Sunday, March 30, 2014

End of the on-call week ... a small collection of memories for the last week.

Yes, the on-call week is coming to an end within the next 12 hours as I write this. Over the week, I hardly had any emergencies, so light was the work. Partly, this was due to the school holidays that are currently on, and which will get over today. Partly, it may be due to the spring season that seems to be prevailing all over the Kingdom. Winter ended a few weeks ago, and the terrible heat of summer is yet to arrive. As a result, respiratory illnesses are at a minimum, as are serious cases of diarrhoea, high fever or other problems. Lastly, partly, it may be due to the increasing efficiency of our resident doctors, who are now able to deal with most of the common ailments that the local children are brought to the E R with. 

On Saturday morning, I went out for breakfast: a delicious paya and roti affair in a local Pakistani restaurant. The roti was the huge Pashtu roti, and I was barely able to eat half of it. Even so, my stomach got bloated! I skipped lunch as a consequence. At tea-time, I had time to prepare a pizza from a ready-made pizza package; unfortunately, I did not know how much heat to give it through my micro-wave and it got burnt. At the same time, the taste of this ready-made pizza wasn't so bad!Never mind ... as they say, it can only get better from the next time. 

On Saturday, I also went to visit a new garden that the Al Muwayh municipality has been building since over six months on the highway on the side opposite to the side of the village. The access of this garden is not yet finalised, so that people who are travelling from Taif to Riyadh will have to wait for some time before they can drive off the highway and relax in the garden and in the many shelters that the workers are making over there. Part of the garden has been already prepared, and the grass, all natural, is verdant there, already inviting many feathered guests! The rest of the place is not yet ready, but will be, I was told by one of the workers, in the next few months. 

On Thursday night, I played tennis with Dr. Essam Gheith: he has purchased a complete set of two racquets and a ball; this was the second such instance, actually, as we had played for a short while a couple of weeks ago. This time, however, it was better for me, as I got into the swing of things. For the net, we used a hanging rope tied across two light poles. It was not as bad as it seems to be, and we volleyed for about half an hour or so, with a few breaks in between for others to play and for chai

On Saturday afternoon, I lost my satellite TV signals, and it was late on the same day that I could get hold of a mechanic who agreed to come and right the problem. It was not that I was missing much, but I am kind of restless when things I should be able to control don't seem to respond to my "orders". Hence, I rested only after the problem was corrected - the dish on the terrace needed some adjustment, that's all. 

Anything else? No, not really. Awaiting your comments and feedback on this rather inane entry ... but it does reveal some stuff that I care about or that I wish to share with my readers from all over the world.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Journey into the past: the medical college years: Dr. Indira Shetty

One of my friends and colleague, Dr. Indira Shetty, who lives near Bengaluru, India, has recently posted a brief account of her journey through medical studies at the Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. hospital. As I was all along with her in the same batch, and we are in touch, she was kind enough to forward her write-up to me and has given me permission to reproduce this in my blog. The article written by her is, in her own words, "straight from the heart" and I must say she has well described everything from the basics to the feelings we all had. Being also a paediatrician like me, her journey has quite a lot in common with mine, though there are some differences (of course).
Here goes:

My Journey in the Field of Medicine

-        Dr. Indira Shetty, M.D. Paed. (Mumbai)

It was a languid afternoon, as I sat discussing cases with my paediatric colleagues at Srinivas Medical College, when two 4th year MBBS students trooped in requesting us to contribute an article for the college magazine.

Writing was indeed my passion but sadly over the years I had been wielding my pen only to write prescriptions. But now seeing these two bright young faces I felt inspired all over again.

So on the job, I got busy thinking of a suitable topic and I decided to pen down my journey in the field of medicine. Very recently my daughter crossed a major hurdle i.e. the 12th Board exams and around that time, like all adolescents she was at career crossroads. Her basic instinct drew her to the field of medicine, but the fierce competition made us sit up, do a reality check and explore all possible career alternatives. More the choice worse the dilemma. It was during this soul searching exercise I realized what taking up a career in medicine meant, how important it was for a student to have real aptitude for it; because becoming a doctor is a lifelong commitment and not a one night stand. Sadly quite often some children get pushed into medical college by status conscious parents to up their market value and this can spell disaster both for the individual and the society at large. During my college days the choices were limited. The human body fascinated me and I found the world of commerce humdrum. I was lucky indeed to get into the prestigious G.S. Medical College Mumbai and this is from where my journey starts.

My earliest memories of 1st MBBS are of the heavy text books, Guyton’s Physiology and Grey’s anatomy which altered as dumbbells and helped develop our biceps. I can still smell the formalin which would assail our nostrils in the anatomy lab, but soon some of us got so comfortable that we literally ate our lunch box sitting next to the corpses, especially a day before the exams. So engrossed we would be in deciphering the deadly details that we hardly realized that lying before us were once flesh and blood humans, now lying stripped and ripped so that we could dig into their vitals and learn anatomy in all its gory details. Little did we then realize that if not for those unclaimed bodies we would not have such insight about body details. Today looking back I whisper a silent prayer to all these anonymous humans who died unsung but played a stellar role in educating us.

