Saudi Arabia: Health Care and Grief Management


Today marks 14 months since my late husband, Abdullah, left this earthly world.  I have learned so much about differing types of cancers and associated treatments from when he was diagnosed in October 2008.  I continue to battle my own war with cancer too.

Both of us were initially diagnosed and treated in Saudi Arabia then ultimately returned to the United States for further treatment. Just because we did return to the United States for treatment it should not be interpreted that Saudi Arabia does not have the ability to treat cancer patients. Saudi Arabia has excellent physicians and staff who care for cancer patients.  Common cancers among patients in the Kingdom are breast cancer and leukemia.

What –is- lacking in Saudi Arabia that can make fighting the battle more difficult is a degree of openness among patients, family and hospital staff to discuss and better prepare the patient and family.  For example, most hospitals in the United States have a patient advocate whose job is to ensure that the patient and family are informed about the specific type of cancer and forthcoming treatment.  In addition, the advocate and oncology medical team will instruct and advise both patient and family members on how to make the patient most comfortable while undergoing treatment and combating side effects.  The atmosphere in the United States, in my opinion, is overall brighter and more encouraging for a cancer patient and family members.  No question is too silly to ask.  Training on how to properly care for the cancer patient is provided.  Support groups for all, individually or together, are available.  Cancer is a disease but the patient and family members are looked upon as warriors rather than victims.

In addition to treating the disease, the mental aspects of how the disease affects the patient and family members needs to be addressed better in Saudi Arabia.  This is one cultural aspect where the veil of privacy should be removed.  The patient and surrounding family members’ mental state of mind should also be viewed as a healing treatment in addition to the other medications the patient is prescribed.  A positive outlook and positive surroundings DO impact on the patient’s ability to fight.

I remember when Abdullah was advised he should have a stem cell transplant.  We were still in Saudi Arabia.  King Faisal Cancer Centre is the place of choice within the GCC to have such a procedure performed.  Yet when the process of treatment was explained to Abdullah I will never forget the first words he said to me.  “I’ll die if they put me in that room like a prisoner or like an animal on display.”  In order to protect the stem cell transplant from germs, viruses or catching any kind of illness, the patient is isolated in a room with windows on three sides.  Visitors, which included family members, are prohibited from entering the room.  Only medical staff who are garbed in gowns, masks and gloves can enter the room.  Others who wish to see the patient must use a phone for conversation and view each other through the glass.

I am glad Abdullah chose at that stage of his treatment to go to the United States.  Instead of viewing through the glass, I was able to sit beside him and hold his hand as he received his stem cell treatment. The personal physical touch made a huge difference to both of our emotional and mental state of minds.

Now as I continue to fight my own battle, I do believe Abdullah is among those who are watching over me.  I still miss his physical presence more than I can describe in spite of all the words available.  His deep penetrating eyes full of emotion were always able to send so many non-verbal messages.  I miss the holding of our hands and the three little squeezes we’d give which meant “I love YOU.” I miss the unique scent of his presence which I found reassuring when he was not around.  But today and for as many tomorrow’s I may have, Abdullah shows me his spiritual presence.  It may be in the gift of a brilliant red cardinal perched on my porch or his favorite song playing on the radio when I am feeling lonely and missing him.  These small gifts make me smile and give me strength and encouragement to continue my own fight until God decides it is time for all of us to be reconciled.

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5 Responses

  1. Take time to smell the roses they say. What a priviledge it is to sit and appreciate the small things around that can give joy and enhance our memories of a life well lived. To realise that happiness is the sun the moon the trees the smells of early dew in the mornings, the sounds of birds etc. Most all of us are all too busy working and collecting things to do so. More is the pity.
    God Bless Carol

  2. AB,
    I am constantly amazed by your inner strength and positive attitude, no matter how tough life may get for you. Thank you for being such a good role model! I am sure Abdullah is watching over you. (hugs)

  3. You are in my thoughts. The love you show is beautiful.

  4. I am the proverbial Mother Hen over any and all I love! (smile)

  5. I really enjoyed ur blog. Pls visit mine for feedback =). Thanks

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