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A Fourth Qatari Travelogue: Health Care and Fate

This is the fourth in a series of essays written after a business trip to Qatar. The first one is here, the second one is here, and the third one can be found here.

When I found out that I was fixing to go to Qatar for a fourth time, I found myself wondering “whatever will I write about this time?”

I was going out to Qatar with a co-worker (let’s call him “Jason”, because that’s his name) who is only a little less introverted than I am and had been there before so it’s not like I would have felt an obligation to take him to the souk or the Villaggio Mall or, for that matter, go out in general, so I thought it’d be a trip full of 12 hour days, fast food rather than sit-down food, and then collapsing into bed only to do it all over again tomorrow.

“What in the heck would there be to write about that?”, I thought to myself. “Complain about the drivers again?”

Golly, was *I* wrong!

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Day one of the trip started poorly. We made it to the Colorado Springs airport and the first flight of the first part of the trip had maintenance issues so we missed that flight and that failure was followed by a bunch of little cascading failures for the rest of the day that resulted in us missing our flight in Germany and making us spend the night in Frankfurt.

We got there with enough time before sunset to stroll over to a mall that was within walking distance to get a plate of food and stretch our legs. The victory of neoliberalism is that every single mall in the (first) world is like every other single mall in the (first) world. The food court is likely to have food that is local to the region and “exotic” food that is familiar to the region, but if you squinted and ignored the occasional umlaut as you walked past the stores to the food court, you’d have sworn that you were in Danbury or Reno or Austin.

There was even a Chipotle in the food court! I suppose that there is one difference between over there and over here: we noticed that they served more European portions. “It’s a flauta restaurant”, Jason quipped.

We found a Wurst counter and I put in my order and the lady asked me “Mild or Spicy?” and I brightened and said “Spicy!” and she served it up and I went to eat and… German “spicy” is not like American “spicy” at all. The “mild” packets you get at Taco Bell are spicier. This was about as spicy as Heinz 57.

Wandering back to the hotel, we took the elevator up and there was a poster in the elevator advertising the “American-style Sports Bar” with the phrase “I’ll have a double cheeseburger and a Diet Pepsi” and I found myself thinking “man, that does sound good” before thinking “HEY THEY’RE MAKING FUN OF ME”.

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We got to Doha and collapsed into our own individual hotel rooms the first night. The next morning, Jason told me that he was calling in sick and I should just go in without him. I went to work, went about my day, checked up on him when I got back and he was still feeling crappy but we managed to walk to get some self-care products from a little pharmacy in the mall attached to the hotel (note: it was exactly like every other single mall in the (first) world) and we got something to eat and then finished off the day.

It was the next day that he said “I’m feeling really, really short of breath. We need to go to a clinic.”

And then this is the story of getting health care in a foreign country.

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But before I tell you that story, I’ma have to tell you this one.

Driving to work one day, we saw a window sticker in the back of one of the trucks that passed us. It consisted of two lines. The top line was in Arabic and I don’t know what it said but I presume that it was translated in the second line which said “God Wills It”.

Which is one of those statements that sums up the driving over there. If God wants me to live, I will live. If God wants me to die, I will die. What is the use of my seat belt? Or turn signal? Or traffic laws in general?

The representative horrible driving story from this trip is the guy in the far right lane of a 4 lane road realizing at the last minute that he wanted to turn left and then turning so hard that he was driving *PERPENDICULAR* to the flow of traffic in order to get into the left-turn lane.

We hit the brakes and the wheels locked and the tires squealed and I was sure that I was going to t-bone him but, no, we stopped a few feet from him and then I was sure that I was going to get rear-ended and t-bone him anyway… but I wasn’t and I didn’t and he continued on his merry way, driving perpendicular to the road in order to get to where he felt like going.

Hey, if God wanted him to make the turn, he’d make the turn. And if God wanted him to die, following the same driving conventions as the other drivers would be no help.

He successfully made his left turn. God willed it.

Here’s a list of professions not eligible to apply for a driver’s license in Qatar.

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Early on in the trip, we visited the little currency exchange shoppe they had in the mall attached to our hotel. The Qatari Riyal has been holding, more or less, steady at .275 over the last five years with a little jump or dip here or there but, for the most part, you get just under 4 Riyal for a buck.

I walked in, took out a $100, and handed it to the gentleman behind the bulletproof glass. He asked me for my passport, I handed it to him, he checked to make sure that my passport was genuine, called his supervisor over, his supervisor checked to make sure that both my passport and my $100 were genuine, the supervisor gave the nod, the guy behind the window handed me my passport back along with 360 Riyal and a printed reciept.