Passing 1st MBBS was a hurdle indeed, our college set us very high standards. Despite the tough exams most of us secured the necessary grades and we marched into the 2nd MBBS. At last we got to see some real patients and we felt like doctors in the making.

Our O.P.Ds at K.E.M. Hospital, Mumbai were always teeming with patients and our wards were chocoblock with inpatients, some lying under the cots and some admitted in the corridors. And amidst all this chaos we had our grand rounds. Those rounds were grand indeed because back then we had some real stalwarts in the field of medicine who were our knowledge banks. Their rich clinical experience and acumen gathered over years of seeing patients was what no textbook could ever offer us. On the rounds we students were at the bottom of the hierarchy and above us were the interns, postgraduate resident, assistant, associate and the H.O.D. The resident doctor presenting the case would literally get vivisected by his seniors, and we students would be all ears, trying to understand the nuances of the art of medicine, how from history taking and signs and symptoms you zero down to possible differential diagnosis. A few doctors did have the virtues of Sherlock Homes, but majority were like Dr. Watson. Thanks to our teachers who made the art of medicine so fascinating. Today looking back I pay a silent tribute to those Guruji’s who felt duty bound to part with their knowledge (sad to say their tribe is fast disappearing now) and those crowded wards were our temples of learning. 

But having said that, teachers were responsible for only half our education, and the other half was contributed by the helpless under privileged patient lying on the free municipal hospital bed, who got poked, probed and palpated by numerous trainee doctors. I still remember how some patients with interesting signs and symptoms were simply not discharged on some pretext or other. Little did we realize that they too had a life back home. Tell me readers who amongst us would submit oneself to such humiliation of being exposed and palpated. I hope today’s students realize this and treat these patients with all dignity due to them. Very recently I had the sordid experience of interacting with a poor patient admitted in a well-known medical college in our city. Despite her poverty she was charged a hefty bill due to failure on her part to produce certain documents at the right time. I was wondering at the lackadaisical attitude of the social work department which is supposed to guide patients in such cases. Also the high handed manner of the doctors treating the poor patient was appalling! Wake up, dear colleagues after all it is these very patient who fill up our medical college hospital beds, so that we get the M.C.I. recognition.

Today of course the education scenario is fast changing. Especially abroad, dummy patients and virtual bodies have replaced real patients for teaching purpose. Very recently I read about a virtual liver which will replace real patient drug trials. But looking back I am eternally grateful to all those underprivileged patients who contributed to my medical skills.

Before we realized, we were out of 3rd MBBS. I was lucky to get my choice P.G. seat in pediatrics and a whole new world opened up before me. Babies you know are known to gurgle, giggle and throw a tantrum. To diagnose their ailment was a guessing game. Even to this day an infant with excessive cry baffles me. But tell you guys I have never repented taking up pediatrics. It sets your age at eighteen and you live evergreen.

Despite my years of training and M.D. degree, when I started my private practice I realized how inadequate my knowledge was. I soon realized that what makes a proper doctor is not textbook knowledge, but experience gained over years of practice. The smile on the face of the babies and the relief on the face of their parents was my report card, I passed some, I failed some and to my joy I excelled some.

Education never ceases and each day you learn something new. And then comes a phase in your life when you graduate from, being a mere physician to becoming a true healer. This is the defining moment in a doctor’s life and the experience can be very humbling. Something lights up inside you and you find that God Spark within you which connects you with your patient . I have landed myself in situations wherein a distraught mother hands over her ailing child in my arms. Her pleading eyes say that she has faith in me. I may not be adequately equipped to handle her baby, but this is where the God Spark comes to my rescue, it gives me immense courage and unknown strength, and when things turnout good, and the child heals, the joy is priceless. The smile on the baby’s face, gratitude written all over the mother’s face and the happiness you experience no Master Card can ever buy. You feel blessed. 

No doubt, medical profession comes with its share of professional hazards; the odd hour calls, the nightmarish medico-legal pitfalls; but bouquets like these that life throws your way make the brickbats seem like a small price to pay. 
Learning never ends, it’s a lifelong process and so my journey too will go on; but this article has to end. Before I pen off I would like to thank the two students who made me write this article. It helped me rediscover myself.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An on-call week: The usual grind

