In 1978, after completing medical school and postgraduate training in the USA, I returned home to practice cardiology. At that time, the concept of a coronary care unit (CCU) was new; it was unheard of in Qatar, as it was only ten years old. I converted a room with two beds into a “CCU” by adding old monitors. I trained nurses in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and stationed a nurse in the room 24 hours.
In the summer of 1979, I admitted Ali Bin Thani to the CCU to rule out myocardial infarction. Ali was a 70-year-old Qatari man. He was thin and malnourished. His chest pain was controlled with oral nitrate and propranalol. He was a very pleasant old man. He appreciated my care and treatment and prayed for my success. He was a professional pearl diver at an early age. Unfortunately, he became blind later in life secondary to diabetes mellitus. He worked as a muadhin, calling for prayer in a mosque, until a few years prior to admission.
After sunset the same day, I admitted Rashid Bin Yousif with myocardial infarction to the same room with Ali. Rashid was about seventy years. He was tall, well-nourished, and had a strong personality. I gave him morphine intravenously to relieve the severe pain and reassured him.
Rashid Bin Yousif AlKuwari
As I sat down next to Rashid’s bed to complete the history of his illness, he asked me, “How is your father?” I realized then that my patient was feeling better. It may sound strange to Western physicians that patients ask their doctor about the health of his family. Reciprocally inquiring about the health of family members is a basic part of social greeting in our traditional Arab Gulf customs.
Ali was comfortably lying in his bed, quietly listening to Rashid’s voice. Then suddenly, he interrupted us.
“Rashid Bin Yousif, is that you”? Ali asked excitedly.
“Yes. Who are you?” Rashid responded.
“I am Ali Bin Thani”, he answered.
Rashid said, “Allaah…we did not see each other for so many years and now we meet in Hajar’s room, surrounded with machines, needles in our arms, strained and tied with wires.”
“It is Allah’s wish”, Ali said.
Then they told me that they were old friends. They had not seen each other for 30 years. When they were young, they used to dive together for pearls. Pearl diving was the vital source of income among Arab Gulf citizens before the discovery of oil.
I sat in a chair between their beds and listened with fascination as Rashid and Ali reminisced about the old days. I delayed my history-taking and let them talk. I felt sad that those two friends who had not met for so many years had to meet under such sad circumstances in a coronary care unit, which they referred to as “Hajar’s room.” It is unusual for people in Qatar not to see each other for such a long time. I suspect that Ali’s blindness was responsible for his isolation. The well known 11th century Arab philosopher and poet, Abu Al Ala’ Al-Ma’arri, whose smallpox blinded him at the age of four, referred to himself as confined to a “prison of blindness.”
Ali told me that Rashid was very strong. Once, while diving underwater, Rashid grabbed a shark coming to attack him. He struggled against the shark with his bare hands and brought the shark to the surface. All the Qatari divers knew Rashid’s incident with the shark. Rashid was diving for 25 years.
“It is true. I was never scared of anything on land or at sea. God is the only one I fear.”, Rashid said.
Ali recounted how Rashid used to lift up a sack of rice with his teeth. He was also a naham, pearl-ship singer. He knew many poems and songs by heart. He had a good voice. Rashid then recited a poem for us.
Both patients survived their myocardial infarction and did well during that hospitalization. I followed them up in the clinic with great interest. Ali died six months later due to massive myocardial infarction and cardiogenic shock. Rashid was readmitted for atrial fibrillation several times. In February 1982, when we moved from the old Rumaila CCU to the new CCU in Hamad General Hospital (HGH), he was the first patient transferred. He was aware that some doctors opposed the move to the new hospital because “services were still in the old hospital.” It is human nature to view change or transitions with anxietry and uncertainty. But progress is change and improvement over the old. HGH was, and is equipped with modern medical facilities. For me, the transition period was a time of excitement, like the dawn of a new day.
Rashid trusted my judgment. He was a believer and had strong faith in God. He agreed to be transferred and had no fear or hesitation to be moved to HGH. His condition was stable. I remember that historical night vividly. I stayed that first night in the new hospital. I slept in the CCU in a room next to Rashid’s room. I greeted him the following morning as the nurse carried out my order to remove the monitor leads from his chest so he could walk around. He was smiling as he left the hospital that day.
Rashid died six years later in 1984.
Many years have past since the death of Ali and Rashid. Their image and conversations in the Rumaila CCU room many years earlier are still clear in my memory.
I will never forget them. May God have peace on their souls ■