Sunday, December 28, 2014

India on my mind

And so it goes: the bags are gradually filling up. I am allowed to carry 2 suit-cases of maximum 23 kg each, but already one is bursting at the seams. The second one is currently empty, but will get filled pretty quickly with books. Books of all kinds, since I am appearing for the MRCPCH exams from India, so I will be studying a lot in the final fortnight before the exams, which are on the 18th of January in Ahmedabad. I am now in the last few days, and will reach India a few hours into the new year. Hopefully. 

The news from all over the world continues to be so disappointing. No end in sight to the Syrian war. A third Malaysian origin plane goes missing. Saudi Arabia will post a deficit budget for the first time in many years, thanks to the slowing down of the petroleum-driven economy. The prospective Dubai employer has not agreed to revise my salary upwards, in spite of my request to do so. In the end, if no other offers are forthcoming, I will accept the offer from D M Healthcare and will probably apply for exit after I return to Saudi after my vacation. But nothing is sure for the time-being. Only time will tell.

My family back in Mumbai has been "warned" to give me a good welcome. They are reluctant, as I will probably reach home only late in the night (of the 31st)  - or, if you wish to see it another way, just at the onset of the new year. The first few weeks are going to be all about studies, but later, let me see where we go with the fun and the pleasure. 

Back here, Al Muwayh stays the same as always. A few new structures are getting erected, mostly Ground + 1 buildings which have space for 2-4 shops on the ground floor, and a few rooms for rent on the first floor. However, the buildings are made over several years, since the owners do not pay the workers consistently to create the full structure in a short space of time. My room-mate and colleague Dr. Mohd. Afzal is a picture of piety and simplicity. His co-operation and generally good behaviour has been inspiring to me. I have also learned from him how not to be "food-centered" as I usually am. He is happy to cook one dish every 3-4 days and have the same item for both lunch and dinner all the days till the vessel has been emptied! It is something I can never, ever do. 

I am now off any diets, and have put on the 2-3 kg that I had lost during my GM diet days in the previous few months. I am putting in about 3-5 hours of study each day now. My Skype sessions are now not as regular as before since the sense of urgency is missing from among my Skype group members who are NOT appearing with me in January.

Saw a few interesting movies last week. PK, starring Amir Khan, was average in the story, but was lifted to a little above average only thanks to the awesome acting by the Khan. The other movie I saw, The Interview, is a Hollywood movie that was in the news because its release around Christmas was blocked by hackers from North Korea, the country that is ridiculed in the movie.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading. I will next write after 3-4 days, and it will be from India.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gradually entering the oncoming vacation mode

As I posted on my social page, I am shortly leaving KSA for a vacation. However, it is not just a vacation. I will also be appearing for my final MRCPCH exams from Ahmedabad. I am slowly shifting into the preparation mode for the vacation. I have stopped cooking food, as my refrigerator still has a lot of food that I have prepared earlier, or purchased ready-made from Taif. I am now in the process of emptying all those containers of previously stocked food items. I am amazed at my own ability to keep stocking the fridge with food: there are items that I parcelled from Taif; there are left-overs of food cooked by me; there's even food from India that I had brought back with me in end-of-June (stuff like kababs and cutlets which I have preserved in the freezer compartment - this stuff can stay without spoiling for even longer!); and finally, there are things which cannot be readily called "food" - it includes biscuits, chocolates, puffs, toast, assorted kinds of breads and roti, and what not.

So, I have decided to take some of the unique food items I bought here back with me to India. Thus, I will carry some breakfast cereals, some confectionery, some ready-to-eat low-cal food bars, ready to pop microwave friendly popcorn, and so on. I am not saying what impact these things will have on the home minister or my two daughters, but, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, I guess, I have to wait and see.

My car got repaired, and I went to Taif and brought it back on Sunday. Actually, a medical rep from an infant milk formula company obliged me by coming to pick me up from Al Muwayh; he took me in his car all the way to Taif, where he dropped me at the garage of Mr. Nadeem, the mechanic who looks after my car. Nadeem stuck a bill of nearly 1200 Saudi Riyals on me, but I had no option other than to pay it in full. So I did. And came back the same evening to Al Muwayh.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Day 1128: A week after my last post: More car trouble.

As I related in my last post, I was able to repair my car's suspension locally, and was, thereafter, driving the car as usual in Al Muwayh. On Thursday, I took a day off to drive to Taif to get my car's wheel alignment corrected as there was a slight wobble and lack of balancing between the left-sided and the right-sided front wheels. Having left my house at a little after noon, I was brought to a halt about 19 km away when my car's ignition simply switched itself off and the car slowed down to a stop.