The week that is ongoing is an on-call week for me; this means that while I do not have to see routine O.P.D. patients, I am to respond to all emergency calls, and look after all the new admissions, whether from the O.P.D. or the Emergency room, PLUS I have to manage any and every baby that is born this week in the hospital.
The week runs from Sunday morning until the evening of the following Saturday. As I write this on the night of Wednesday, I have three whole days of on-call still in balance.
On Monday, I was alone, since my partner was on a day's leave to visit the Muderiya in Taif. It seems that he has paper work to finish before his scheduled exit in the next couple of months.
I am currently watching a new TV series by the name "ATLANTIS". It is mythological, but I have watched the first few episodes, and they were world-class! At the same time, my romance with "Breaking BAd" (Season 5) continues. It is perhaps one of the best-made TV serials I have ever watched anywhere.
I made a few new food items in the last four days. They include upma for breakfast and full-masoor ki black dal. Hoping to enjoy the dal. The upma was excellent.
That's it for now ... keep returning to read more blog entries.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Over the long Weekend - II: Thursday, 20th and Friday, 21st March, 2014

Readers would remember that I had set myself three tasks to be done on Thursday, 20th March, 2014. Accordingly, I set off for KAASH - the hospital where I had had my shoulder MRI done about ten days ago. I collected my report, then went to the OPD section, where I looked around for a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. The man I found was one Dr. Faisal Shafiq. A Pakistani doctor, he was extremely patient while I showed myself to him. He quickly reached a diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder, and mentioned that it might be a good idea to go in for a steroid injection into the affected shoulder joint.

I decided then and there to go ahead with the injection, as the pain and limitation of the movements I had suffered for the last several months was something I was not willing to endure for a still longer duration. Dr. Faisal asked me to wait outside his OPD for some time as he had a backlog of several patients he had to see. I relaxed outside for some time, then went back to him. He said he had just one vial of steroid (Depot preparation of methyl prednisolone, 40 mg), but it would have to do for the time being. No anaesthesia was needed. He combined the steroid with a local anaesthetic and injected the full substance in two portions - a larger one in front of my arm and a smaller one at the top of the shoulder (this is a technical thing, and I request my non-medical readers to simply overlook the detail).

The actual act of injection pained very little. He called me in again after twenty minutes to reassess my shoulder. After this, I went to meet Dr. Md. Ragab to collect guidance material on my flash drive. His office is located behind the new King Faisal Hospital (KFH). Unfortunately, he was not in. When I called him, he asked to speak to one of his other colleagues Dr. Baher. The latter switched on Dr. Ragab's computer and opened the folders where Dr. Ragab said the material was stored. It turned out that the said folder was EMPTY. I was dejected but helpless. Dr. Ragab promised to send the material by email to me.

Returning from here, I went straight to Choudhary Shabbir's car workshop. Over the next few hours, I got some other things in my car repaired or looked at. It was too late to go to the Muderiya to ask about Dr. Narendra. I returned to my room, then killed the rest of the evening doing this and that. 

Over the evening, the injection site had started hurting more and more. By the time I went for dinner, the shoulder was hurting really bad, and I had to swallow pain-killers to just be able to move my arm. The injection site itself looked healthy, so an infection seemed unlikely. I called up Dr. Faisal, and he, at first, alarmed me that  the pain would persist for the next few days, and only then decline.

At about 9 p.m., Shabbir came over with a friend and picked me up to go to Kababjee's Restaurant for dinner. I had invited him this time, and we had a mixed tandoori platter with rice and salad, and a side-order of minced-meat samosas. The meal was delicious. After dinner, we all went to a coffee shop where Shabbirbhai treated me to a Chocolate with Ice coffee. I returned to my room at about 11 p.m.

Friday was a day without agenda. I relaxed the whole morning in my hotel room, going out just for breakfast and lunch. The pain in my shoulder gradually improved over the day, but I had to swallow pain killers  almost every four hours.I left for Al Muwayh after 4:00 p.m., reaching my home at a little after 7 o'clock in the evening. 

I spent the rest of the evening sorting my stuff, writing the last few blog entries, watching the TV, and so on. Eventually, I retired after mid-night.

Over the long weekend: Tuesday evening and Wednesday (18th and 19th March, 2014)

Tuesday evening was wasted, as my car lay with the mechanic Mr. Vazir. He had promised to repair the car by Wednesday evening, but he would start the repairs only on the morning of Wednesday. I retired to my room, doing this and that, and even debated whether I should go to work the next day instead of waiting it out at home (I had already taken leave on Tuesday and Wednesday). 

Eventually, I stayed home. I got a call from the mechanic at half past ten in the morning. I went to his workshop. He confirmed that the clutch plate had broken and needed to be replaced. I purchased the said part from Mr. Gazi's shop (he is the land-lord of the house I stay in, and has an extremely large and profitable shop selling auto-parts) and returned with the new part to Mr. Vazir. He assured me that he would try and get the car ready before Asr' prayers. He also asked me to get a new ball-bearing that goes with the clutch plate. The two items together cost SR 450/=. Add to that the labour cost (SR 450/=) and the cost of gear oil (SR 60/=) and my estimate of nearly SR 1000/= came true. 

True to his word, Mr. Vazir called me a little after three p.m. I had just finished having post-lunch tea. I prepared my bag for the trip to Ta'if. Also, I readied my home for the three-day departure, and then went and picked up my car from the workshop. It drove very nicely indeed. 

