I first became suspicious that the company provided category C medical insurance wasn’t “all that” when I phoned the number on the back of the insurance card.
“Yes hello, I’m new to the country and I’ve been taken ill and would like to know how do I go about seeing a GP?”
“What category are you? It should say on your card?”
“Um, it says class C, is that it?”
“Oh…! I don’t think you’re allowed to see a GP then.”
Not allowed to see a GP? So what exactly do I get with this policy, a 50% za’tar discount at my local bizza blace?
It turned out that I’m basically only entitled to have emergencies. Anytime I’m taken ill, I have to turn up at one of the few hospitals that’ll have me, make my way to the Accident and Emergency unit and try to convince the doctor there that the sniffles I’m suffering from warrants his attention.
Medicine is big business in insurance based societies and doctors here are consequently extremely prescription happy.
I was once literally given 6 boxes of various types of medicine when I went seeking a doctor’s note for a heavy flu that was keeping me in bed. In the UK I would probably have been politely asked why I was bothering the GP with something so trivial and reminded of the ability to self-certify oneself as being sick for any absence from work less than seven days.
Medicine? Yes. They’ll laden you heavier than a Santa Claus but sick notes? No!
The insurance companies tell the doctors that someone missing work is very “bad!”
Basically, if you’re well enough to be able to explain to a doctor that you’re ill then you’re perceived as being well enough to go to work.
If you haggle you might be able to get a 24 hour sick note but expect to undergo a severe brow beating in the process.
One doctor very grudgingly gave me a solitary day’s sick note when I pointed out that I had a fever, was very weak and liable to faint if I stood up. As he handed me the note he informed me “Here, but I do not want to see you back here tomorrow.”
Also, getting sick on a Friday isn’t recommended. It’s better to ensure that your immune system is more immune on jumu’ah.
Injuries and illnesses should be confined to weekdays and also to normal working hours if at all possible. Hospitals aren’t particularly hospitable to Friday visitors, empty yes; but able to help you – unlikely.
And people have clearly learnt and adapted to this judging by the empty waiting rooms and corridors you’ll see if you actually venture down there on a Friday.
Then there’s the English language factor you might come across when you try to explain whatever it is that is amiss.
It’s not that people over here don’t speak English, it’s more that they don’t speak English in a manner that you’re used to hearing in, for instance, England.
A brief case in point:
I’d been suffering from an extended period of vomiting and had braved the A&E ward seeking some form of resolution.
The doctor went through the normal set of questions that I’d also expect to hear in the UK.
When did this first occur?
Are you otherwise fit and healthy?
Are you on any medication?
Do you feel any pain?
And then he just suddenly just said “Urination?”
“Uh..” I said “Yes, I do urinate.”
“No. Is it hot?”
Is it hot, I thought? Do you know in my entire life on this planet I don’t think it’s ever occurred to me to even once check the temperature of my urine? I mean, what does he think I do in the bathroom? Or maybe it’s me, maybe I’m strange and maybe it’s a totally normal thing for a person to regularly check for temperature fluctuations but that nobody has bothered to tell me this yet.
“Eh… I guess, it’s probably about normal temperature *shrug*”
“No. I mean, does it burn?”
“Oh!” as I finally start to comprehend “In that case, no!”
Anyway, having had enough “bad experiences” with the insurance compliant medical options, I opted to pay for my most recent set of treatment myself in a brivate hospital.
And I must say that private hospitals are better kitted out and decorated than any building I’ve ever seen before, either in “real life” or on TV.
I mean the lobby was littered with chandeliers, individual leather chairs for visitors and had a scenic pool with coy fish happily swimming around in and this wasn’t even a waiting room, I was just standing in the vast entrance hall next to the state of the art security desk.
I was soon sat in my consultant’s chair waiting while he was debating with a colleague which procedure to offer me. I heard him lean over and say to the other doctor “What category is he?” The reply came back “He’s cash!”
So one financial fleecing and a questionably necessary operation later, I can now offer my general advice about getting ill in Saudi Arabia. Quite succinctly – don’t!
Wait until you go back to the UK for a vacation and then get a sick as you want.