I had, by then, driven the car outside the highway on to the lip of the road. I tried to turn the ignition on, and when the key turned, I could sense that the ignition motor was purring perfectly. However, the engine never throbbed into submission. I then opened the hood, but, naive that I am, I could not understand the problem. I shut down the hood and began calling for help, mostly to the car electrician and then the car mechanic, but it soon became apparent that quick help would not be forthcoming. Then, to my surprise, Dr. Moataz, who was also travelling to Taif (with his family in his own car) stopped a little ahead on seeing me, and reversed his car to help me. He discovered immediately that the problem was that the timer device that controls the engine had broken (he showed me the ruptured cover and the broken spring inside the device), and that this would need the car to be towed or winched to the mechanic. He provided me with the telephone number of a Sudanese gentleman who lives in Al Muwayh and operates a winch car. I got in touch with this guy, a Mr. Abdul Wahab. He made me wait so long that when a passing winch car approached me and agreed to take me to Taif, I readily agreed. The rate he was quoting me was also more attractive. While Mr. Wahab had asked for SR 400, this Pakistani man, a Mr. Bashir Khan, agreed to take me to my Taif mechanic for just SR 250. 

As he was loading my car on to his winch, the Sudanese turned up. He was shocked that I had decided to abandon him. I felt sheepish and offered to pay him some money for his trouble, but, clearly piqued, he refused payment and went away disgruntled. To cut a long story short, I felt very bad about my own behaviour, and wondered if what I had done was the right thing. I did call him, actually, when the Pakistani man and I had reached an agreement on the rate and I had asked him to start hauling my car above his vehicle, but the Sudanese said he was only 5 minutes away from where I had said my car was. Hence, this problem could not be averted. 

I arrived at Nadeem's Garage at about 5.15 p.m. The car was off-loaded. Nadeem and his friend took a look at the problem, and agreed that the problem was indeed the timer. Their verdict was that they would be able to learn the actual damage only when they opened the engine, and this would be done only on Friday evening as Thursday evening and Friday morning were their off-days! I was stunned because I was unprepared to stay in Taif. I decided then to go back to Al Muwayh by the state-run bus service (SAPTCO's naklil jamaai), and to return to Taif when the car had been repaired. 

I then went to Tahweel-al-Rajhi to transfer some of my money, and some of Dr. Afzal's too, to India. From there, I went to the SAPTCO stand, where I got a 8.00 p.m. bus to travel to Al Muwayh. I contacted Dr. Tahir Mir, who has just purchased a beautiful second-hand Toyota Corolla Automatic 2012, to come to the rest place that is located 20 km before Al Muwayh, and where all buses bound for Riyadh and beyond always stop for a meal, and pick me up. After coordinating with him, he came over at half past nine, and drove me back to my home in Al Muwayh. Dr. Afzal had also come with him, and the journey back was quite uneventful.

In the end, I lost one whole day to a completely unforeseen incident. And could not even study for an hour as a result.

That's all for now. Take care, and keep visiting the blog for more news. Do leave your comments here. Thank you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Accepted for the January exam and received final letter (MRCPCH)

Ten days have passed since I last posted something useful. Now, I must share the captioned news with you all. Yesterday, I received my final notice that I have to sit in the final installment of the MRCPCH exams on the 18th of January 2015. This means that I have just over a month to go. I feel totally lost. True, I have been studying these past several months, but the thing hit me with full force only yesterday evening when I realised that it was finally on! I mean - really on. No more just thinking that one day I will sit for the exam. I AM REALLY GOING TO SIT IN THAT EXAM.

My tickets to Ahmedabad are already booked. I will proceed to India on the evening of the 31st of December, and will be in a taxi in Mumbai when the year changes from 2014 to 2015. Most likely, I will reach home after midnight - more likely, after one a.m. Twelve days later, I will fly to Ahmedabad, and stay in a hotel for nearly a week before the exam date. On the 18th evening, once the exam is over, I will be a social butterfly for the next few weeks, before taking my family on a holiday within India. Those who are reading this and are from Mumbai, please do get in touch with me after the 19th of January and we can then meet for a social "intercourse".

Let me quickly update you on things that are happening with me here in the Kingdom. Last week, as I was returning to Al Muwayh from Taif (I had gone there for 2 days to attend a mini-conference related to the theme of Patient Safety), my front right wheel of the Hyundai Accent probably hit some stone or something and the tyre burst. I had to change the tyre with the stepney (this was my first attempt to do so, and it took me well over 45 minutes to do so); even then, the wheel did not sit properly, and I realised that my shock-absorber had broken on that side. I had to call for a winch operator, who charged me a whopping SR 225 to haul my car over his vehicle all the way to a mechanic's garage in Al Muwayh. The next day, I ordered a new shock absorber from Taif through my colleague Dr. Moataz Talat, who had gone to Taif for his own work; he brought it from there, and by the later part of the evening, the mechanic (a very nice Syrian) returned the car to me. 

In other news, I have been studying at least 2-3 hours every day, mostly with my friends on Skype. I now feel that my knowledge base is really expanding and I am looking forward to doing well in the January exams. I am now in the refrigerator cleaning mode. I have stopped cooking. I fish out the stuff that occupies all the space inside and am heating it and eating it! I guess the stored food in the lower and the freezer compartments may easily last me for over a week more. 

That's it for now. Do use the comments area to leave behind some words of encouragement! Thank you.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

What posts are the most read? A social experiment

I was looking today at the list of my posts and I made an interesting discovery. If one uses certain key-words that are relevant to more people across the globe, but specifically the U.S. of A., then the posts fetch the most eye-balls. In turn, this may also be translated into more readers clicking the Google advertisements on the page, and this might mean more revenues for Google, for the companies whose ads are clicked on, and eventually, for me, as I am the one who owns the territory the ads are displayed on! 

