By Dr. Kofi Dankyi Beeko – MD
Then one day, the Administrator called me to his office and jocularly said: “Kafi, the Prince has asked for your arrest.” Since he giggled boldly as he said so, I answered smiling broadly too, and throwing it back, “The Prince? Which one? I have been living under the notion that they were all my friends.” He then admitted it was a joke, but there was some error we had to correct, he and I, together.
We were under intense pressure when it came to getting space for patients who were referred from all corners of the wide Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country, which is a desert itself, but as large in land area as the whole of Western Europe, and in addition to oil underneath, is believed to be sitting on an untold number of other precious things.
Much as it did put a feather into our cup almost every day, for apparently doing our work efficiently, it was cumbersome, when, at times, in the middle of the night you would be called to drive over to the hospital to arrange the admission of a patient, who had been injured a year previously, and whose family had been given a written recommendation from a Prince to be admitted to ‘Mustashfa Malik Fahd, bi Jiddah.’
All it meant was for the patient to be transferred to the King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah. Jeddah could be written as ‘Jiddah’ also. In Arabic, Jiddah means grandmother. The mother and, subsequently, grandmother of ALL MANKIND, ‘Eva’, according to the Islamic story, was buried in a marked place, but in an unmarked tomb in Jeddah, on the Red Sea, now in Saudi Arabia.
This is what Islamic literature says. But, to our bed situation, I had encountered a situation whereby I could not admit, but I had been with the family to their home, where we had a vegetable and fish-rich lunch, and had promised the admission would take place as soon as we had an empty bed.
The visit, indeed, was to assess the suitability of his apud, to take the injured patient into the home. In spite of the smiles as I and the family parted, they were apparently not so happy that I had refused the admission that night (they could have added, in spite of the sumptuous meal I was offered by them).
There was the story that I was German. Since I was then almost as dark as charcoal on my skin, and I was fluent in both German and English, there was the confusion as to where to place me. Since Americans had a bigger political clout in Saudi Arabia than the Germans did, they tagged me American, because what they saw me having done was virtually having refused a Prince’s order.
You could say an impossibility ordinarily. I could refuse a Prince’s order to admit a patient into hospital at one time. Call it a feat! What the Saudis find difficult to differentiate is something that cannot be done, and another that has been refused. It is difficult to refuse a Prince’s order, but it is another thing if the prince wants that you to admit the patient into hospital, but yours is there being no bed available.
In the Saudi set-up, I ought to have sent one patient home that day who could come for wound dressing on out-patient basis, for example. The one being sent home virtually as an emergency would complain as well. My options that day, well, either or, equally as bad. My knowledge in the culture wasn’t as yet that deep. It stayed a joke, and nothing happened to me or anybody else either. I did not have the comfort of the German Head of a Neurosurgical Department, who could be only rarely awakened at night, if at all. Since the field was new, and the coverage area was wide, I did not have much of a choice. I was up on my feet an awful lot of times at night.
Hafr Al Batten
Not long after I had been well-enough acclimatised into the day-to-day affairs of the hospital, I was once called by my old friend, OAB, to come down to the hospital’s library, which frequently was used as a meeting point.
If, for example, they had to conduct interviews to select fresh members of staff, it oftentimes would happen in the library and I would be part of it, if I were not on an assignment otherwise outside the Kingdom.
The Administrator (and remember I had introduced him in the beginning, that he was a German-trained Orthopedic Surgeon, actively practicing in the same hospital as Head of Department of that discipline, whilst he acted as the Administrator too).
One day, we had just finished such a section of interviews, and I had accompanied him to his office, which was almost below the ground floor. He liked talking at length in almost everything after the main-section had been over. So, we wedged ourselves out of the door for a few minutes, doing nothing in particular but talking over various topics, not necessarily relating to our hospital.
(To be continued)