isiting the sick is a very important obligation that the Saudi culture follows and it is dictated by Islam. Not only is it good for the sick person in that it lifts his spirits, but it is also a virtuous act which will be rewarded for the Muslim person who visits someone who is sick. There are even guidelines in Islam about not staying too long, about visiting an unrelated person of the opposite sex, and specific prayers (du’a) that are said for the sick individual.
I hadn’t really had much exposure to this aspect of Islam until my husband spent ten days in the hospital recently and had open heart surgery. He had a steady stream of visitors during most of his time in the hospital. Usually family and friends started coming in the early afternoon, and sometimes the last visitor of the day came late, leaving when visiting hours ended at 11pm. I thought it was interesting that during Ramadan, the hospital visiting hours are changed to ending at 3 am (see photo below). I learned that my function was to act as hostess for the visitors, offering them small cups of the traditional Arabic coffee called Gahwa (here’s a simple but delicious recipe for Gahwa), which my sisters-in-law thoughtfully and thankfully brought to me every day in thermal pots, as well as dates or chocolates, which guests brought with them in abundance. The Gahwa is mainly cardamom with very little coffee in it - I still haven’t acquired a taste for it.
I managed not to cry at all the whole time Adnan was in the hospital – I felt that he needed me to be strong and positive, and I was! I have heard many times since moving here that Saudi women have a reputation for being very dramatic and emotional. Now I’m not saying that they are, just that I have heard it often enough. So I thought it was rather amusing when I was saying goodbye to Adnan right before they wheeled him into the operating room that a small group of women employees turned around to watch me, as if to see whether I was going to break down or not.
Adnan initially didn’t want his own mother even knowing about his surgery because she, for one, IS quite emotional, but it reached a point where that was just not practical. So she was finally told that he was having more than just tests and procedures done. She came to the hospital to see him a few days after the operation once he was out of ICU - and she cried the whole time, which I could see was tough for Adnan. But the funny thing is that when she was leaving, she got after me about what I was wearing – one of Adnan’s long loose shapeless thobes with elbow length sleeves and a huge billowing colorful scarf over my head (properly covering my hair) that hung loosely down past my wrists. But when I served coffee, she could see part of my forearms from underneath so she didn’t think I was dressed properly. She thought I should have worn a long sleeved dress, but I told her that I would be way too hot dressed that way and that I was comfortable in what I had on. She knows how I complain about being hot all the time. But she said, “Not hot.” It struck me as funny because here she was crying her eyes out because her son had just had heart surgery, but she was still worried that a man might have seen my sexy middle-aged forearms! I know she means well and it is actually a compliment that she cares. She is just from a different time and a different place…
The third day Adnan spent in the hospital, which was also the day before his surgery, was a Friday – the holy day in Islam when it is customary for men to go to the mosque to attend the Jumu’ah prayers, comparable to Christians attending church services on Sundays. After the prayers ended, men well-wishers dressed in their crisp white thobes and flowing headgear began appearing bearing huge floral arrangements (one was almost as tall as me!), plants, chocolates, or cologne and I finally abandoned my hostessing duties because there must have been 12-15 men in the room all at once. Many of them I had never seen before even though some were my husband's cousins - but because of the way the society restricts interaction between unrelated men and women, I had never had any opportunity to meet most of them before. I went out for a walk down in the beautiful park adjacent to the hospital, but it was a bit warm, so I wandered around the hospital for a bit before returning to the room.
Each day, except for the three days Adnan spent in ICU where limited visiting hours were strictly enforced, visiting guests streamed in and out of the room, some calling before coming, others showing up unannounced. When a couple of his previously-unknown-to-me cousins came calling, they were SOOOO incredibly handsome that I almost spilled the coffee on them! And after almost every visitor left, Adnan would tell me that the friend or family member who just left had offered to foot the entire hospital bill, and he would remark, “This system is so much better than insurance.” All in all, the total bill for everything came to about $18,500 US – for an angiogram, triple bypass open heart surgery, ten days in the hospital including three days in ICU, our meals, doctors’ charges, medications, etc. I have no idea what the same might cost in the States, but I’m pretty sure it would be considerably more.
Adnan continues to improve a little bit every day. He’s still in some pain, has good days and bad days, and is a tad impatient to feel better sooner, but overall he’s doing very well. The doctors are pleased with his progress and the long incision down his chest looks good. We still have a way to go, and both Adnan and I are looking ahead to the day when this will all be behind us. Many Thanks to all of you who sent your well wishes and prayers – I could see that Adnan was quite touched as I read them to him. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.