I left the house at a little after half-past four. It was my intention to complete the following tasks in Ta'if the next day: first, a trip to King Abdel Aziz Speciality Hospital (KAASH) - I was to pick up my MRI report, and then try and visit an Orthopedic consultant for my frozen shoulder; then, a drive to the office of the Patient Safety and Quality Management Director, where I was to pick up important guidance documents from Dr. Md. Ragab, the P. S. and Q. M. investigator who had come to our hospital on Tuesday morning and had stayed with us (Sister Jennifer and me) through the day; and third, I was to go to the Muderiya and enquire about Dr. Narendra's pending money.

I reached Ahle Saif hotel at about seven p.m. I took my usual room on the first floor, then went about killing time by downloading stuff (this activity would continue over the next few days, as I wished to download a lot of things). I had dinner at the Asian Restaurant below the hotel, then retired early for the night.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The past week and updated to today evening.

Incredibly, a week has passed since I last posted in the blog. A few things did transpire, and I must relate them here. I was off call this week (I mean, I am still off-call, and will remain so till Saturday), and had time off to relax and sleep. But that's not news. The TV channels all were busy with just two news items: the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian flight MH 370 (as of today), it has still not become clear where the flight has disappeared too, and it is over 10 days since it vanished, literally into thin air. Twenty-six countries are co-operating in the largest plane-hunt in the history of civil aviation, and the fate of the passengers and crew (totalling over 230) is unknown. No messages or demands have emerged, and a search of the many seas surrounding Malaysia, and additional swathes of oceans right upto the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal have turned up zilch. 

The other news item that continues to bombard our senses is the forthcoming General Elections that are due to start within a month in India. My favourite news channel is Times Now, and this channel has almost turned off other news (barring the news about the missing Air Malaysia flight and the most critical national or international news) and begun to only broadcast news related to the Elections. It does get a bit boring as the days pass. Add to this the fact that the Indian diaspora all over the world cannot participate in the elections unless they are physically present in India.

Today was a big day as a CBAHI investigator in charge of Patient Safety had come to our hospital to review the functioning of the Patient Safety department (of which I am the in-charge director) and look at the various documents that we have made to put the processes and protocols in place. CBAHI is a monitoring organisation that looks after the implementation of all the programmes in a hospital, including Patient Safety, functioning of the laboratory, the X-ray department, the Pharmacy, the Kitchen, etc. etc.  The investigator was one Dr. Mohamed Ragab, an Egyptian doctor. My co-ordinating nurse (Jennifer Phoebe) and I were with Dr. Ragab for most of the day as we went about going over all the policies of our department. He pointed out some of our deficiencies, and we jotted them down in our notes. After going over the policies and papers, we went on a round of the various departments - including the male ward, the female ward, the laboratory, the kitchen, etc. On the rounds, Dr. Ragab asked questions of the on-duty nurses to discover what the level of knowledge among them was. 

I got through with today's schedule only around 4 p.m. After this, I went home, refreshed myself and prepared to drive to Taif - I had barely reached the back side of my house when my car stopped dead in its tracks and wouldn't proceed even when I had put it in gears. I spoke to my Pakistani mechanic, and also showed the car to a couple of local mechanics. They all were of the opinion that the clutch plate had probably given way or broken, and I would have to leave the car with the mechanic for a whole day tomorrow to get the repairs done. Accordingly, I returned to my home, delivering the car to a Pakistani mechanic Mr. Vazir. The estimated budget of this repair will be nearly SR 1000/=

Oh, the woe of it. I have decided to sell this car as soon as possible and get another one in its place. And that's that.

Nothing else to write about, so I will end here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Back to an old topic: Food

If you, my dear reader, would go back to the home page of my blog, you would see a list of labels right at the top. The labels are sized according to the number of times that label appears in my blog. As you can see, Cooking features among the top three most used labels! The reason is not too far to seek. Firstly, I have always been interested in cooking. Secondly, cooking for just myself has needed a lot of ingenuity, presence of mind, inventiveness, perseverance, patience and ... on some occasions, frustration. I have had countless occasions when I forgot about the food that was cooking on the stove in the kitchen, and it got burnt as I stayed inside my living area, surfing the net, or watching TV. 

Then, there have been instances when the food turned out to be finger-licking good, and I have gone out and shared it with some of my friends, either doctors, or nurses, or both. Between these two extremes, there have been the hundreds of times I have churned out average to good food, and consumed it with relish and an immense sense of satiation and satisfaction. 