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We first drove to a public clinic and walked through the door. It was what you might imagine a public clinic would look like in a 3rd World Country. After about 30 seconds, we turned around and walked out. We googled for private clinics in Doha and found one with all kinds of people complaining about how expensive the clinic was and we were grateful for our credit cards as we drove to it.

We parked in the parking garage under the clinic and then walked through construction to make our way to the counter . We passed a foreign laborer who was using his drill on some drywall and we noticed that his drill was modified somewhat. We saw that his drill had a cord that was originally only about 3-4 feet long and that was, apparently, too short to do work so, at some point, he cut the cord and rewired it manually to give it a 20-foot cord, with the two original halves of the cord still there at the ends. We stepped gingerly over the new wiring on our way to the front.

As Jason went up to talk to the receptionist, I checked out the 80″ television they had on the wall that was displaying the different departments and the various doctors associated with the various departments. Oncology, dentistry, Ob/Gyn, all kinds of stuff. A couple of scrolls on the bottom caught my eye and I noticed that they went left to right, rather than right to left… which meant that I had to start reading at the end of any given sentence and backfill as the scroll let me catch up to the beginning.

At the very bottom, Latin text was scrolling and I found myself recognizing it. I was kind of confused… I mean, I’m over-educated but I’m not *THAT* over-educated that I recognize long strings of Latin. Phrases, sure. But long strings? “Ut enim ad minim veniam”, how do I know that? Is it the Hippocratic Oath? But isn’t that in Greek rather than Latin? Then it scrolled to the first two words in the paragraph: Lorem Ipsum.

Jason came over to me and showed me the paperwork they printed out for him. Next to Ethnicity, they had “American Samoan”. Our best guess was that “American Samoan” was the first one with “American” and that’s what the receptionist put down for him.

I pointed out the Lorem Ipsum on the scroll and he said “you’ve got to be kidding me”.

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He got called to meet with the medical assistant to get his numbers taken and written down next to “American Samoan” and meet with the doctor. He came out with another printout and he explained to me that the doctor didn’t really speak English but got the gist from the labored breathing and coughing. Jason got diagnosed with Severe Bronchitis and the doctor prescribed 15 minutes on oxygen and two shots: Megion and Volataren.

Jason was also given a prescription for an oral antibiotic and we were told to use the pharmacy right around the corner.

We walked up to the pharmacist and handed him the prescription paper and he read it and then his face brightened and his eyes were dancing with laughter as he looked at Jason and asked “Your name is Jason? Like in the horror film?”

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Megion and Volataren are, when you google them, Ceftriaxone and Diclofenac.

If you’re not familiar with either, Ceftriaxone is an antibiotic that tends to get used when other antibiotics just won’t work. It’s one of the drugs they use with bacterial meningitis, for example.

Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that was found to seriously increase “major vascular events”.

After we got back to the hotel, I dropped Jason off in his room to get some serious sleep so he could recover from his day at the clinic.

He later told me that he considered calling me and taking him to the clinic again because he could feel his pulse in his eyes, his temples, his neck, his thumbs… everywhere. The antibiotic also did a good job of killing dang near all of the flora and fauna he had been cultivating in his intestines.

The stuff did a number on his kidneys, too. “It was like I was peeing coffee”, he told me the next day.

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We discussed the cost of the trip to the private clinic at some point. My buddy explained to me that he pays about $200 bucks a week for his family’s health insurance here in the US.

“Do you have insurance?” the receptionist asked. “Well, I’ve got this,” and he gave her his insurance card and she apologized to him explaining that that they didn’t accept that and, unfortunately, he’d have to pay full price.

He told me he braced himself thinking “this is gonna cost around $6000” and he nodded and they told him that it was 200 Qatari Riyal to see the doctor.

After seeing the doctor, it was another 100 Riyal for the Oxygen, Ceftriaxone, and Diclofenac.

Then, at the pharmacy, he had to shell out another 100 Riyal for the stuff he got there.

That’s 400 Riyal. Start to finish.

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I didn’t know how to really evaluate the whole medical thing, given that I Am Not A Medical Professional, but then I thought “hey, I know a guy!” and so I fired off an email to our very own Dr. Saunders. I wrote him the following:

Hello!

It’s me. I need your professional medical opinion, if you can offer it.

While we were in Qatar, my buddy came down with some shortness of breath and we went to a private clinic to get him treated.

They diagnosed him with severe bronchitis and put him on oxygen for 15 minutes and gave him two shots: Megion and Volataren

In my googling, I found that the two official names for these drugs are Ceftriaxone and Diclofenac.

My questions are:

Is this right? Megion and Volataren are Ceftriaxone and Diclofenac? I don’t want to get that part wrong.

Also, is it right that my immediate response to finding out that this was how they treated bronchitis is something like “horror”? Should I instead be saying “well, that’s pretty much what he would have gotten if he visited a half-decent clinic in the US”?

