Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hospital Visitors

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.


  1. Thanks for this insight, and it is wonderful that Adnan is doing well.

    Can't resist:
    Cost in Canada to citizen or permanent resident: $0.

    Meals for spouse separate but no one looks at what you eat off patient's tray--usually too copious anyway.

    Yes, taxes cover it, and yes the "hotel aspect" is less, but no one has to lose their home, farm, savings, etc because of health care costs, as in some places.

  2. Hoping your husband has a speedy recovery!

  3. Susie...thanks for sharing this with us. It sure puts things in a different perspective when something like this happens. Glad to hear that Adnan is continually improving and that you were able to be there for him. Hope all is well.

  4. My first son had a severe congenital heart defect and spent his entire life (1 month, 3 days) in the pediatric ICU or PICU. His hospital bill for 34 days of hospitalization, 2 major open heart surgeries, 3 minor heart surgeries, a heart catheterization, ECMO (like a bypass machine), and plasmapheresis was $1.2 million dollars. Lab costs and doctor's bills were seperate and added around $500K to that total.

    We had the foresight to add our son to two insurance policies (one through my work and one through my husband's). Since Kenneth (my son) was hospitalized, he qualified for Medicaid even though we make too much money to qualify otherwise. So, in effect, he had three insurance policies. We only had to pay our monthly premiums out of pocket. If we hadn't had the ability to take out two policies, or if he had lived 29 days instead of 34, we would be bankrupt in addition to losing our son.

    I'm glad healthcare reform passed. I hope it helps, and doesn't make a bad thing worse.

  5. In the USA, without insurance, it would probably have cost somewhere in the range of about $200,000 for all the services received.

    Even with insurance, say Medicare, there would be the 20% copays for all the different doctor's services and the hospital bill, prescription copays, physical therapy, etc....

    $18,500 is a really good deal!

  6. Thank God for your sense of humor! Your MIL's remarks about your clothing would have upset me.

    I am glad that Adnan is improving every day. Hard to believe that a man who watched what he ate and exercised would have to undergo triple bypass. Hope that doesn't happen to my husband!

  7. Hi Susie,
    I'm glad Adnan is home and doing well. Impatience is also a sign of healing! (smile)

    Oh gosh...I so relate to your experience except you were expected to be hostess. In my case when all the male visitors started arriving in a steady stream, I had to make myself scarce as it was not considered appropriate for those conservative male visitors to get a peek at me.

    Honestly, sometimes I found myself getting frustrated at all the ongoing visitors as it allowed me little time with my husband. But thankfully I was the caregiver who stayed each night which allowed us needed time (if he was not feeling too sick or sleeping).

    Please give Adnan my best wishes for the speediest recovery.

    Love and hugs,
    Carol (American Bedu)

  8. Praise God that Adnan is doing well! Hang in there all three of you!

    P.S. Purely for selfish reasons... pictures of the handsome cousins would be nice. ;0)

    ..... (just kidding... kinda') Ha!:-)

  9. Wow Susie, what an incredible experience. Must have been strange having all these people, some strangers, coming to the hospital to visit. And playing hostess. So glad you had help with that.
    Good that Adnan is feeling better. Thank you for bringing us up to date.
    Hope you are taking care of yourself.
    Hugs & Blessings!

  10. Oh my dear Susie you made me laugh! Well I hope he feels better soon and just so you know, those same rules apply to a lot of latins. If there is someone sick, you must visit, wear something respectable (I know you were)and show proper concern.

  11. Interesting! I'm glad he's doing okay. :)

    "“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."

    Yeah I would think it would be well over $100,000...

  12. ما تشوف شر يا أبو آدم

  13. @chiara
    I think that the cost mentioned here is for private hospitals. I'm sure that the stste hospitals are free for Saudi's right Susie? Or am I wrong?

  14. I'm really glad to read that Adnan is doing well, and I hope and pray that he continues to recover. Keep smiling, and the pair of you will be fine.

  15. It's wonderful that Adnan has recovered from the surgery, alhumdulillah. It must have been stressful for you too. So I'm glad to know that all is well.

    "...they were SOOOO incredibly handsome that I almost spilled the coffee on them!" LOL

  16. Susie - SOOOO glad to hear that Adnan’s surgery went well and he is recuperating nicely. Please send him our regards and well wishes.

    I really do appreciate reading your blog and learning about your new home and culture – fascinating!