The few problems I have encountered here are as follows:

a) Ingredients - While most of the Indian ingredients are available in the Kingdom, some, clearly, are not. Or, at least, not available in Al Muwayh or Taif. This includes khus-khus powder, badi ilaichi, badiyan, star anise, some other exotic spices, cereals like beaten wheat (daliya), dals like the south-Asian masoor dal and the rounded tuvar dal, kheer ingredients, etc.

b) Utensils - The Indian style pressure cooker which gives off steam with a whistling sound is a blessing for a person like me who is not a chef but a student of cooking and needs to monitor the cooking time and process through visual and auditory cues. I had to bring this from India, though I later discovered that it WAS available in Riyadh in Lulu Hypermarket. Other typical Indian kitchen tools include Kulfi moulds, Idli moulds, chakli and gathiya moulds, etc. These are not routinely found in the Kingdom. 

c) Variety - or the lack thereof: So many of the vegetables and fruit that we routinely buy, use, cook and consume are not readily available in Al Muwayh, though I can procure 95% of these from Taif/ For example, one cannot find guvar-ki-sing or drumsticks in Al Muwayh. Nor can one find the wide variety of fruit here. We do get fruit from Yemen and Egypt, but, to be frank, I always miss the Alphonso mangoes of India, and some of the other fruits that we buy in Mumbai. In the non-vegetarian section, I have to get stuff like trotters (paya), bheja, etc. from Taif or Jeddah. Here, however, you do get quails, duck and so on, in addition to chicken. You cannot find Indian fish in Al Muwayh. I usually get bangda or surmai from Taif. 

What you do get here is FROZEN FOOD. You can get guava juice, totapuri mango juice, frozen bhindi (okra), frozen  mixed vegetables, frozen green peas, frozen strawberries, frozen ... you get it, right? You can also find a lot of frozen ready to cook or ready to fry food here ... e.g. mutton samosas, chicken burger patty, chicken nuggets, breaded fish fillets, seekh kabab, shish tawook, etc. You just need to fry these and eat them. 

You can, for the most part, get Indian spices and goods in Taif at specialised Indian grocery stores, run by Malayalis who have been here down the generations. There are restaurants in Taif, but especially in larger cities like Riyadh and Jeddah, where you can have a hearty south-Indian meal and top it off with a Calcutta pan!

d) Quantities - or the excess thereof: Most Saudi families are large, and they need large quantities of food, so the problem is of finding smaller quantities of packaged and fresh food. The average cauliflower here is over a kg in size! The grocer will not cut it into the size you want. Either you take the 1 kg, or forget about the cauliflower! In a similar vein, the sizes of biscuit packs is large; dry fruits are only sold in 1/2 kg packs or larger. Most food grains are sold with a minimum weight of 1 kg, though some grocers do keep open buckets of grains and allow you to buy smaller quantities. 

Utensil sizes are as large as the food sizes! I find it difficult to buy vessels to cook small meals that I, as a single person, need to make. 

As of now, I cannot think of more problems. The interesting thing is that I look at each problem as an opportunity to find a workable solution. The challenge keeps me motivated to find a way out of the unending difficulties. But, as a result, my larder is full of provisions, and my large refrigerator (400 liters +) is always full.

Do let me know your view-points on this write-up. I welcome your keen eye, sharp mind and valuable comments. Thank you.  

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Good News from this side ...

Yes, indeed. But let me not get ahead of the story. I spent Friday at my home, rather aimlessly, as I was basically gearing up to go to Ta'if the next day, ahead of my MRI appointment which was on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. in the King Abdel Aziz Speciality Hospital (known popularly as KAASH). 

On Friday, I had breakfast at one of the Pakistani restaurants located behind my house on the highway. I was hoping to eat trotters, but as that was not available, I had goat's liver cooked in spinach. Back home, I cooked a little, but mostly, I surfed the net, did a little buying on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) via icicidirect.com, slept, played games on my mobile, and went for a brief walk in the garden. In the latter part of the evening, I connected with my web-site's webmaster and administrator, Dr. Rajesh Bijlani, via Team Viewer, and he initiated the steps to rejuvenate my website. A few things were missing, so we ended rather soon.

On Saturday morning, I had a lazy morning and a light lunch, and started for Ta'if after tea. I reached without any problems at half-past six, and checked in into Ahle Saif Hotel, where Munawwar Ali, one of the helpers, had reserved one room for me as I had intimated to him my arrival on Saturday evening. I had no difficulty in selling off my Samsung S3 (the new one sells for SR 1299, and I was able to sell mine for SR 850). This sale was crucial, as I was to give money to my car repairer, whose money was still pending. I had dinner at the Asian Restaurant ... an easy affair of kheema with rotis. The guys who work there all know me, including Salim, the one who heats and serves the food at the front counter and the Indian guy who serves the food to me at the table (I forget his name at the moment, but will add it as soon as it comes back to me). Back in my room, I saw a movie on the laptop (The Dark Knight Rises), and went off to sleep.

