stated side effects of the intravenous antibiotic medication.
And there it was in black and white, “Driving… is not recommended when using this medication as some dizziness may be experienced.”
Great. However, as a friend later pointed out, this medication would at worst simply reduce him to the standard Saudi wayward and uncoordinated driving style.
So really, the doctor was quite correct. He’ll be fine.