The mid-morning of one fine day, a flamboyant vascular Surgeon, who must have arrived in Saudi Arabia the same time as I did, gave me a surprise visit at my office and introduced himself as “HK”. He said he knew I was around, having arrived from the Wes”, just like himself. He trained in Hammersmith.
The institution he talked about is an ancient but very well-established hospital in a district of London that bears the same name. If anybody had credentials from this prestigious hospital, he is unlikely to become your friend if you did not demonstrate the obeisance that he would expect.
It happened that I missed demonstrating the required accolade of honour when he and I just met. I would feel sorry inside me if l had acted rudely. But, it would be expected of anybody who sought me as a colleague for any purpose, or reason, to have registered that I had trained too in two places which were not without honour; namely in Dusseldorf, and in Mainz on the River Rhone, both cities in Germany, and that country had a name in medicine that was the reverse of Nazism.
But, perhaps, it was a matter of luck that HK did not build any ill-feeling towards me after we had met. I, otherwise, showed him politeness, and collegiality.
He requested that I accompany him to a famous coffee house in Jeddah, which served not English type (not tea this time around), but Arabic type of coffee. People would storm there, and spend the whole morning, or afternoon, chatting, chewing pistachios and gulping down more coffee, instead of sipping it. If you felt hungry, you could ask for chocolate cake, which would then fill you to the brim.
It happened that I had no problem cases in any of the wards that morning, and I felt whatever he had to tell me, I had the time for him too, period! When a non-Saudi was espoused to a Saudi, especially when he, rather she, was not Saudi, you got the impression as if he would like to tell you, meeting him for the first time, “well, you there, look at what I have got, my friend!”
HK’s wife was pretty, and arabesque. She had come from an upper-middle class background. They had met in England, where she had been sent to study English (albeit, with a chaperon, until an Arab had come forward with a proposal for marriage, the Arab way), and he, as you would have gathered by now, had studied medicine, the summit of flair, you might say.
England is the country where the surgeon, especially when he was a consultant (the top rudder that he could climb with his scalpel), was not any longer addressed as Doctor, but Mister. It has all got to do within the history of having lived in Europe (and you could call it medicine in Europe), until the way we know it today.
That culture of medicine was brought along to Europe with the Islamic conquest in the 7th Century. In other words, the Arabs brought what is said today to be Western medicine to Europe. It was in Spain, Southern France, and Italy first. That is how the English Surgeon/Anatomist, William Harvey, came to study medicine in Padua.
The tradition was that barbers took to what was surgical practice, and, therefore, they were not called doctors. The rudeness went as far as meaning that surgeons could not be mentally as smart as Physicians. The meaning is today much different. It has assumed a prestigious connotation.
So, that day, that HK and I spent quite a time together at the famous coffee house at the Souk of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, if it was whisky we were quaffing, and not coffee, HK would have talked more, as we spent more time together.
He revealed to me he had heard I was performing big operations, and that he thought it was risky. “If things went wrong one day, they would squeeze the very air you breathe out of your lungs,” he emphasised. “And that meant?” I inquired perplexedly. “That could mean, they would investigate you, and find you guilty of incompetence, and your punishment could be disastrous. A typical punishment could be; a whole year’s salary, and when you would have paid it all, they would deport you like a criminal.” “So, what do you suggest I do?” I inquired from him a bit flabbergasted.
“I like you very much, and that is why I am telling you all this,” HK continued, and his façade would give the impression it was whisky we were having, and not coffee.
“What you do is,” he continued, “cut down on your surgical aggressiveness here in this country. No big operations. Refer all big cases to England or Germany, if that’s what they want. You could include America too. After all, they have the money to pay, don’t they?” he concluded.
“They would have the money to pay, but what a way to practice after so many years of training and acquisition of skills, cum experience! Boredom would drag you down the grave,” I said to him, and to myself.
Does anything exist such as “job-satisfaction?” I added to the self-questioning. I kept on asking a lot of questions, such that, if somehow, other people could hear me in all I was saying, they would ask themselves, “a damn nervous wreck, not so?” I asked myself, burning with regrets within me, having come to this part of the globe to practice brain-surgery.
In the first place, I definitely spent my day in disillusionment, hearing what I had just heard from him. My benefactor, HK, saw in my face only elements of disappointment, disenchantment and disbelief.
But, the air of recognition of his kind gesture was still plenteous, not only around my face, but in the whole ambience. “What a way to think of your wife’s country?” I thought inwardly. This is the way many people thought of the way to get by in Saudi Arabia.
As if to prove him right, there was this true story like what you are about to read, emanating from a new hospital which was touted as well-equipped, and staffed with top consultants, all trained in the WEST!
That hospital had just been officially commissioned in Jeddah. Tales like that were plenty in the very air we breathed, in the Kingdom. If you followed them, you would be spending your time, printing copies of your CV, and then chasing new jobs by the day. You would be looking for places that would give you safest jobs!
There was an Orthopedic Surgeon, who hailed from an African country, but well trained in the West. It was added, he spoke English like the then British Prime Minister, His Excellency Mr. Tony Blair. He had taken a job in the new hit of a hospital in Jeddah. He was welcomed with colourful banners, and the expectation was great when he was the topic. Then, there was this 40-year-old Saudi Engineer, employed by the Saudi National Navy.
This patient had been seen by a dozen orthopedic surgeons previously, and none of whom pronounced any definitive diagnosis, let alone, suggesting any treatment modality.
The difficulties began with being able to establish a diagnosis, to begin with.
(To be continued)