April 29, 2011

You Have Got to be Kidding Me

Yesterday I had a serious meltdown.

I have been trying to find a specialist doctor for several months now, and they are in short supply here. Perhaps because men outnumber women so substantially. I have made several appointments which were canceled after I arrived. I have gone to the walk-in hospital only to be told there were no doctors working. And calling a variety of medical centres, I was told that sort of doctor was not a part of their practice.

So when I found a place called the Women's Health Centre, I was relieved. Finally, I thought. I was a patient at a women's health center in Long Beach and had extremely positive experiences there. The doctors have great people skills and there is always chocolate around. I was in for a very unpleasant surprise.

It is possible, I will concede, that the doctors at this Women's Health Centre are wonderful. But I never got the chance to find out. I called yesterday morning to see if I could be seen that day. Do you want a male or female doctor the receptionist asked? I said it didn't matter as long as I could come in today. The woman said fine, come in now and it will be no problem.

She did not take my name or number, or give me any instruction. I'm used to the name and number thing -- here it seems like the only people who keep track of you are the beauty salons.

So I show up at the centre and my number is called immediately. I am (foolishly) optimistic. I sit down with the woman and she says what is your phone number. I tell her its my first visit, and the phone receptionist told me to come in right away. She says she will have to start a file for me.

Then she drops the bomb. She needs my passport. I don't typically carry my passport, and now that I have an Emirates ID -- which surely has far more information about me than my passport -- there is no need for it. I tell her I don't have it with me, and ask if she'll accept the ID. She says no.

And then: She says she needs A LETTER FROM MY HUSBAND AND A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE. Sorry to shout here. But let that sink in a minute. I am at a women's clinic as a married woman (Yes, she did ask) and I am not there for anything illegal (like birth control for a single woman).

I'm flabbergasted. I'm agitated. I say, that's ridiculous and I leave in a huff. Fortunately, my taxi driver has not gone far and he comes back to get me and take me to work.

Once back at work, the shock starts to wear off and I totally lose it. Perhaps some of it was the annoyance of asking for a passport. But then I start to realize that it's not anger I feel, but humiliation. I am a grown woman, here in the UAE on my own visa, with my own health insurance and I must have my husband's permission to see a doctor?

I have a meltdown. It's not reasonable, I know. I might be willing to admit that it may have been hormonal, but I can't get past it. I can't deal with the fact that I have been dismissed this way, by a woman, in a healthcare facility that is for women.

The more I think about it, the more upset I get. I go outside and call a doctor I have seen before (but really did not like -- there seems to be a consensus among women in my office; it is nearly impossible to find a competent and likable doctor). The office says she's working a half day, and will be there until 1pm. It is about noon at this point. I ask if she could possibly see me right now. The receptionist says, well, the doctor isn't there. I said, but she's working until 1, right? And she says yes, she's working from 11 to 1 (and since when is that a half day, but whatever) and she hasn't arrived yet, even though her earlier patients have, so she can't see me.

I am seriously having trouble keeping it together. I haven't been able to talk to Paul, because he's in an interview. I really need to talk to him. He can usually talk me off the ledge when I get like this. But he's not around. And that makes it a little worse. I have to tell him what happened.

Then, two dear, dear, colleagues and friends step in. I recount the story to them, we go outside to talk about it and they are absolutely outraged on my behalf. I'm frustrated because all I want is a doctor's appointment. Why should that be so difficult?

One is a health reporter and the other is just a seriously fierce woman who happens to have great connections. They decide a particular doctor at a specialty hospital is the answer. The health reporter calls up and pretends to be me, and requests an urgent appointment. She makes sure nothing is required other than my health card.

Then the seriously fierce woman calls the owner/president/chief bottlewasher at the hospital and explains the predicament. He assures her there will be no problems, I will get the VIP treatment.

I take off from work again, I go to the hospital. The receptionist is very nice to me. She asks for nothing but my insurance card. I wait my turn for the doctor, and I see a very nondescript man walk into her office. (It turns out he's the big-wig my colleague called). He walks out and she immediately calls me in. She is very no-nonsense. There is no chatting, there is just an explanation of the problem, an exam, some tests and some prescriptions. Fifteen minutes and my problem is on its way to being solved.

Before they downgraded my insurance, this all would have been free. On my way out, I am asked for a Dh25 co-pay ($6.80). I go to the lab, I go to the pharmacy (where I don't pay for the drugs) and I'm done. It has all taken about 20 minutes, start to finish.

When I get back to the office the two women ask me how it went and if everything was OK. They are very, very kind. In the meantime, they have found another doctor they think I will like more, for the next time. My health reporter colleague tells me this is why she goes to Jordan for her healthcare, which means she has neglected her health. It explains why another reporter goes to Lebanon for her healthcare. They assure me there won't be anymore humiliation. I feel nobody has ever done something so kind for me.

It takes me all day to sort of get calm. I can't figure out why I'm reacting so badly, but ultimately it doesn't matter. I just am.

You think that it's the big things that can get you down: being a woman in a man's job, being a woman in a male-dominated society. But those are the easy things. It's being treated like you have no say in your life, having someone demand your husband's permission before you can receive healthcare that's really a devastating experience.

And it makes me feel bad for the single women with serious problems here. It's no wonder so many things go unreported or are not taken care of: the possibility of humiliation is too great.


Single and Smiling said...

I am considering a move to Abu Dhabi as a single american woman. This post makes me very nervous, can you please give me some advice on your view of how single women are treated in the culture there? I am very glad that you were able to find assistance especially in the medical field. This has been one of my main concerns.

Leah Reiter said...

Hi -- I don't know how to respond to you privately, but I would say you have little to worry about. It is generally very safe here, and medical treatment ordinarily is not a problem. Most of the women I work with are single and have few, if any, problems living here. Good luck!