  17. Hi Chiara - Adnan originally wanted to go the free route but ended up doing the private pay at one of the best hospitals here. Another thing I didn't mention is that while he was down in ICU, my son and I stayed up in his surgical floor room for those 3 nights. And here in KSA, there are NO taxes - everyone can have free health care or opt to pay privately - and even when they do pay, the costs are so much cheaper than the US - where many times people get crewed over by their insurance carriers and end up in bankruptcy.

    Hi J and Hi Lori - Thanks so much!

    Hi Lindsey - I'm so sorry about Kenneth (that was my dad's name, by the way) - thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story with us. Financially you came out good, where others have not been so fortunate. I too am so glad that the healthcare bill finally passed. It's way overdue. I just don't get why so many people are against it - their arguments make no sense to me. Many other countries in the world love their government healthcare - it works.

  18. Hi Anon @2:53AM - Thanks for giving us an idea about the cost in the US. I figured it should be up in that range...

    Hi Gigi - Gotta maintain that sense of humor at all times! It's hard trying to make Adnan smile, which doesn't hurt, without making him laugh, which does. I hope and pray this never happens to your husband.

    Hi AmBedu/Carol - There were a few times when my MIL or SIL were there in the hospital and a man came when they all ran for cover, and I had to follow suit. When his family wasn't there, Adnan didn't really care who saw me and there were even a couple of times when I didn't even cover my hair! I was concerned that receiving so many visitors would exhaust him - and it did, but they all kept their visits short and I could tell that seeing them there meant a lot to him.
    Hope you are feeling well yourself! xox

    Hi Angel - You know, I DO have a photo of them! (drool, drool!) There's just something about seeing these men in their thobes and headgear that I find very sexy! I always have my camera with me, so I started asking the visitors if I could take their pics, after I served them the treats - I thought it would be nice for Adnan to have the memories, so I made him a CD.

    Hi Gaelyn - It was really quite an interesting experience, and considering the circumstances, it could have been so unpleasant, but it really wasn't. I'm doing good - thanks so much.

    Hi Yoli - I'm sure many other cultures also show their respect and concern by visiting the sick. At first I was overwhelmed by the constant stream of visitors, but then I got used to it and got into a rhythm!

    Hi Aynur - Thank you. I'm sure the cost for something similar in the states would be devastating financially for someone with no insurance.

    Hi Karim - Shookran.

    Hi Anon @10:39AM - Yes, there are free hospitals for all Saudis. The doctor told us that 90% of his patients opt to pay instead of going the free route when given the choice. The mother of another acquaintance of ours (from a poor family) just had the same surgery and the entire bill was paid by someone else.

    Hi Karen - Thanks so much!

    Hi Nadia - By the evening of the day we got home from hospital, my whole body hurt so bad all over that I could hardly move. I think it was all the stress coming out. I took a hot bath and by the next day, I was good to go.

    Hi L&P - Thank you - I relayed your wishes to Adnan.

  19. Hello Susie,
    Great to hear that Adnan is recovering well and received excellent care. I wish him a very strong recovery.

    It is really interesting to read what you've mentioned about the cultural aspects of the hospital stay, especially the visiting hours. I think most visitors get kicked out after about 8.30 or 9.00 in hospitals here in Australia. Wow, 3am during Ramadan - it certainly reveals a very different way of living to the one many lead in other places.

    This story is surely a good illustration of how essential care should not be financially crippling. It sounds like the Saudis do well with regard to their health system. It is disgusting that people can lose all their savings and be bankrupted in the US simply because of lacking insurance coverage and requiring life saving medical treatment. In Australia, we fortunately still do have a public health system with all its faults.

    I hope things settle down well for you and your family and you have time to take care of yourself!

    All the best from Australia!


  20. I am glad that your husband is doing so well. Sounds like he got wonderful care. That being said..I realize that the US healthcare system is in much need of as a woman in KSA sounds like a nightmare to me. I'd rather be here than there.

  21. Hi Susie, I'll hope e get well soon ishaAllah. La ba3sa tahurun inshaAllah.
    Argentinian hospitals free, and if u have private inssurance is free too because that knid of things are life risk.
    Patience, i'll hope he'll be better that my husband, mine is such a baby when it comes about health.

  22. Susie-thanks for clarifying. I should have been clearer that I was talking about the top hospitals here which rank among the best in the world depending on specialty. Private hospitals are illegal, with the exception of a very few which are government regulated and must take a certain number of patients who are covered fully by the government.