On Sunday morning, I went to Thara Restaurant to have my usual breakfast of Puri-Bhaji, and took out an order of two plates (8 pieces) of Idli sambar. Soon after, I drove to the office of the Health Directorate (the Muderiya) to meet Dr. Ahmed Ashraf and request him to help arrange for another Pediatrician to join us at Al Muwayh, since Dr. Yasser is on the way out next month. He and I gel well together, and he often goes out of the way to help me. When I told him that my salary had got obstructed due to a mistake on my part (read about this in an earlier ENTRY), he immediately began to guide me about this, then actually got up and escorted me to the relevant office on the second floor, spoke to one of the guys there, and gave me assistance on what I should do next. He even spoke to Ali, Al Muwayh's liaison officer, who informed him that he had already completed the formalities and assured me that my salary would be joined to the next month's salary and given to me on the 25th of the current month. I was completely re-assured, but after Dr. Ashraf left, I spoke once again to the in-charge of the salary section. He (Mr. Gadi) looked me up on the computer on his desk, and told me that my salary was already cleared and I could pick up a cheque from the cashier's office on the first floor. 

I was stunned. OMG, I thought to myself. I ran to the cashier's office, and was asked to meet one Mr. Abdurrehman. He checked his records, told me yes, the money was there, and he could issue a cheque, but he needed me to go back to Gadi and get some necessary paper. Back to Gadi I went, and he obliged me with the needed paper, on which he scribbled a lot of Arabic text, and I went back to Mr. Abdurrehman with the same. He asked for my Iqama, and copied my name as it was on the Iqama on to the cheque, which he then got the signature of his senior officer on, and he handed it to me with a smile. He even told me where I could find the branch of the bank (ANB) the cheque of which he had issued to me. I got to my car, and drove straight to the bank, and finally encashed my money a little before noon.

I deposited the major portion of this money into my own bank account, and then transferred most of it to India through the Transfer department of Al Rajhi bank (Tahweel-Al Rajhi) on Shubra Street. After this, I went to Chaudhury Shabbir's car repair garage, and handed over his balance amount. After this, I travelled to KAASH to see where it was. Having located it and memorised the way to reach there, I went to have my lunch at the Asian Restaurant (this time, I had trotters and roti), then returned to my hotel room for a siesta. By 3:15 p.m., I left for KAASH, reaching there a little before 3:40. I handed over my MRI appointment form to one of the technicians, and he called me in at a little after 4:00. The doctor was one Dr. Khalid, a Kashmiri Indian. He guided me about the procedure, and escorted me to the scanner. I was told that there would be a lot of noises as the machine went about recording images from my left shoulder, the area that has been paining since a long time, and over which I have already taken many medicines and different modes of physiotherapy (including infra-red, SWD, TENS and Ultrasonic therapy in addition to passive and active exercises) for the last three weeks.

The MRI got over in about 20-22 minutes. After this, I was told to return for my report after 4-7 days. I left the hospital's large premises, driving back, first to the car garage, where I handed over a coat that Shabbir had left behind in my car during the last repairs, then, to Panda, where I hung around, visiting some shops like Xtra (which sells electronics) and the Food Court (where I had a spicy fish sandwich from Al Baik, and a sugar-free "banana-chocolate" small cup from Baskin Robbins). It was after Maghrib that I returned to my hotel, and here I am, writing about the last three days as the evening changes to night. 

All in all, it has been an eventful last three nights, and am I glad ... I got my salary!

Thank you for reading about me and my stupid antics ... be blessed. Do leave your comments. Thanks.

P.S. I connected with one Dr. Hadi Shaikh from Aurangabad. He found me through some comments I had made on one of the web-sites, then looked me up here and there, and stumbled upon this blog. He says he was so impressed by my honest and simple writing style that he decided to send me a friend request on FB, besides messaging me. I requested him to give me his cell number, and when he did, I called him up and had a good 15-minute talk. Dr. Hadi turned out to be a bibliophile and wishes to interact more and more with me over the coming weeks and months. What can I say? Thank you, Allah, for a memorable connection.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why this blog?

I mean, what is so special about this blog? This question was posed to me by someone who is an occasional visitor to the blog, but her opinion counts. As does everyone else's. Hence I chose to ask this question to myself to seek an honest answer. 

And the answer, my friends, is (roll of drums): because I am. That's it. Because I am, therefore I write, I share, I discuss, I seek comments and opinions, I socialise, I interact, I eat, I sleep, I ... ya, I know, by now, you've got the drift. It is something I HAVE to do. It is something as natural to me as my daily activities. Well, perhaps I do not blog daily, because of mood shifts, lack of time, lack of inspiration, lack of energy, or simply, because I am. I am not perfect. I am not a conformist. I am not obsessive about writing a blog entry EVERY SINGLE DAY. In the end, it turns out that the best way to say all that is to simply use the three magic words: Because I am.

I began writing at a very early age. Even if you discount the cow and If I were ... kind of montessori and primary school essays, I began early. I wrote my first novella at the age of 11. This is the time by which I had already finished reading Enid Blyton (Famous Five and Secret Seven series, plus stuff like Noddy, Enchanted Wood, etc.), Hardy Boys and comics from the Harper group (remember Casper, the Friendly Ghost, or Three Little Ghosts, or Spooky, or L'il Jinx, or Jumbo, or Sad Sack?). They say, and very rightly so, a good writer is, and must be, a prolific reader. And so it was with me.

