Surgery in the Middle East

Almost one year to the date of my spine surgery, I had to once again go under the knife. I thought only had a dislocated shoulder, but it turned out to be a Grade 5 separated shoulder. This is the type of injury rugby players usually get. I knew from the bulge coming out of my shoulder that it was bad, but it wasn't until I saw the x-ray image that I realize how bad it really was.
I left Yemen early in order to seek medical advice in Bahrain. I was glad to leave the bastard Wagdy behind in Socotra, he deserves to be dubbed worst island guide ever. One of my former Yemeni students was my flight attendant on the plane and he sat with me on the flight to let me know what he was doing with his life. Amazingly, he knew a miracle working doctor 45 minutes outside of Sana'a who could apparently fix me. As sweet and tempting as this offer was, I had to decline...the amount of pain I was in combined with the thought of having to get into an abeya dress and wear burkha and the drive to and from this doctor was too overwhelming for me.
Upon arrival at the airport in Sana'a, I tried to get a flight to Bahrain that night, but was not able to get on a Gulf Air...the only one was Yemenia and I would lose money. Flashbacks of being robbed by that airline came back to me, so I instead decided to wait one more evening before returning to Bahrain. A colleague of mine from Cairo is a freelance journalist in Sana'a and she offered to take me to the Saudi German hospital there to get checked out. I have to admit that my entire time in Yemen, I never once had to go to the hospital aside from when I had to get a mandatory HIV test in Aden. Now I was becoming well acquainted with nearly every medical facility imaginable. The doctor at the hospital agreed with the Soctori doctor that I would need surgery. As if to ease my anxiety, he then pulled up all these photos of metal plates as if I were going to say, yes! Let's do it right now!
Upset by it all, I returned to Bahrain the next day. I rented a Hertz car at the airport and was upset to not be able to turn off the hazard lights. I actually started screaming as a result, I think that all the stress went to my head. I drove to the American Mission Hospital where a jack ass of a doctor looked at me and said I was fine. He took some nursing tape and taped my shoulder...not even binded it...just taped it and then told me to come back in two weeks. He was Asian and for some reason it made me feel good I suppose due to the surgery I had in Taiwan. The next day I realized that the bump on my shoulder was still pretty damn bad so I sought a second opinion...I mean I couldn't even tie up my hair, so I had to cut it super short.
I went to another doctor and sure enough with the new set of x-rays I was in need of surgery. I was scheduled for surgery at the Bahrain Defense Force hospital where they boast about giving Royal Medical surgeon was always in military fatigues and when I was in the operating arena he was wearing a camoflage dew rag.
I had to have a reconstructive shoulder surgery with a metal plate put in my shoulder. Six months later the plate can be holds the bone in place to repair the fully ruptured ligaments.
An absolutely amazing colleague of mine drove me to and from the hospital and even gave me a teddy bear with a ribbon sling for support. If it were not for her, I think I would have completely lost it. It's not easy having surgery...but try having surgery without any kind of support network in a foreign country. It's not easy, but I think I'm going to be a pro soon.
In the end, the surgery was a success. I underwent physical therapy with a man named Socrates and oddly enough he was from the Philipines with absolutely no connection with Greece. I still have a metal plate, but it is set to be taken out in October or November...I'll return to Bahrain in order to have it done.

From Taipei to Socotra and a shoulder 'incident'

In late November of 2008, I left Taiwan and took a six-month contract in the Kingdom of Bahrain. My reason for leaving came from my feeling unsettled in Taiwan, not liking my job hours and having an incident with my manager, who basically ordered me to obey his ridiculous requests and hung up the phone on me. Life is too short to stay in a place where you don't want to be. So, I quit my job and hung out on an island called Penghu, where I swam in the sea and drank Taiwan beer. Within a week I had a job lined up in Bahrain.

Where is Bahrain? This is most likely the first question that pops into your head as it surely was mine. To give you an idea, it is a tiny island located in the Middle East right off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. There is a huge US Naval Base, which provides key support in many operations in the area.

For six months I worked at the International School of Choueifat as a Primary school/English teacher. Teaching children in a culture that virtually stresses no discipline and has no consequences is not the easiest of tasks; however, I survived.
When I first arrived in Bahrain, I learned that I would be given a month-long paid holiday. Many jobs don’t boast such a perk. I took advantage of my location and booked a flight to Egypt, where I spent the holidays. Strange to think how Cairo has become a second home to me now. I enjoyed spending the holidays with friends, but I was truly homesick. After I accidentally dropped the host on the ground at Christmas mass and the elderly priest nearly keeled over picking it up and then almost setting the church on fire when I tried to light some candles really put me off. I guess it is just a time when I may want to return home.

My only vacation during this time was to be a brief 10-day vacation on the deserted island of Socotra…owned by Yemen, but located closer to Somalia. I traveled by myself and the first few days were glorious aside from the pain in the ass tour guide named Wagdy. On the fourth day of travel I had an accident in the ocean. I was picked up by a wave and slammed down on a sand bar. When I came up from the water, I realized that my collar bone was jutting out. I was ‘rushed’ to the hospital (by this means a one hour drive on bumpy roads) braless and with sand on my face and wet hair blowing in my face.