    You and Adam were well accommodated which I am sure made life easier for you. That type of service is not available here except for a parent rooming in with a pediatric patient.

    I am also aware that in Hong Kong room rates and physician rates vary with the patient's health insurance; and that the free public care is of a high standard though the "hotel" aspect is not.

    I know that Saudi is very generous with its citizens, and I am glad that you and your family benefit from Adnan's citizenship.

    It is hard, given the recent health care debates in the US, not to just wonder at the sturm and drang of it all given that all Western nations except the US have universal public health care, and that they far outrank the US in international comparisons of health care systems.

    Again, it is good that in Saudi such options are available, and that you and your family have benefitted.

  23. Susie,
    I am so happy for you that Adnan is doing so well and that he will have a speedy recovery. You need to take care to and not worry yourself sick.

  24. Hi Anon/Kristina -
    I was astonished at the visiting hours as well. In the states I don't think they extend as far into the evening as here. So far, every experience I have had regarding healthcare here has been above average - from no apptments required/no waiting, to inexpensive prescription medicines without a Dr's prescription, to hospitals, clinics, and labs, to quality care from doctors, nurses and lab techs. Great hearing from you!

    Hi Jeanette - I know there are aspects of living here that are not at all appealing to Western women. There are pros and cons to living almost anywhere. KSA does have plusses too - lower cost of living almost across the board, very low crime, healthcare, and so on. It's not all bad.

    Hi Augustina - Thanks so much for your comment. My husband is amazed at all the well wishes from people he doesn't know!

    Hi Chiara - I think it's fair to say that the US - for being one of the most powerful countries in the world - is severely deficient when it comes to providing affordable and adequate health care for its citizens. It really is shameful. Thanks for commenting.

  25. Thank God that Adnan is feeling better. Alhamdulliah!

    He is so cute :)

    Loved this post and his photos.

  26. Susie
    All the very best for the three of you! May Adnan recover splendidly, and you can rest in the comfort that all is well.

  27. Great to hear Adnan is recovering well. I enjoyed reading about your experiences at the hospital. I would think having visitors for all those hours would be tiring for your husband...unless he is the type who thrives on company! I'm just thinking that oftentimes when you are recovering from major surgery, rest is needed. Did he ever weary of all the company? Sounds like you were a good hostess aside from allowing your sexy forearm to show! ;) Glad you got to see some cute cousins!

    Best wishes to both of you!

  28. Glad to hear Adnan is recovering well. (I've been following your blog for about a year now, and I love it.)

    Having visitors can be tiring, but I think it's great people feel a responsibility to visit. Too many times I hear, "I don't do hospitals." Even though it can be wearing, I think it gives encouragement.

    What a disparity in the cost of his care compared to here. It's sad when you know there are elderly people cutting their medications in half or eating cat food because they cannot afford it. When you don't have to worry about the financial end of it, you can focus on healing.

    I hope Adnan's recovery continues to go well and look forward to updates as well as more of your blogs on living in KSA. (Your blog also led me to some other blogs that I've been enjoying as well. I'm getting a whole new education about KSA and I find the more I learn, the more I want to learn. Thank you.)

  29. Please accept my constructive criticism:
    The photo with your husband's tongue hanging out to me seems compromising and distasteful. I recommend that it be replaced.

  30. Hi Susie! I hope Adnan recovers well and quickly! I love reading your blog and am quite the regular now.

    Your mother-in-law reminds me of my grandmother. She is very religious and has dressing standards of the 1940's (still). She told me once that my dress showed too much shoulder (it had cap sleeves) and my skirt, which touched the middle kneecap, was entirely too short. I brought out the fact that women wore the same style I was wearing in the 40's and that I have pictures of her in nearly the same dress 60 years ago. She means well though. I can't help but smile.

    I wish we got that type of attention here in the States. My husband has been going through rounds of surgeries to fix a botched surgery he received from the VA while in the Navy. The VA completely collapsed the inner right nostril by removing too much cartilage. This next surgery he will have to go through on the 22nd will require a reconstruction surgeon to completely peel back his nose and redo the cartilage by cutting out cartilage from his rib cage. This is the third surgery he's had to go through in a year. The first two, only his mother called us. No one came to visit except my best friend. His best friend didn't even bother to call. Everyone is way too busy here in the States to actually slow down and see what really matter. I pity them.

  31. Susie, Yes I realize that it's not all bad living there, and I apologize because I did not mean to come across so negative. I actually love reading your blog about your life there, ups and downs alike. I guess I just get frustrated reading negative things about the US. My country that I love with all its many faults!

