Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Clerical and Medical

Fecking hell.

What a bloody palaver that was.

Excuse the language, but BUGGER ME!

I went to do my medical today, which is the compulsory blood test and chest x-ray everyone coming to work and live here has to take. They test for HIV and TB, and if you have either, you get summarily and unceremoniously deported. Being a worrier, I wonder if there's the slightest chance that I could have got HIV from somewhere. Even the minisuclest (is that a word) odds of something occuring will not matter if it's something really bad. I worry about asteroids and wandering black holes and stuff as well. Bibble.

But anyway, the test. It was carried out at the Maktoum hospital (this name is everywhere - do they own the place or something) which is in Deira, which is over the creek. I was told to go early - before 7.30am ideally, so as to avoid queueing for several centuries. I was also advised to park at work, i.e. just this side of the creek, and catch a taxi to take me there and back. My advisors told me that this would only take an hour or so. What does that WRONG noise from Family Fortunes sound likeagain? EH-URRRR!

I drove to work, got the cab, so far so good. The traffic in Deira was a mess. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes crept along the roads, blocking up junctions and roundabouts. The drivers amused themselves with some kind of free-form jazz played on car horns, which provided a constant staccatto of noise in the air all around. Asian and Arab men gesticulated at each other, and I shook my head.

We had been stuck on one roundabout for nearly 10 minutes, when the driver cheerily announced that the hospital was just round the corner, so I got out and walked. It was 7.35am. I entered the hospital gates and thanked Allah that I was a privileged Westerner with private health cover. The Maktoum hospital is grim, let's just leave it at that. I quickly found the Admin office (this is gonna be a cinch, I remember thinking) and entered through the Female entrance. They sent me packing, even though I offered to show my (now-reducing) breasts as evidence, and I entered the Male waiting area. 5 minutes later I had handed over my documents, paid my money and was in possession of my Government health card and a slip of paper which would get me the requisite tests. But it had to be typed up in the Typing Office first.

Then it started going tits-up. It took me an age to find the Typing Office, where I had to get something or other typed. It was in a pre-fab hut hidden round the back of some other building. I was told 15 minutes by the man who was sat there doing not very much, other than drinking coffee and picking fluff out of his navel. To give him his dues, it was only 8 minutes, and then I got another piece of paper. Go back to the Admin office, was the order, so I trudged back round there and paid some more money and got the proper typed-up slip for the tests. Now go to the testing room. Er...where's that? Over there somewhere (nonchalant wave in some general direction).

After another 10 minutes of fruitless searching I found the X-ray department, but I had to go for the blood test first, so they told me to follow the green line backwards to the blood test laboratory which was over near the side entrance. Well, it could have been the main entrance. I really don't know. I entered the Male section this time and was greeted with a large room full of chairs, set out like church pews, and four hatches at the far end. Above the hatches was an electronic display board, showing a group of three-digit numbers that flashed and changed at random intervals. Sort of like Argos in a mental home. Looking as stupid as possible, I wandered towards the windows and a kindly young chap with a mischevious face told me which window to go to. I handed over my papers and was directed to sit down.

My papers then moved from the first window across to the last one, in some kind of process that had me wondering what was for tea tonight. Then a large group of subcontinental labourer types entered the room and sat together in a tight, protective huddle at the other side of the room. A man with them dumped all their papers at the LAST window, and then all their numbered tickets started appearing as if by magic. I think this annoyed the mischevious young man and his mates. He went to the windows and spoke in rapid-fire Arabic. I reckon "How come they got to push in?" was the gist of it.

Time was dragging on. I resigned myself to waiting a long time. So much for the early start. Then, out of the blue, my name was called and I got my numbered ticket. 327. I sat down again, and 5 mintues later the board changed about a dozen times, bleeping manically each time, then settled on a group of numbers ending in 327. I moved to a smaller waiting area with about 10 chairs in it, sitting amongst Indian and Pakistani men of different shapes and sizes who watched me impassively. The moment they got the chance, they moved away from me. Hey, I showered last week, mate!

Then my number was shouted brusquely from the next room, and I entered a veritable factory of blood testing. There were 8 or 10 chairs with doctors and nurses sat next to them, waiting to take our blood, and I sat down at the nearest free one. As the doctor stuck the cold steel into my vein he made some small talk about where I was from, yadda yadda. I barely felt the needle, I've become so used to the whole process, I could probably do it myself.

Then, with a plaster holding a lump of cotton wool over the hole in my elbow, I walked back to the X-ray department, where there were more windows and seats, but not as many. I handed more documents over, and was soon doing a contortionist act against the chest X-ray screen. Not too bad, I thought, but I checked my watch and it was just after 9.15am. What a kerfuffle. All these administrative tasks could be done in one place, yet they choose to separate them into the smallest components and make something that should be simple really quite complex. Is it to give people jobs? It must cost a fortune!