The long and short of it is this: nobody but close friends care to read my blog. The key words "studies", "MRCPCH", "Arabia", "Al Muwayh" and "Life in general" fail to excite any but the most perseverant and non-selective admirer of me and my writings. But look at what happened when I wrote about the GM diet! Suddenly, the eyeballs jumped up. A couple of readers even choose to PLUS those posts! 

Hmm. So this is how the cookie crumbles. I must pay more attention to the key words. I am going to experiment here, dear readers. I am putting a few key words here and will see how many people read this post, or at least visit it. Please ignore the key words if you are my friend. To those who come here to see what this is all about, please, this is just a social experiment. Forgive me. Thanks.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Writing this early morning 12.40 a.m. on 02/12/2014

Yesterday was the 1st of December. Let me tell you about this day. Globally, the 1st of December is observed as the World AIDS Awareness Day. This was therefore done in our hospital as well. Sr. Maria Anna Li Barasi is a seasoned nurse and in charge of the awareness program. She worked hard the previous week to organise an awareness desk near the main entrance of the hospital; she disseminated folded red ribbons to all the doctors, nurses and other workers to be worn on their coats/lapels; she also gave out information booklets to patients, their relatives and health-care workers. 

We had an opportunity to click pictures with our colleagues; this enabled many among us to bond better with our friends. Alas, there was no party or any sign of it, since this was a working day. The OPD ran light, giving us greater opportunities to socialise with each other. 

As December is already under way, I am now awakening to the responsibility of studying more. My exam (the final installment of the Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (MRCPCH) U.K.) will be as per schedule around the end of the third week of January 2015 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. This means there are just over 45 days left for the exam! I have yet to receive intimation on the venue of the exam, but I have already booked my onward journey a full 6 days in advance, so that I get to adjust to the city and to perhaps meet other candidates and do last minute face-to-face revision with them.

The certificate that I will hopefully earn will give me the chance to flaunt a "UK acquired" qualification - nothing more. Had I been a few decades younger, I could have used it to migrate to the UK, and join their National Health Service (nhs.co.uk). In the current situation, MRCPCH helps resident doctors in Saudi Arabia to get re-classified as registrars; in the UAE, it helps to get slightly higher salaries when you apply for a job. For those who are already specialists, the certificate means little more in terms of re-classification or increase in salary, but I have to try to excel in the license exam the next time if I need to be re-classified. This won't depend on my MRCPCH, but on what my percent score is when I re-attempt their license exam (a computer-based test conducted by Prometric). In India, it gives a slight edge over Indian doctors with their MDs or DNBs, but not much. It might, at my age, help me to get a fellowship in the UK or Canada or Australia to study a specific sub-speciality in Paediatrics, but I think it might be a bit late for me to do that. 

However, the way I see it is that I have used my spare time here in the Kingdom fruitfully. I have read a lot of Paediatrics in the last three years. And they do say that knowledge is never wasted. Knowledge is power, after all. In addition, it will help enhance my image among my friends, family, acquaintances and others. Especially, it will show my colleagues from other countries that Indians are worth their salt! This applies to Saudis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Syrians, Pakistanis and my fellow-Indians as well. 

My room-mate Dr. Afzal is already an admirer of my courage and strength of purpose. He believes strongly that I cannot but succeed in the exams, since, according to him, I already have a good grasp of the subject. However, I choose to stay grounded. An exam is an exam, and one never knows when things might go wrong! The passing grade for this exam is over 85%, so it is not at all a cake-walk. 

I am keeping my fingers crossed, as they say, and hoping that my first attempt is also my last - because appearing for the final installment of the MRCPCH exam is an expensive matter. This year, I have sent nearly 130000 Indian rupees as my exam fees. In addition, I spent more than 100000 to do two courses - one in India and one here in Jeddah. Add to this the several books I have purchased, travel fees to India when I went there in June to attend a course, travel to Jeddah for the September 2014 course ... and other miscellaneous expenses, and you will see that it is certainly not easy for everyone to raise enough funds to give the exam. 

Hence, I need your prayers, dear readers. Thank you for reading and for your good wishes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

GM diet second time around

Encouraged by the two-and-a-half kilogram weight loss I got during my previous stint in October (read this HERE), I decided to repeat the diet again this month. As I write this, the fourth day has just passed. The first three days were great. Unlike my aversion to natural foods last month, I had a much more pleasant experience this time. I was actually looking forward to the diet as I began it on Monday last. The first day passed off smoothly. I never needed to cheat. 

The second day, too, was very nice. I had a fresh green salad at lunch and boiled vegetables at dinner. On day 3, I combined the best foods of the first two days. After three days, I was sure that there would be no further problems. However, I had a spell of low blood sugar on the evening of day 4 (Thursday). The episode caused a feeling of chilliness and profuse sweating. It was severe enough for me to rush to the kitchen, grab the container with sugar and swallow about a tablespoonful of it. Also, I retrieved a dual pack of Snickers chocolates, and had the entire thing. The calorie gain for each bar of 40 g was 200. Also, my condition prevented me from going out to walk, an activity that I have been doing religiously since the past week or so. (I usually walk briskly for about 45 minutes, burning about 260 calories and walking over 4.5 km in the process.) 