Internet happened just about 15-18 years ago, but I continued to write. Only, now it was mostly online, and as I wrote, my use of the pen/pencil/eraser/etc. stopped completely and was substituted by writing with the keyboard on to a luminous screen. 

I began my first blog about 8 years ago, and I wrote regularly in that. Then, that blog sort of disappeared and I shifted to blogger.com and started a series of blogs, each on a different theme. My blog on Pediatrics is still the one with the most eyeballs, while this blog fetches me the second highest views. I used to contribute regularly to a general blog, occasionally to a blog that describes feelings and emotions, and rarely to a Nature blog, a Travel blog and a Poetry blog. 

So, it all comes back to the first question: why THIS blog? Well, because this was the easiest way for me to share my unique experience of working in a country that Indians (my largest reader group) know so little about, and perhaps don't even care to. I feel that after writing about Saudi Arabia for over two years, their perceptions have altered to some extent. My friends still think it is a socially backward nation, but they have come to appreciate its advance in technology, in science and in environmental conservation. 

What environment, you ask. I agree that there isn't much green to protect here. I was, however, surprised to see that desert environments can be beautiful beyond one's imagination. There is hardly any pollution here, at least none in small villages and peripheral areas. The weather changes dramatically from time to time. The winters and summers are both extreme. The rains come rarely, but when they do, they refresh the body and the mind in ways that cannot be written about. The skies are usually clear, with an occasional cloud or two, but when the weather changes, clouds appear as if from nowhere, and darken the sky, send rains and then, just as abruptly, dissipate.

Governance is as per the Islamic traditions of the Qur^an, the Shariah, and the teachings of the Hadiths. The thing is, however, that for a law-abiding resident, life is smooth and trouble-free. You do need to get permits and licenses to live, to practice and so on, but their acquisition is hassle-free. You don't have to bribe anyone, stop anyone from interfering, butter anyone's palms, or do anything illegal. Most of the work can be done through bank ATMs. The rest can be done online through specific websites. Appointments can be obtained by fax. Visas can be printed out online. The registration of a vehicle, payment of fines, renewal of residence permit, etc. can all be paid through the ATMs of a bank. No visits to the respective offices are needed to procure any of these. Not ever. Isn't that like a dream for Indians?

So, back to the question: WHY this blog. Have I answered it, fair and square? Perhaps half of my readers are convinced. For the other half, I need to add that many people want to work in Saudi Arabia and they need a blog like this to evaluate whether it is gonna be worth it or not. I know that I provide only one aspect of life ... but if you are a professional like I am, such as a doctor or an engineer, reading this blog by scanning the labels at the top and selecting an appropriate label is the way to go. 

Happy reading! Thanks for the visit, and may Allah bless you. Do leave a comment or two ;-P

Thursday, March 06, 2014


I have often wondered about e-friendships. This new category of friends first emerged with internet chat relays or IRC applications that we used so avidly in the nineties. I remember going to internet cafes and coughing out money to chat with someone from either exotic Indonesia or entertaining Paris, or staid India in one of the chat rooms so elegantly set up by the servers of mIRC.
Over the years, these chat rooms bloomed all over the net, and one had Yahoo chat rooms, MSN chat rooms, porn chat rooms and what not. I can clearly recall the language of these chats ... the first chats would invariably be a/s/l ...(age, sex, location). Most of these chats would continue benignly; some would flower into great friendships ... I am still in touch with a few of those friends; yet others would veer into prohibited territories of pornography, causing me to exit such chats and to block such users.

As I grew more comfortable with the internet and acquired my own computers, so also internet evolved; more things became available, and over time, I stopped participating in chats. Then, in the early years of the new millenium, social networking happened, and e-friendships bloomed like never before. Facebook games allowed me to interact with names ... names that helped me to harvest a crop in Farmville, or cook a dish in Cafe World, or feed an animal in Zoo World, or play games with people in Mindjolt, or other similar apps. My friends-circle grew so hugely that I soon crossed the 1000-friends level. Then, again, my interest in cooperative games declined, but the friends stuck with me. I can say confidently that at least 200 of my games friends are still communicating with me ... either wishing me on my important days, or "liking" my statuses, or pictures, or posts ... or sharing my status on their own pages, etc.

One other medium helped me garner friends from all over the world, and that was the world of writing.com. I now have really good and close e-friends from almost all continents of the world. And I am proud of each one of them.

Today, the youth is moving to mobile apps like whatsapp, and forming groups on whatsapp is once again engineering the making of new friends. I am a part of many academic and social groups on Whatsapp, and have made several new friends as a result of this.

This, in as few words as was possible, is what e-friendships mean to me. They are no less, and perhaps more, than real world friends, as they are always around to share in your happiness, commisserate with you in your misery, helping you to lift your spirits when you are down, tempering your enthusiasm when it is wrongly directed, and advising you on matters that not even your closest family members can give you a clear perspective on.

