Saudi Arabia: One Aspect of Distinctions in Cancer Care


Yesterday as I sat in a comfortable reclining chair at the Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina while receiving my bi-weekly infusions my mind flashed back to 2008 when my late husband received his own infusions at King Faisal Cancer Center in Riyadh. The general process of receiving an infusion was the same but it was the approach and atmosphere that stood out in stark difference.

Since my diagnosis of Stage IV metastatic breast cancer I must receive regular bi-weekly infusions of medications in addition to taking other medications by mouth.  To make it easier and less stressful on my body to receive the infusions, a power port has been implanted underneath the skin in my arm.  As a result, I no longer need to be stuck with needles whether it is to draw blood or to give me an infusion of medication via an IV.

Abdullah also had a port to facilitate receipt of his own infusions, drawing of blood and for administration of chemotherapy.  His port was called a hickman line.  The catheter was implanted surgically under the skin but with the hickman line, the “caps” where meds were inserted remained visible outside of his body.  The hickman line is not as commonly used in the United States and requires additional care and precautions to avoid infections.

When I receive my infusions the atmosphere in the Infusion Unit is relaxing, friendly and comfortable.  Each patient is taken to a spacious room which holds two comfortable recliner chairs, adjustable tray on wheels for personal items, television and wireless internet.  Patients are encouraged to have a caregiver or friend with them for company.  Chairs are available for the caregiver and friend.  Depending on how busy the unit is the caregiver may use the second recliner chair.  If it is a busy day, two patients will receive treatment side by side in one room.  However if a patient desires privacy, a curtain can be drawn which separates the two patients.  For patients who may be weak and uncomfortable in a reclining chair there is a separate room which holds two beds and accompanying chairs for caregivers.

At the King Faisal Cancer Center patients receiving infusions on an outpatient basis first check in either at the men or the women counter depending on gender of the patient.  The patient is also encouraged to have a family member present but in most cases the family member is of the same gender as the patient.  Instead of separate rooms with comfortable chairs and amenities for patients, the outpatient infusion unit is a “ward like” atmosphere.  The unit is comprised of rows of beds separated by high tall opaque curtains.  There are no televisions or wireless internet amenities.  Male patients receive infusions at one end of the unit and female patients receive their infusions at the other end of the unit.

A cancer patient’s infusion on an outpatient basis can take as little as 10 minutes to as long as ten hours. My experience as a patient at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville is that the staff and a team of volunteers do all they can to make the experience pleasant and comfortable.  Patients are offered refreshments on arrival and after their infusions have begun are given a menu for a complimentary meal. The nursing team is professional and friendly.  Volunteers will come and check on patients throughout their infusion offering warm blankets, magazines or simply to sit and chat.

By comparison the infusion unit in Riyadh was a quiet and somber atmosphere.  Patients did not intermingle or talk to one another.  They remained aloof from each other.  The patient and caregiver may chat in quiet somber tones with one another.  Usually the sounds one would hear penetrating through the opaque curtain were voices reading from the Quran.  A nurse would check occasionally on the patient; there were no volunteers.  The patient would be offered water or juice but the caregiver would usually bring home-cooked food for the patient to eat.

During my bi-weekly infusions at Presbyterian Hospital I interact with other patients.  We share about our feelings and challenges of living life with cancer.  We support each other and learn from each other.  Such outreach is missing in Saudi Arabia.  There are the invisible barriers in place which are not crossed.  It seems expected that a Saudi will bear cancer stoically and quietly.


14 Responses

  1. That’s unfortunate that it would be that way in KSA. The patient’s state of mind is SO very important for recovery. I wonder how difficult it would be to make some changes in the Saudi way of dealing with chemo. I bet the king could throw a few million dollars into a few state of the art cancer treatment centers for his subjects, no?

  2. The medical skills and latest technologies do exist. The King Faisal Cancer Centre and its Children Cancer Centre are excellent facilities…however the approach and mindset of the mental aspect of treatment is still tied to the culture of privacy.

  3. Yes, I understand that but I would think they could afford to build a building that could have separate rooms rather than ‘wards’ so that the patient could have the privacy s/he needs and also whatever support they wish to have with them while preserving the privacy of others. All the latest technologies are nothing if the patient’s state of mind is not in the best state. I think that the best medical care keeps the ‘whole’ patient in mind.

  4. Hi! While I was driving around my neighborhood near Thalatheen Street (towards Tamimi Market with the Faisaliah Tower as point of origin), I passed by a medium-sized building with a marker that says “Saudi Cancer Society”. Since then I’ve always noticed that building but never really went in or asked what exactly they do, but who knows, it could be some sort of support group. I don’t know anyone that close to me who has cancer but I also believe that patients, whatever illness they may be enduring, need support and interaction with others to make them feel comfortable and unisolated.

  5. Stoicism is rarely a good thing. Aside from all of the emotions swirling about with no where to go – the chance to connect to another person for some relief and support is also lost. How dreadful for those without the opportunities you are having to connect and be calm during this difficult time.

  6. The picture you paint of the saudi care is stark, but there is one element I would find healing–that is a sound bath in God’s Word

  7. Question: would Saudi’s prefer the American style care if it were available?

  8. I should note that I described care at the largest and best known governmental hospital in the country for cancer care. Only Saudi nationals or hospital employees are eligible for care at KFSH&RR to include the Cancer Centre. Then again, this may also illustrate one aspect of why many Saudis who are able choose to go elsewhere (out of the Kingdom) for care.

  9. I’m confused. Only Saudi Nationals r hospital employees are eligible for care? Who are the Saudis that choose to go elsewhere if they are not Saudi Nationals?

    What do those who live in KSA but are not Saudi Nationals do if they find they have cancer?

  10. Sorry for the confusion… Saudi nationals and/or expatriate employees may receive care at KFSH&RC. However there are a wide number of choices and facilities in Saudi to receive care. There is Kingdom Hospital (private); Saudi-British Hospital; Saudi-German Hospital; Saudi-French Hospital; Habib Medical Center and many others. Yet if the diagnosis while in the Kingdom is Cancer, then KFCC is the largest and best (in my view) for cancer care if the diagnosis is a rare or aggressive cancer.

  11. […] No matter where an individual is treated for cancer, be it Saudi Arabia or in the USA, the nurse(s) can make a significant difference in a patient and caregiver’s attitude and desire […]

  12. […] talked about the loss of my own husband to this dreaded disease.  I’ve written comparisons about distinctions in cancer care between Saudi Arabia and the […]

  13. […] about the loss of my own husband to this dreaded disease.  I’ve written comparisons about distinctions in cancer care between Saudi Arabia and the […]

  14. […] about the loss of my own husband to this dreaded disease.  I’ve written comparisons about distinctions in cancer care between Saudi Arabia and the […]

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