The lesson here is that if you are, like me, a diabetic, you need to cut down your medication as the GM diet is low in carbs. Else, such episodes are going to occur. They are called "hypo"s in common parlance.

So, what are the results so far? Well, to be honest, I have never felt better (other than the episode of hypoglycemia that I had today, see above). My BP is down, as is my fasting and post-lunch blood glucose level. I have lost about 1.5 kg in the first three days. My waist is slightly narrower, but I haven't measured it every single day. 

Tomorrow (actually later today) is day 5 and I will be looking forward to eating beef patties and raw tomatoes. I will provide a second update after another 4 days. Thanks for reading this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

So, what's happening? A tribute to my study colleagues.

Okay, so first out, thank you dear readers for your comments and for your good wishes to me! I really appreciate it. We have formed a small study group. We use various media to study online. For example, we have a group on Facebook where we share files and pictures, videos and schedules. We have a group on Whatsapp where we share questions, videos, and so on. And, finally, we have a Skype group where we practice case scenarios and communication skills. 

I must mention a few of these dear colleagues here. First out, let me talk about Dr. Sanjay Shukla. He hails from Jaipur, Rajasthan. We go back at least a year and a half, since I began studying in mid-2013, and we have been together since then. In fact, we were together in June 2014 when we both went to attend a study course in Bangalore, India. Sanjay is a very pleasant-mannered person, and he is very keen to complete this certification for Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (MRCPCH in short).

Next on my list is Dr. Imtiaz Beg. He is a young pediatrician from Lucknow, India. He is currently working in Saudi Arabia and stays here with his family. He is a sharp, well-read person, and exudes confidence whenever we meet online. I have learned a lot of things from him, and he continues to inspire me.

Then, there is Dr. Sarita Shenoy from Mumbai. Daughter-in-law of my M.D. guide Dr. N. B. Kumta, Dr. Sarita joined our group fairly recently, but has been a great colleague and I love her way of counselling a patient in mock communication scenarios, as well as her grasp of common paediatric challenges.

On to my friends from other countries then. Last year, one Dr. Ahmed Sallam was the driving force, and he taught us a lot of things that we did not know as we began our journey to MRCPCH Clinical exams. I miss him greatly as he was really confident. Although we have parted ways, I do call him up from time to time and keep in touch with him He works in Madina in the Saudi-German Hospital there. 

Between May and July, I met Dr. Sherif Sharaka online. Like Dr. Ahmed, he, too, is an Egyptian. He works as a Neonatology registrar in a private hospital in Riyadh. When we first interacted, he was just beginning to study, but he learned fast. When I needed a particular study book, he photo-copied the whole book and couriered it to me in Al Muwayh! And this, without any charge. We dropped out because my internet connection at that time wasn't fast enough, and our Skype sessions used to fail as a result.

Many female Egyptian and Sudanese doctors have also been a part of my study circle, and I must mention that they have all been useful to my own understanding of paediatrics. Some of them have provided me with a perfect foil for me to practice my own methods of communication and case-presentations, and to them I am equally grateful. I must mention Drs. Hala, Huda, Eman, Shreen and Nazik.Thank you all.

There are many more such as Dr. Pranav, Dr. Abdulraheim, Dr. Anu, Dr. Shaju ... and I have surely missed some. I apologise for missing any names. But my thanks go to all of you.

And that's it for this entry.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Future trajectory: An update on where I am and where I plan to go from here on

As I had said at the beginning of my tenure in Saudi Arabia, my intention was to stay here for three years, and no more. However, some circumstances have forced me to continue my work here, albeit not for long. One of the main reasons was that although I had applied to the MRCPCH exams due in September 2014, I was not accepted at that time, so I had to stay on over here till I would be. I am happy to say that now I have been accepted for the January exams in India.

The second reason is that money requirements went up tremendously! Our Mumbai house has undergone recent renovation, and the estimates have got exceeded by nearly 100% because an unexpected situation arose while removing old furniture from the kids' room. The third reason is that both my children, as also myself, have invested money in better training  and education in our respective fields. Thus, while Inas recently completed a Make-up course, I have started a Ph. D. in Healthcare Management from an Online American University. Hannah is nursing ambitions of travelling to the U.S.A. to pursue higher management studies. 

The third reason is that I have no place to practice in Mumbai even if I were to return to India and resume my practice! As my well-wishers are aware, my better half and I used to work in the same place, and after I came to Saudi Arabia and sort of settled down, Nishrin decided to break-down the place and create a complete salon in lieu of a fractured clinic-cum-parlour.

The final reason is a little borne of introspection of where I was going with my practice before I left for Saudi Arabia. It is a fact that my practice had sort of levelled out, and there were no challenges and growth. Returning to the same environment and practising at a new location will mean starting from scratch. This is something that I dread to do. 