A big thank you to all my internet friends ... er, e-friends!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Going past my birthday ...

On the 3rd of this month, I "observed" my 54th birth anniversary. I do not write "celebrated", because celebrations are to be had with friends and colleagues, and this is something our local social structure does not really engender in Al Muwayh. Most doctors here are Arabs, and stay here with their families, so there is no chance for them to invite me over to their place for a mere birthday celebration; neither is it possible for me to call them over to my place without their family. I cannot invite my nurse friends to join me at any place for a celebration. Thus, I am practically alone when it comes to such situations. 

Earlier, I had planned to go to Ta'if on the third of March and splurge on food and desserts in the mall. However, I got delayed in the hospital and could not possibly leave at or after half past five to travel to Ta'if and then return to Al Muwayh the same night! The fact that I haven't received my salary for the last month also weighed in, and hence I decided to defer my visit and wait until my next visit to Ta'if at the end of the week. 

I did have an ice cream and a small piece of chocolate cake ... each of which cost me 1-2 Riyals. Also, I ate my lamb curry and Turkish nan for lunch. 

Lamb curry

Onion "kachumber" salad
This time, I made the lamb curry with some changes in the normal procedure. I added the Bohra curry masala and also some coconut milk; this has given it the bland colour that you see in the picture. It tasted lovely, especially as I ate it with kachumber - I had chopped some onions and prepared it - it is a sort of accompaniment that has onions, coriander leaves, chopped green chillis and salt with lemon. 

For dinner, I went to a local restaurant run by Afghanis and ordered and had a half tandoori chicken with rice, a meal that I have been eyeing since a long time. I really enjoyed it. Thus ended my birthday. 

I did talk with my family on Skype, and they cut a nice Mongini's roasted almond cake to celebrate my birthday! In addition, right from the evening of the 2nd, I started getting congratulatory messages on Facebook, Whatsapp, SMS service, phone calls and also in person from some of the nurses in the ER, where I had gone with a few pieces of cake to give to them. 

The next morning, it was back to normal. A few "belated" messages continued to trickle in. I think I received no less than 150 messages on Facebook, and at least 40-50 more through the other media. Through this blog, I wish to thank all my friends for remembering me! THANK YOU ALL.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

A new month begins ... what I am planning for the years ahead.

Slowly but surely, I am nearing the end of my tenure in Saudi Arabia, and yet, the more one stays here, the more one begins to think of staying a little longer. The reasons are not too difficult to surmise. There is the attraction of a good salary with the best potential for savings, as the cost of living is not as high in the Kingdom as it is in other Gulf countries. Plus, the fact that I stay in a rural area helps me stay away from going out to expensive restaurants and malls. Add to that the fact that I stay alone ... without family, and you will begin to understand why I can really save more here.

The other reason is a little difficult to understand. The thing is that I have practised for a long, long time in Mumbai ... for nearly 24 years. Most Mumbaikars will know what I mean when I say that life in Mumbai is really hectic. There are daily pressures of the kind even rich people cannot escape. Add to that the huge problems related to overcrowding, poor administration, corruption, the need to visit various municipal and governmental offices every now and then, the problems of hygiene, living standards, environmental pollution, etc. etc. etc. I guess life here in the Kingdom is bereft of several freedom-related conveniences, yes, but look what you get: you get a country that is free from tax worries, an efficient administration, problem-free stay (as long as you are legit and avoiding things that are proscribed), a clean environment, sparse population, and so on ... and you might, just might, start thinking of staying on. 

In my case, there is a third, more personal reason. The fact is that I have not really saved much in India, and have arrived in the Kingdom at a relatively late age of 51.8 years. I know that old age, like time and tide, does not wait for anyone. At my current age, I am trying to get a British qualification - a M.R.C.P. C.H. certificate, and if I do succeed, I can take a shot at employment in some other, more advanced, more free country. But the chances of these people wanting a 54 year old Pediatrician is a bit slim, as they would need to pay an age-commensurate salary for a person of my experience. This would increase their CTC, and they would definitely hesitate to take me on. Plus the fact that I would retire in about 6-8 years' time after they appoint me - this would certainly discourage me from appointing my own self if I were the employer!

I have therefore decided, much against my earlier wishes, to perhaps stay on for another half contract, and to exit by May 2015. At that point of time, I hope that I would have cleared my last exam for the MRCPCH, and have found another employment elsewhere. Or, I would have identified an observer course in another country to specialise in a Pediatric sub-speciality, and to join that course and advance my career further. For this to happen, I would need to research available courses on the net and through my friends based in developed countries. If that option works out, I would end up spending a lot of cash towards the course fees and the stay in that country, but I would emerge better qualified than I am at present. 

So, that's how the thinking goes at the moment. I would appreciate if you, dear readers, are able to help me select the right options and to suggest whatever you wish to. 

Thank you.