Thanks!

He wrote me back:

I had to google Megion myself, since that’s a brand name I’ve never heard of, but it appears the ceftriaxone is the correct drug. I’ve heard of Voltaren, though have never prescribed it myself, and diclofenac is the correct generic name.

So, with a HUGE caveat that I do not take care of adults, and (as stated above) never prescribe diclofenac, my take is that your friend’s treatment was insane. Unless there are further details I am missing (entirely possible), I am wholly unaware of any role for diclofenac in the treatment of any respiratory illness at all. Perhaps a pulmonologist would give you a different answer, but I have no idea why that medication would have been chosen.

Similarly, I have no idea why they would give oxygen for 15 minutes, or why they would given an injection of a broad-spectrum antibiotic like ceftriaxone. I give that medication as a shot sometimes, but typically only when oral options have failed for some reason or another. I suppose if they were concerned about a severe respiratory infection that would be an appropriate option, but in that case he should have been admitted for further treatment and observation. I would not be giving people shots for severe infections leading to oxygen requirement, then saying “see ya later!”

Hope that helps!

I got his permission before posting the contents of his email to me.

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I showed everything above to Jason to let him give his opinion on what I wrote before I hand it to the editors to work their magic and he wrote back:

The voltaren was for chest pain. They prescribed a drug to treat my chest pain that causes heart attacks.

Also with that antibiotic they didn’t just give me a shot… I got a litre of the stuff.

So those are his edits and clarifications to the above.

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For what it’s worth, my buddy got better.

God willed it.


Staff Writer
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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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44 thoughts on “A Fourth Qatari Travelogue: Health Care and Fate

  1. I assume that the word in Arabic was “Inshallah” — “if god wills it”, which is a ridiculously common benediction in Arabic.

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    • First, I must point out that “Meat Mechanic” was the name of my band in high school.

      Second, I realize that I have no idea what one is either.

      Third, I google. I note that Urban Dictionary contains the term, but I imagine that that’s not what Qatar is talking about.

      Dude.

      I have no idea. Butcher? Maybe?

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      • Butcher is on there as its own thing. The site says the list translated from Arabic, so there might be specific Arabic word(s) (or Qatar specific terms) for the job of the person that maintains the equipment in a butcher shop and/or meat processing facility?

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      • I always wanted to name the band “Cooler Heads,” but I couldn’t get anyone to go along with me.
        Considering how ridiculously easy it was to talk my bandmates (any of them) into doing stupid sh!t, it’s absolutely pathetic that I couldn’t muster at least one more vote for “Cooler Heads.”
        Had I suggested naming the band “Marimba,” I probably would have gotten the response: “Marimba? Hey, that’s pretty cool!” and they would oppose all attempt to name the band something else, even after pointing out that there’s no marimba in the band.

        I suppose you could say that artistic license is properly restricted, though not to the degree driver’s licenses are in Qatar, God willing, of course.

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      • Oxy-acetylene, I’d think.

        That whole list is … um… I. How do they even do their work? How do farm goods get to market? How do electricians get materials to construction sites? Do milkmen in Qatar still use horse-drawn milk carts? By the time I got halfway through that list, I was scrolling back up to see if “bus driver” or “trucker” were on the list…

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        • @joe-sal

          I suspect that many of these jobs are not done by Qatari citizens based on my admittedly limited knowledge of how many Middle-eastern petrochemical states operate. My guess is that the workers are driven to and from their worksites and dorms in a way to limit their mobility/freedom.

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            • Assuming that the government of Qatar aims to avoid being nice to foreign workers – they still want them to get their work done, no? Like, you may dislike the milkmen (spit!) of the country because they’re temporary workers from Pakistan (spit!) or wherever, but wouldn’t you still prefer them to deliver more milk per trip than will fit in a backpack?

              Or are they supposed to get their licenses in their home country and have them recognized in Qatar?

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              • You think they care about efficiency? When they pay manual labor single dollars a day (and recoup some of that for ‘living expenses’) and still have literally millions of people still willing to travel and take those jobs?

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                • One of the things I noticed the first time I went out there was a bunch of people working in the middle of a… field? Plane? What’s the word for if you’re in a desert? In the middle of an expanse.

                  It was more than 110 degrees and the sun was beating down like a hammer. My main thoughts were something like “why not get some lights and work at night?”

                  Heck, until very recently, Qatar had free electricity. Even now, electricity over there is cheap as hell.

                  But you know what? It’s still more expensive than hiring slaves and making them work when the sun is out.

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              • Qatar is infamous for mistreating its foreign workers. Amnesty International’s reports on the conditions for construction for the 2022 World Cup are bad enough* that some of the “name” countries have asked that the Cup tournament be moved elsewhere. FIFA seems to have their heels dug in, so there are beginning to be mutterings about boycotts. Qatar passed laws last month that forbid the worst practices, but there’s a lot of doubt whether the government will enforce them and start flogging Qatari citizens.