Hence I am looking at moving to the UAE. I have already passed their qualifying exam and received an eligibility letter from the Dubai Health Authority. Now, it is a wait for a great opportunity that will soon materialise - at least I hope so!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Into the last lap

This time, I think it is for real, unless there is a last minute mistake. The board of the MRCPCH have accepted me for the January exams in Ahmedabad, India. So, it may be polite to say: here I come. It might not be timely to predict whether I will or will not pass, but I can only hope that I do. It is a tough exam, and a lot depends upon the examiners. We are tested on 10 stations, one on child development, one on videos of sick children, three on taking a proper history and communicating with patients or their relatives or health personnel, and five on real patients with real ailments. Thus, there are ten stations, and one can get a maximum of 12 marks on each; to pass, one must gain 100 out of 120 - a really daunting task if you ask me! Many candidates reach 96+ and still fail because they did not reach a 100. They may ask for a re-valuation of their marking, but it is something not many people do, as the perception is that the examiners did the best they could and there was no margin for error.

Thus, I have begun to study more energetically, albeit still less than 4 hours a day, a figure that I hope to increase in the weeks to come. My small online study group has around 6 active members; we exchange clinical photos and videos on a whatsapp group, files on a secret Facebook group and we chat and discuss cases every evening on Skype. Thus, we are trying to optimise the use of electronic media to study in the most feasible manner. Two of these six friends are from the candidates I mentioned in the first paragraph. Thus, they are both in line to attempt the exam for a second time. 

In other news, a new week begins now ... and I am not on call this week. Let us see where this goes. My health has been satisfactory. Back home, Hannah, my younger daughter is away on a trip to Goa with her friends, while Inas is on her job, as always. 

That's all for now. Thanks for reading. Do leave your comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On-call vs. Off-call

As a doctor, one has to be on-call at times, and one goes off-call at other times. Let me explain what this means. When you are on-call, you have to be available 24x7 to attend to any and every emergency situation that develops in the hospital. When you are off-call, you basically work during the morning consulting hours, but are then free to pursue any avocation you wish to, until the next morning. In fact, when you are off-call (which means that your colleague is, at that time, on-call), you can even escape your morning duties by utilising your leaves and go on a holiday to any place of your choice within the kingdom. 

This is what my colleague and I practice here. We stay on-call for 7 days beginning on Sunday of any week (which is the first day of the working week in Saudi Arabia), and continue the on-call until the next Sunday morning. After this, the off-call guy takes over for the next week and the on-call guy goes off-call. This means that if you have sufficient numbers of stacked up leave forms with you, you can proceed on vacation every alternate week! Now, isn't that cool. The only problem, the thorn in the bouquet is that we do not accumulate many leaves in Pediatrics. Emergency visits to the hospital are the way to accumulate leaves. Six visits documented on an official paper and signed by the on-duty administrator gives you one day off. This means that when you collect six signatures, the paper with you entitles you to go on one day's leave. Put in other words, you need at least 24-30 visits to actually take the entire week off and go to, say, Jeddah, Dammam or Taif and enjoy the time!

This is how I took my leave last week when I was in Taif. I stayed in my usual hotel, went to the conference in the day-time, and lazed around in the evenings, sleeping, going around, and relaxing. I guess that explains what on-call and off-call means, does it not? What do you think?

I also wanted to share a few more things: this week, I am on-call. Was called today early in the morning to attend a Caeserean delivery for a mother who came with labour one and a half months before her due date. The entire process of delivery and then arranging the transfer of the premature baby to a larger hospital in Taif took well over 2 hours! Although I did not actually go to Taif to leave the kid, I finished my side of the call at 2.5 hours after I had left the house at a little after 5 a.m. In the process, by the time I finished, a new work day had begun, and I thus got a chance to return home only in the afternoon for lunch, and at the end of the work day. Pretty busy, hnnh?

That's it for now. Please do read, comment and interact with me. Tell me what you would like to know more about. 

P. S. My write-up on Jeddah was published on www.ghumakkar.com. Do click HERE to read it.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

... And now, back in Al Muwayh, on duty

I returned to Al Muwayh in the evening on Saturday. The return trip was with Dr. Niaz Qureshi, the ObGy specialist who works with me in Al Muwayh, and who was also, like me, in Taif for the previous few days. He stays with a friend in a place called Arafa, which is about 35 km from Taif on the way to Al Muwayh. So all I had to do was to pick him up from his station. It was a comfortable ride for us, and we reached our village around half past seven. 

The news from Al Muwayh was nothing much. I had my Skype session at about eight p.m. with three of my colleagues in attendance. All three were females - one, a pediatrician from Mumbai, and two of them, both Egyptian but working in Saudi Arabia. My colleague Dr, Sanjay joined us too after a while and we had good sessions on case presentations and a small didactic talk by one of my Egyptian doctor friends.

For dinner, I had the dal and rice that my room-mate Dr. Afzal had made. His cooking skill is much better now than when he had first arrived in the Kingdom, and it was food that was good and wholesome. 

The switch I made from the modem-based net connection to a wired DSL network has made a significant difference to my internet access. I am now able to open all websites pretty quickly and also do the Skype studies in the evening without much of a problem. This means a loss of nearly SR 350 to me, but, seeing that this is for exams that I plan to give in January, I guess it is okay to take this loss. I am trying to sell off my modem and card to someone else, even if it is at a discount, so let's see where this goes. 