  32. Hmmm, in that last photo he is looking a little hungry! Better take him a snack. :)

    Hope he is feeling much better very soon, and your lives can get back to normal.

  33. Hi Susie!

    Please give Adnan my best wishes for a speedy recovery! It is wonderful he is getting so many visitors, and the hospital looks quite lovely...(although I'm sure you all would rather be at home right at the moment!).

  34. Your MIL reminded me that when I had surgery and was still groggy from anesthesia...a cleaning lady made it a point to come cover my whole head with a towel because a doctor was coming to examine another patient. I nearly suffocated because I was too out of it to remove the towel from my face...*sigh*

    Im glad your husband is getting along well. That last pic it appears that he needs a bit of water...looking parched. LOL

  35. I'm so glad to hear your husband is doing well. I enjoy your blog so much. I hope he continues to heal well and regain his strength soon.

  36. Thank you One and All for your get well wishes for my hubby. He is amazed at the response from so many caring people that he doesn't even know. Adnan continues to make slow progress every day. He was pretty grumpy there for a few days and I thought he might be going into a depression - something I was watching for thanks to several commenters. But he has come out of that funk and seems to have accepted the fact that this recovery will just have to take time. I was trying to show his playful side with that last photo of him. I liked it better than the one I had of him just lying there...
    Thank you again, Everyone!

  37. Susie,

    How's Adam doing?

    Does he have any words to share for your blog? (Or does he have his own blog now?)

    Our thoughts and prayers go out for your son, too.

    Not easy to see one's dad wheeled into an OR.

    ~Another Anonymous

  38. Susie,
    Read almost all of your writings.
    Great !!
    Wish a speedy recovery and best wishes.


  39. Hello again Susie,

    I just want to send another message of encouragement. It sounds like you are all doing as well as can be expected and it's great that Adnan is taking care and accepting that the recovery will be gradual. It's good that he can joke around, too. I hope things continue to go as well as possible.

    I think it's interesting that people find it hard to have criticisms made about the US health system. I think when we read blogs which take a sharp look at aspects of life in other countries, that it is important to be able to also look at our own societies and see what could be improved, as your blog does. After all, no country is a utopia and there are inequalities in all places. When countries have more freedom, I think we have even greater responsibilities to address inequality. This includes my country Australia, which has a long way to go in terms of how we treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat or how our country needs to do a lot more to achieve justice for our Indigenous peoples.

    Anyway, sorry about getting on the soap box but I suggest to some readers that Western countries have responsibilities too!

    All the best to you!


  40. I am so happy to hear Adnan is doing well!
    I hope it will continue and that he may have a speedy recovery!

  41. Kristina, but the American healthcare system is really very bad, `and very expensive to boot!
    The dutch system is way better and costs only half as much to the state, and very little for the citizens. Japan is doing even better than that, and France I thinks tops the bill.

    Healthcare in America is bad, ineffective and expensive, everybody in the world seems to know that, except the Republicans.

  42. Hi susie... Iam happy your husband is better now!
    I would like to know i it would be possible to send you a message but like a private message through this blog? I have few questions and would love your advice but I don't want everyone reading it...
    Let me know!

  43. Hussain Melgem BahsesApr 22, 2010, 10:41:00 AM

    طهور إن شاء الله لا بأس عليك أجر وعافية.
    تمنيات لك يا بو آدم بالشفاء العاجل وربي يديم عليك الصحة دوم ويخلي قلبك حديد ما يثنيه مرض ولا سقم.
    مع تحيات الأستاذ/ حسين ملقم سلمان باحصيص
    مدير مكتب الدوائر السبعة للعقار

  44. I hadn't read your blog recently to see that your husband is home from his surgery. I know that surgery is so difficult to recover from. If he is well enough to be cranky though, he is definitely getting better! Please tell him that he has our best wishes and thoughts for his quick recovery.

  45. Speedy recovery from up here in Vancouver. And may you leave that country sooner than later. It's not God that you should thank for the surgery, it's the surgeons. Every country of every faith around the world have surgeons who are capable of saving your husband's life. That your mother in law is irritated by you not being a good enough muslim for her son is obvious:

    "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… "

    Actually, she's in the right time and the right place. It's you that are out of synch. You should get all the surgery you both need and head back to the US.

  46. I hope that Adnan gets well soon and forever. May Allah bless him and you too :-)

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