A single mother and her sick child face a below average healthcare service in Dubai
By Bahareh Salmani
Good health is the most important blessing foundation from which all other blessings in life can be appreciated. With that in mind, access to healthcare is an advantage that we are very lucky to have. However, simply because it is available, does not mean that it is always reliable and efficient.
Being a single parent often means twice the struggle and twice the vulnerability. It means sitting in a hospital on one’s own with a toddler worried, stressed, exhausted, and looking for answers to ensure that your most cherished blessing, your child, will be looked after with the best medical care you are paying for.
It is in that sense, that when I or any concerned parent with a sick child rush their daughter or son to the hospital, we expect top medical treatment, especially when the medical facility is private and promotes itself as one of the best out there.
As a single parent and mother, I face many challenges on a daily basis.
The most distressing times are when my daughter falls ill. My daughter was screened a few weeks after she was born in Dubai and was diagnosed with sickle cell trait, which she inherited from her father. Sickle cell disease is the second most prevalent hemoglobin disorder in the United Arab Emirates. It is worth noting that my ex-husband is Emirati, while I am an Iranian/Canadian citizen.
People who receive one sickle cell gene and one normal gene are medically classified as suffering from sickle cell trait.
This means that carriers of the trait can pass their marker to their children and usually do not have any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease.
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder that affects hemoglobin, a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. People born with this condition do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout their body.
Normally, red blood cells in a healthy body are flexible, round and flow with ease through the body’s blood vessels. In the case of sickle cell disease, red blood cells become stiff and viscous and are shaped like sickles or crescents. Due to the irregular shape of these cells, they can often get fastened in small blood vessels slowing down or even blocking the blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.
On, June 9, 2016, my daughter woke up with incredibly swollen eyes. She looked like she was having an allergic reaction. I rushed her to one of the hospitals that is in very close proximity to our home.
It was also the same hospital where my daughter was born and therefore I assumed that I would not have to go through the arduous administrative process of a first time patient.
By 8.15 a.m., I was the first and only person in the diagnostic center of the hospital waiting for my number to be called.
The on-duty emergency ward doctor informed me that the swelling of the eyes could be a result of a viral infection, or a sinus infection but to be on the safe side she wanted to run a blood count and check if there was any protein in the urine as that would be a reason to be alarmed.
Once again I blissfully assumed that before examining my daughter, the doctor had previously studied my child’s existing hospital file and the working diagnosis would be based on her medical history.
Any parent will tell you that calming a child, especially a toddler, when strangers try to search for a vein to draw blood, is an overwhelming endeavor.
No parent wants to witness their child suffer and all we want is to shield, protect and help heal and sooth the pain as quickly as possible.
I was informed that the results would take two hours. It took the hospital over three hours to process the blood and urine tests.
It took a further forty-five minutes for the emergency ward doctor who had just started her shift to explain the results to me.
The doctor who had initially examined my daughter neglected to inform me that she was wrapping up her shift and that another doctor would give me the prognosis based on the results.
Regardless of the predicament that takes anyone to an emergency ward, during exasperating moments when the health of a loved one (especially a child) is of the utmost urgency, both the patient and those tending to the patient require some sort of familiarity and certainty.
The new doctor seemed like a nice lady so I couldn’t unleash all of my frustration with the hospital administration, the nurses, the lab technicians and the previous doctor on her. But she too left me disappointed because I had many more questions after her vague analysis of the test results and I was too stonewalled to delve deeper into the matter.
I was told that my daughter suffered from an iron deficiency and required iron therapy, however, if both doctors had bothered to check my daughter’s file they would have seen that my child carried the sickle cell trait and was therefore susceptible to a lower iron count as a result.
The doctor said I had nothing to worry about and that I could take her home, but I needed to monitor her; and in case the swelling flared up again to rush her back to the emergency to run further tests. I left the hospital seething and immediately made an appointment with her pediatrician.
There I was, explaining my ordeal at the hospital to her pediatrician and the immediate comments were: “Why would they run blood tests when she is sick and the results would come back inaccurate because her antibodies were trying to fight the viral infection that was causing a sore throat?” and “Toddlers don’t have sinuses so the swelling of the eyes couldn’t have been a side effect of a sinus infection.”
There you have it ladies and gentlemen, after examinations by two emergency ward doctors and an exhausting four hours at what is considered to be a top notch hospital in Dubai, I found out that toddlers don’t have sinuses, hurray!
Despite the fact that Dubai is filled with hospitals and clinics, the quality will always trump quantity, especially when it comes to healthcare. As a mother, I believe there is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the quality of medical management in Dubai.
I am very lucky to have the liberty to take my daughter to a public hospital or clinic and have all of her expenses covered because she is a UAE national.
However, I have always chosen private hospitals in times of emergencies during the course of the past two years because I have assumed that the private institutions offered premium medical care, customer service and quality.
My justification for this logic had been that private hospitals and clinics had the funding and resources to recruit the best physicians and medical staff, to represent the level of healthcare they promoted among the general public in Dubai. If one is lucky enough to have medical insurance, then there is a variety of hospitals to pick and choose from, mainly based on word of mouth and general reputation within Dubai.
Looking back, I would rate the unfortunate trips I have had to make to hospitals in Dubai whenever my daughter needed medical care as average at best. Healthcare services have a long way to go and not only in the medical care offered by physicians to patients.
All healthcare professionals, from the receptionists manning the emergency wards, nurses who conduct the prescreening before a doctor can be seen, lab technicians and even the pharmacists require considerable upgrading.
I as a mother, want the security of entrusting the health of my child in capable hands and knowledge of a medical professional who will provide me with answers and not simply view my child as another patient, another chart that needs to get checked off as quickly as possible.
Bahareh Salmani is an anthropologist living in Dubai, and the mother of a child suffering from sickle cell disease.