One more thing. Inspired by my attempt to do a crash diet a week and a half ago, my Pakistani acquaintance Mr. Ameer Ali Burq has also begun the diet in right earnest. As per his updates, he has already lost over 5 kg in the first four days! More strength to him. God Bless him and the GM diet, which has changed the lives of thousands of people all over the world.

That's about it.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Taif-then Al Muwayh-then back at Taif

The last four days have been quite eventful. I had registered for an accredited learning program on Rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury that was organised by the Armed Forces Rehab Center in Taif from this week's Tuesday until Thursday. Dr. Afzal was on call this week, and so I proceeded to go to Taif early on Tuesday morning. I reached the AFRC on Jaish street at about half-past ten in the morning. The registration I had done was over the phone, and I was to go to the registration counter and confirm my presence, pay my fees for the meeting and collect any gifts etc. from them. When I arrived there, however, I saw that the registration counters were overflowing with doctors, awaiting their turn to pay the applicable monies and do a spot registration. The organisers had decided that since the money was flowing, there was no harm in taking more and more registrations. They took advantage of the huge demand and demanded a premium of SR 100 over and above the previously announced SR 150 for the entire meeting. In return, the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties had granted the meeting 30 accredited Saudi license points. 

The doctors and nurses are very keen to collect these points not because they wish to learn; rather, they need those points to continue their professional practising license. You need 120 points to extend your professional license for 3 more years. Thus, I gave SR 250 to make a spot registration and then moved to the main hall where a lecture was in progress. Even if you were to remove all the chairs in the hall and make people stand in close proximity to each other, the hall would barely accommodate 150 participants at one time! And here, they were registering any one and everyone, reaching more than 1600 registered delegates at the time of the end of the first day's deliberations.

They served unlimited tea and coffee; lunch at noon; and, as I discovered on the next day, they also served snacks at half-past ten. I returned to Al Muwayh in the evening on the first day, and went back to Taif on the second morning. The conference was quite a good one, actually, and the topics ranged from psychological aspects to various systems, to orthotics (use of appliances to help people locomote, rehabilitate and so on), to pervasive problems like bed-sores, deep vein thrombosis, disfigurement and deformities, etc. I was impressed by the knowledge of some of the Saudi doctors. Not just that, some of them spoke perfect English, which was, to me, surprising. 

I booked a single room in the Ahle-Saif hotel in the afternoon after completing the attendance of the second day at the AFRC. I discovered that the net here was working just fine, and I was therefore able to complete several internet-based tasks like online study, uploading stuff on Facebook or elsewhere, checking my mails and downloading movies on to my laptop. Significantly, I was able to complete more than 10 modules - related to Quality and Safety in Healthcare, and some Pediatric topics - on BMJ Learning website. 

The meeting ended on Thursday, but I decided to stay on in Taif, and thus, I spent the entire Friday here. Mostly, I relaxed or studied. I had my Skype sessions on all the evenings except on Friday when my study colleagues did not turn up at all.

That's it for now. Have a good Saturday.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Diet is over and ...

So, I completed the seven days' GM diet that I spoke about in my previous entry on this blog. The experience can be summed up as follows:

It was a unique diet, for sure. It was unlike any of my previous meals, diets, or weight-losing experiments. I have eaten all the things that I had to eat during the week I was on the diet, but never in this way, and in such combinations! I ate only fruit on day 1, only vegetables on day 2, only tomatoes and beef on day 5, and only milk and bananas on day 4! In this manner, the diet took me on a journey where I learned to discover how to control my urges to eat junk food, how not to crave for milk-tea, how to avoid eating any form of rice/wheat or other cereals (the diet only permitted brown rice on day 7) and how to avoid carbonated beverages altogether. Imposition of rules can cure even a person like me who can never resist all the above things in his daily diet!

In the end, I lost just 2.5 kg in 7 days, against a standard of 5 kg or even more reported all over the internet where GM diets are described, debated and discussed. I lost nothing from my waist or hip measurements; on day 6, in the evening, I experienced an episode of a low blood sugar, which led me to run and get myself some much-needed carbs; in that spell, I swallowed a tablespoonful of sugar, as well as about 4 medium-sweet cookies. This extra load of food rich in carbs must have blunted my diet-effects, for, on the next day, I had not lost, but actually gained a few hundred grams!

Where else did I cheat? One of my favourite foods is munching on dry fruit; my kitchen has a large tin with mixed, unsalted, plain dry fruit (cashew nuts, pistachio nuts and almonds); from this, I drew about a dozen or two of the nuts and ate them slowly on the 4th, 5th, 6th and the 7th days. In addition, I had one can of zero-cal Pepsi on day 5, a few extra helpings of sweet foods on the evening of day 6 when I went to the local garden to meet all the other Al Muwayh doctors to give a farewell party to our medical director Dr. Shehabeldin and a little excess of an allowed food on some of the days. 

Thus ended my fad diet of a week. I am inspired by some of the internet commentators who have been repeating the same schedule for a week each month. And, Allah willing, I plan to do the same as well. Thus, I will once again follow the GM diet in the last week of November, the last week of December and so on. 