                * We’re still more than five years out, and the construction worker deaths on the World Cup infrastructure is already into the low hundreds.

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                  • How are they defining “other sites”? There are, IIRC, six stadiums under construction and two being expanded to host the Cup. Also substantial airport and rail expansions specifically for the Cup.

                    The Qatari authorities have not covered themselves in truthiness wrt the Cup preparations. They were awarded the Cup by promising twelve stadiums, all twelve and the approaches to be climate-modulated so that the tournament could be held at its traditional time (Northern Hemisphere summer). In the weeks after the award, the Qataris unilaterally moved the tournament to November — punching a month-long hole in the schedule for most of the world’s top leagues — compressed the schedule, and eliminated four arenas. Any one of those should have cost them the award. FIFA is still trying to figure out how big the bribes were that kept the since-booted top FIFA officials from retracting the award. The 2026 Cup award is effectively on hold, I suspect because the new top officials are trying to figure out how to say, “We’ve decided that the Cup will be played in first-world countries from now on.”

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            • Not a Qatari citizen. You’d have to pay a *LOT* to get a Qatari citizen to do that.

              You’d probably pay someone from a more trusted country, though.

              (We were going through the want ads of one of the newspapers there and multiple places were *VERY* specific in where they wanted their workers to come from. There was a Day Spa that wanted Filipinos and only Filipinos, for example.)

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  2. I wish I had an interesting comment to leave here, but I don’t. What I will say is that this might be one of my favorite Jaybird pieces ever…. so kudos for that. What a nice bit of storytelling.

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  3. My last major illness was severe Bronchitis in March 2006. It was during mid-terms during my second semester of graduate school. I annoyed my entire theatre history class by being unable to breathe properly during the exam (I sounded like someone who was breathing air after nearly drowning). Then I went to the clinic and was told I had severe Bronchitis and given an antibiotic of some sort.

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  4. Note to self: Don’t get sick in Qatar. Or better still, only go to Qatar when you’re finally rich enough to take your private physician.

    I enjoyed this. Thank you.

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  5. One of the things that I was going to work into the essay but cut out was the radio station whiplash that sounded like whiplash to me… but probably didn’t to them.

    My favorite examples of whiplash were Whitesnake and Carly Simon right next to each other. (The Carly song was “You’re So Vain” but the Whitesnake song was a deeeeeep cut that I’d never heard before.)

    Another was when they played something that sounded like Ghost’s “Pinacle to the Pit” followed by Creedence.

    Hey. It’s heavy on the vocals, there’s a guitar, there’s a bassline, and there’s drums. Why wouldn’t you put these songs next to each other?

    There was also an awful lot of booty songs played after sundown. I heard “Don’t Hurt Me” which, seriously, got stuck in my head (it’s still there!) and after I got a chance to really listen to it, I find myself saying “WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING PLAYING THIS ON THE RADIO”. Seriously: it’s not work safe.

    But listen to it when you get home. It’s pretty good.

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  6. The representative horrible driving story from this trip is the guy in the far right lane of a 4 lane road realizing at the last minute that he wanted to turn left and then turning so hard that he was driving *PERPENDICULAR* to the flow of traffic in order to get into the left-turn lane.

    I think I see this about once a week in Houston.

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  7. The representative horrible driving story from this trip is the guy in the far right lane of a 4 lane road realizing at the last minute that he wanted to turn left and then turning so hard that he was driving *PERPENDICULAR* to the flow of traffic in order to get into the left-turn lane.

    Were you in Qatar or Oakland?

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  8. Yes, but was there food at the clinic? More food, less phlegm.

    Also, you would need electric infrastructure to support your lights in the broad expanse of the desert. Probably the only option would be gas Generators. Do you know how expensive Gas is?!?!

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    • No food at the clinic, at least where 2nd Class Citizens were concerned. There was a water cooler next to the ATM and the Charity Kiosk.

      I’m not entirely certain that we would have wanted to eat food at the clinic. There was an air of vague unsanitariness. It’d be hard to describe. Like, there was trash everywhere. Empty cups from the cooler. Yesterday’s newspapers. Smeared glossy brochures in English and Arabic describing the Patients’ Bill Of Rights.

      Imagine going to the Emergency Room in the richest part of Vegas. It sort of felt like that.

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  9. The richest part of Vegas? Scented air, alcohol fueled entertainment, gleaming modern steel and glass, posters of women striking sensuous poses reminding you that flu shots are… mind blowing? That Vegas?

    Or did you mean sad Vegas… like the Tropicana?

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