I was rushed to the one room emergency area where a Russian doctor told me in broken English and Arabic that I needed surgery…this was upon just looking at me. I insisted I needed an x-ray, so they took me to the x-ray shack, which was locked. They gave me a plastic chair and I sat in the shade and waited. Finally, the man who was sleeping inside next to the x-ray table opened up the door and I, along with five other men, were in the room having some x-rays from the 1950s developed. I think my ovaries were radiated, but in situations and pain that I was feeling, I really didn’t care much. The x-ray did indeed reveal a break and a man ran from the x-ray shack to the emergency room ( a dingy room with two beds and a small desk) to show the doctor. I along with the doctor, tour guide, driver and random onlookers all stared at my x-ray illuminated on the wall. Again, the Russian man re-affirmed, “Surgery.” He then told me to leave the island. In the meantime, he chose to wrap my upper torso like a mummy with ace bandages. I told him that this just was not feasible, so he asked for a sling. Unfortunately, the latest shipment of slings was held up in Al Mukalla on the mainland due to pirated waters and would not be there for the next month. The solution to it all was to take the head scarf from my tour guide and make a very basic sling to support my arm. Rock on third world medicine!

Now in any other location a flight out would not be a problem, but Socotra is special. Flights to and from the island only operate on certain days. Mind you, my accident took place approximately 7am on a Monday apparently there is a flight that departs Mondays at 1pm; however, my brainless tourguide assumed that perhaps I wanted to stay in Socotra despite my collar bone sticking out of shoulder. When I asked him what days the flights left for Sana’a, he responded, “Mondays and Fridays.” Common sense would make one then ask if an injured person would want to leave, but oh not Wagdy. It was not until I was in the home of my driver when I learned of the departure time. By then it was too late to get on the flight. My driver, Ahmed, was kind enough to take me to his home where his family took care of me. I was put on a mattress in the corner of a room which served as a living space for a family of about 15. All of the women sat around me watching my every move to see if I was okay. The best part of it was that Wagdy was not allowed to enter the home because of the women present, a much needed break. The women insisted I shower, which proved unbearable in pain due to the severity of my injury.

I was escorted to a 4x4 space with a bucket and a toilet in the ground where I had to pour water one handed over me to try wash the sand from the sea off. There was no door, only a sheet which kept blowing around in the wind. I later had to use a stone to keep it in place. I could hear the women and children outside all wondering what the problem was with me. Every time I moved my arm I would lose my breath from the severity of the pain I felt. Finally, I finished the hefty task of showering, carefully redressed and walked out. Almost instantly I was surrounded by no less than twenty women, all wanting me to sit and read them English from an instruction manual of a television. It was obviously the highlight of the week in this little village, if not the year. I read about five lines and then insisted that I had to go to sleep.

By this time word had spread through the village that an injured foreigner had arrived in the village and the women were filling up the room to the point where they had to stand in the doorway. I could communicate with only two other women in Arabic because the rest only spoke a dialect of the island called Socotri. One of the women had what I thouth to be green henna all over her face. I found it odd given that when the green power is removed a red stain is left; however, she corrected my mistake by letting me know that it was some other kind of herb that protected her skin from the sun.
Food arrived, rice and beef. As unpleasant as an injury can be, it is even more unpleasant when fifty women are sitting around watching every move you make and especially while you are trying to eat. One hundred eyes watching your every move makes you lose your appetite a bit and is not very nice.

I suppose Wagdy got bored because I was then told via Ahmed that we had to leave. In retrospect I can now see what a naïve ass that Wagdy is. We left the home, myself showered and strapped in a blood stained sling lent to me by the family to go on dirt roads up a mountain and camp for the night. As soon as we got to the camp Wagdy flopped down on a mattress. Oh how I hated him. At that point I didn’t even care to hide it. I insisted I be put on the next flight out, which turned out to be two days away on a Wednesday.

I spent the night with other campers, a couple from Barcelona and an eccentric British man with an obsession with birds. The woman from Barcelona was a pharmacist and gave me some strong pain killers that undoubtedly saved me from killing Wagdy. After a nice dinner and a drum session played on used oil containers, I went to sleep in a tent and was feasted upon by vicious mosquitoes.

The following morning I returned to Hadibo, the main town and that evening I went to a local woman’s home on the recommendation of Wagdy. As it turns out, it was the only good thing Wagdy did as this woman had the most amazing talents with henna. We showed up at 7pm and she worked on my arms for three hours drawing intricate lines in black hair dye and later filling them with red henna. A woman came by to visit and told me she could have me engaged to her brother, I kindly declined the kind offer.
The following day I took an Arabia Felix flight to Sana’a. I could not believe it when I realized one of the flight attendant was Bast, a former student of mine from Sana’a. Then again, nothing comes as much of a surprise in Yemen to me anymore.