Today was the eighth day. I am back to eating my normal food, but I continue to drink tea sans milk. And I haven't felt the difference.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The General Motors Diet

After reading about this very unusual rapid dieting method on the net, I decided to undertake this diet from the 27th of October and am into the fifth day as I am writing this. In the first four days, I have lost about 2 kg. Today, I may not get a chance to take my weight as the hospital duty is off. This may also be the case tomorrow. However, I plan to stick to the diet as much as possible, and check my weight on Sunday, when I go back to the hospital for the start of a new week.

This diet involves a set routine. The expectation is that your body gets detoxified, the taste buds get primed afresh, and you lose anywhere from between 5-8 kg in seven days!

My room-mate Dr. Afzal is my silent partner in this self-improvement project. He does feel a little inconvenienced as I am not around to make the usual foods for him, but I cannot help him in that! My compliance with the diet is about 85-90%, and I do tend to cheat wherever possible.

My younger daughter Hannah did plan to join me (from Mumbai) but backed out as her exams are near. However, she continues to be a facilitator and I converse with her daily to share my experience and to hear her encouragement. 

Some of the expectations were that the diet may cause headaches due to dehydration, weakness due to the reduced calorie intake and so on, but I am happy to report that I haven't had any problems so far. I am functioning normally, getting good sleep and am able to walk about half an hour each night as part of my diet + exercise routine. 

That's it. I will try and upload the details elsewhere and send a back-link here to let you all know the actual experience.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Random thoughts

One of the good things about being on call is that you don't have to sit in the out-patient department and deal with the kids and their parents from eight to four. The bad thing, of course, is that once the out-patient duty hours are over, you are liable to be called for any emergencies from the evening until the next morning. The reverse is true when you are off-call. You do need to attend to the out-patient flow, but once the duty hours are over, you are totally free and cannot be called even if the sky falls down on your village.

This is my off-call week; however, I worked the whole week, seeing patients in the out-patient clinic. I also took a lecture for the staff members on "Team work in health care" (this was on Monday). I made mutton biryani on Tuesday, and Dr. Afzal and I had the biryani over the next few days. Along with the biryani, I had also made tomato soup to eat with the biryani. 

Today, i.e. on Thursday, I drove to Taif, from where I am writing this entry today. As usual, I am at the Ahle Saif hotel here. I had a very good Skype session with our study group on account of the fact that the internet signal is very strong here in Taif. After this, I went to Vitamin Palace for my dinner cum dessert. This was a special meal because today is Diwali as well as the night before the start of the new Misri year (1436) - so I ordered a shawarma plate and a big glass of fruit salad with vanilla ice cream.

I intend to spend one night more here in Taif. Then, I plan to return to the village of my work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Slowly increasing my level of study

If there is one thing today's youth teach me, it is how to be persistent in your efforts. Of course, my friends already know that I am a tenacious son of a gun, but when it comes to studying, I tend to put it off until "later". This has led to days and weeks passing by and my exams coming nearer and nearer, but I am still not there in my seat and reading something that will help me pass the exams. 

During the last 24 hours, I was in touch with a couple of my friends who appeared for the last exams of MRCPCH in Hyderabad India. They were both rueing the fact that all it would have taken them to pass were an additional 5-6 marks ... but as they could not get those marks, they both failed to clear the exams and will likely re-appear in the next session.

For one of those two friends, it was the first time, but for the other, it was the second time he failed to pass. Now, all this might not matter much, but the fact is that the examination fees for this exam are very high indeed. For my January exam, I will be paying over 125000 rupees. Plus I would be travelling to India for the exam. And staying in a hotel for 5-7 days. You can well imagine the kind of expenses I am talking about! 

How my study graph looks like

During a Skype chat with my first friend, I got adequately psyched up to download a few useful documents and have begun to read them in right earnest. However, a few of my old habits prevent me from reading well, in particular, my fetish for playing a few games on Facebook and elsewhere, both on my laptop as well as my smartphone, which, by the way, is a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. In addition, I have to continue to cook, wash clothes and do all the other necessary activities as I am in a foreign land. 

So let's see how this goes ... thanks for reading, and bye for now.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A week later: Purchases, MRCPCH and third anniversary in KSA

The last week has been largely uneventful. Other than the usual duties, there were two significant events that occurred. I received two items that I had purchased on an internet market-place in this part of the world (see this); these two items are a 2 TB external hard drive (Western Digital, for approximately INR 7500) and an Alba brand ladies' wrist watch (for INR 6800). The drive is great for storing the hundreds of movies and videos that have accumulated on my laptop. It replaces my earlier 500 GB WD drive that I forgot to bring back with me from India where I had taken it on my last vacation. 

The other thing that unnerved me is that the new music system that I had installed in my new car was stolen by persons unknown from inside on the night of Thursday last. The thief/thieves broke the small triangular glass at the rear, accessed the door lock to open it and then made good with the system. I have had to fix a small piece of laminate to close off the gap temporarily and will affix a new piece of glass when I next go to Taif.

By the way, I did go to Taif once for a single morning. It was on a Tuesday, and the purpose was to meet Mr. Ali Asmari, our liaison officer at the Taif Muderiya; I was to get my new contract, submit some papers of my colleague Dr. Afzal, who is still waiting for his iqama so that he can go back to Kashmir to help his family rehabilitate after the massive floods that have almost destroyed his home back in Srinagar. Ali, in his own turn, handed over several things to me to give to my colleagues (both doctors and nurses) back in Al Muwayh. The visit also allowed me to send my application to the UK for the MRCPCH exams in India in January 2015.

This means that if my application gets accepted this time, I should be appearing for the final installment of my MRCPCH certificate early next year! And if I clear those exams ... but well, let's leave that for another day.

On the 13th of October, it was also 20th of Dhulhajj, the last month of the Islamic calendar. The date is significant because it marks the completion of THREE YEARS of my stay and work in the Kingdom!

Thus, the fourth year has begun. My salary has gone up by a small amount of about a thousand Riyals. But, as my readers know, this date also marks the beginning of the end of my Saudi innings. I am likely to complete my MRCPCH, then look for a job in the UAE, and then resign from here. I request my readers to pray for me and help me reach my goals!

Thank you for reading this, and may Allah bring happiness and cheer in your lives as you move towards the Festive season.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Three days in Ta'if

After the end of the Hajj pilgrimage days, the roads to Ta'if, Makkah and Jeddah open up for the local people on the 15th of Dhul Hajj. Accordingly, I planned an outing to Ta'if from the 15th to the 17th of the current month (October 9th to 11th). I took one day's official leave, but left Al Muwayh in the evening of October 8th. Dr. Niaz Qureshi accompanied me from Al Muwayh, and he got off at a place called Arafat, which is a small village about 35 km before Ta'if. 

I checked into the Ahle Saif Hotel in Ta'if and had a quiet dinner at the Asian Hotel there. The first night passed off peacefully. On Thursday, I took my car to the garage where my Pakistani mechanic friend Mr. Nadeem Gujjar works. Handing over the car to him, I mandated him to repair all that could be repaired, and to overhaul my vehicle for any defects; after this, I returned to the hotel.  In the evening,  went around Ta'if, completing odd tasks; I also went shopping here and there, but mostly, I relaxed. Downloading some nice movies on my laptop was part of the relaxation strategy! 

In the night, I went to Vitamin Palace - an eatery on Abu Bakker Siddiq road, and ordered myself a treat of a Cheese-Chicken Jumbo Sandwich, a Fakh Fakhena (Fruit salad with Avocado, Mangoes, Pineapple, Pomegranate seeds and Papaya, to name a few ... with two single lops of ice creams at the top - vanilla and strawberry, in my case) and a soft drink. It was an immensely enjoyable dinner!

On Friday morning, I went to Jeddah in my now repaired car to meet Mr. Tanveer Malik, the Pakistani cabbie who had possession of the registration card of my old Toyota Corolla ... to bring this back from him. My forward journey got prolonged by a 100 km, thanks to wrong guidance by Samsung Galaxy's Google Maps, which guided me to a non-existent bridge to Jeddah (this prolonged my journey by 60 km), ... and then skipped a crucial U-turn to make me drive an extra 40 km!

Tanveer met me at his house, and I ate lunch with him and his nephew Mr. Ali. After this, before he could press me for more money (he has managed to inveigle me into parting with over SR 2000 in my last two trips to Jeddah), I took his leave and returned uneventfully to Ta'if by 5 p.m. In the night, I took dinner at the Asian Hotel. 

After this, I went to the Mobile Market and bought a slew of stuff such as a new battery for my Note 3, a monopod to take photos with my phone through a bluetooth connection, a new 10 GB Mobily Card for internet, and a new USB plug for recharging my phones.

Saturday saw me go to the Aramex office (it is on the King Faisal Road at a market place  just before the road turns to go toward Jeddah via Hada.) Here, I picked up my just-arrived external hard disk (2 TB for SR 474/-). Then, I went back to the car garage to fine tune a few installations, and then, to a car-key maker to program a new key. This guy could not make my new key because the programming did not occur properly. As a result, we had to wait for an hour before re-attempting the process - and this time, another man with greater expertise attempted it - and managed it successfully.

Earlier in the morning, I visited the local Centrepoint showroom on Shahar street and bought a new blue-coloured jacket and a new shirt for myself.

I then began my return journey to Al Muwayh, picking up Dr. Niaz again from Arafat. I arrived in Al Muwayh at a little after half-past seven. My journey had come to an end.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Culture congruence

Understanding the culture of another people is a very difficult task and one must go deep into the psyche of these individuals if one wishes to make head or tail of what is happening around one. I have been among the village Bedouin folk of Saudi Arabia since three years, and even now, I find it difficult to sometimes pick up the nuances of a conversation. The way Saudis greet each other when they first meet in the morning is a sight to watch! They are very animated. They touch  cheeks against each others' are a cheeks, and make a pecking sound with their lips; next, they embark on a "Good Morning" and "How are you and yours" for the next several minutes, repeating the above 2 phrases to each other so many times that I used to think they had gone plumb mad!

After nearly two minutes of repetitive effusive greetings, they will then shake hands, and get to the topic on hand. This behaviour is universal among adult males, regardless of their age, social status, etc. 

Yet another major issue is the level of disinterest one must show towards females. This is  not only a hijaab issue; it touches upon the way men and women must socialise when in public. And that is where we are totally deficient.

More later. Thanks for reading!