Anyway, I headed out of the hospital and started the search for a taxi to take me back over the creek. This was the worst bit of the whole experience. Being a man of short patience, I didn't do what I should have done and waited for a taxi to drop someone off at the hospital, I wandered out towards the main roads, thinking my chances were better there. As it was, I saw loads of taxis, but they were all occupied. I saw maybe 3 unoccupied cars, but they zoomed past, ignoring my increasingly desperate waving and shouting. I ended up walking to the creek itself, well the road alongside anyway (near where we parked a while back after brunch at the Hyatt). I don't know how far I walked, but it was over a mile, I'm sure of it. Eventually a taxi dropped someone off at a large office building and I leapt into it, relieved, hot, sweaty and completely stressed out, as is my wont. I just couldn't believe that a place as busy as Deira would prove so difficult to find a taxi in. Lesson for today: stay put.

I expected the drive back over the creek to be horrendous, but it wasn't. It took less than 20 minutes, and I got back to the office at around 10.30am. I was glad to get that over with. This is one of the last steps towards getting my full visa. If everything is OK, I will have it within 10 days to 2 weeks. Fingers crossed. It has been a frustrating first 4 months in the sense that I haven't been able to establish myself fully with my own car and proper banking facilities, and a liquor licence, etc. It looks like we're finally getting there. INSHA'ALLAH!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas is coming...

The camel's getting worried. Probably because some wag will put a Santa hat on him. How terribly festive.

In this mad place, the clashes of cultures still have the power to amaze, amuse and completely bamboozle. I took a walk through the shopping mall they call Wafi City the other day, a kind of loosely Egyptian-styled, sand-coloured monolith with stained-glass pyramids perched on top. Inside, high-fashion and high-tech shops mingle with high-fat fast food franchise outlets.

God, I miss the Subway foot-long meatball...

But the mall has now become a Christmas wonderland. Slap-bang in the middle of the central plaza, under one of the pyramids, is a giant Christmas tree, adorned with shiny baubles and twinkling lights. Around the bottom of the tree there are some white hoardings, with the words ELVES AT WORK painted on in various places. It seems that there will be a Grotto at the bottom of the tree, and they're going to have a big light-switching-on ceremony on Thursday. Dotted around other parts of the mall are other Christmas displays, such as small cottages with snow-covered rooves and pairs of red-trousered, black-booted legs sticking out of the chimney.

t is a strange feeling seeing all this. Firstly, it's 30 degrees centigrade and sunny outside. Secondly, this is a Muslim country. I've been in non-Christian countries around Christmas before, and knew that there would probably be a few trees here and there, and shops selling Christmassy stuff for the large Western expat population, but I never thought I'd see a mall in the Middle East trying to outdo the Metro Centre for sheer festive overload. It's confusing, really, because even here I get told that Christmas is being banned in the UK because of PC do-gooders, etc., but we are looking at a 40-foot-high symbol of a Christian festival, and the dish-dashed men and their abbaya-wearing wives don't bat an eyelid. You have to wonder what the Sun or the Mail would make of some Ramadan decorations being put up in the Trafford Centre. Probably best not to think about it, to be honest.

Then I think...does this show Christmas up for what it really is today? It isn't much of a religious festival nowadays. All the paraphenalia in the malls and in the shops are based around trees, lights, baubles, snowy scenes, stockings, candy canes, toys, presents, and consumerism gone mad. In that respect, it fits Dubai like a glove. More chances to spend, spend, spend. You can buy nativity scenes in the shops if you so wish, but there doesn't seem to be much of a market for them. I think it's fair to say that this is the case in the UK as well. The religious aspect of Christmas is a side-show to most people, and maybe that's why it's so easily accepted and assimilated around the world now, because it can be celebrated without mentioning Jesus at all.

It's only 4 weeks away now. It doesn't feel right. We went to the beach at the Jumeirah Beach Park on Saturday, and enjoyed the warm sunshine, yellow sand (although it was sadly full of fag-ends and other rubbish) and clear Gulf waters. We have promised the kids a visit to Ski Dubai before or around Christmas, and we'll have a snowball fight and do some sledging, then have some fondue and mulled wine in the alpine-styled restaurant afterwards. On Christmas Day itself we might have dinner in a hotel or at a golf club. We will miss our extended family, but with the visits from them due to start in February, it won't be too bad. Whatever happens, our first Christmas in a warm country will be an adventure.

That reminds me, we need to go and buy a tree...I see they have them in IKEA. AARRGGHH!!!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"What's a Gime?"

Said Homer J. Simpson walking past a gymnasium one day...

Well, Homer, a gime, or gym as we like to call them is a place of torture were sado-masochists go for their fix and watch other, more muscly people admiring themselves in the mirror. Or so I used to believe.

Tonight I went to a gym and tortured myself for over an hour with exercise bikes and various resistance machines that wouldn't look out of place in a medieval dungeon. The Inquisition boys would have loved this place.

As it happens, the things I hate most about gymnasiums - other people, who are generally healthier, better-looking, get picture - weren't there. I had the place ALL to myself. Now this is because it's a fairly small gym at the top of a hotel. Hotel gyms aren't very busy at any time, so I'm well in here. It's got a pool and a jacuzzi and a steam room and a sauna and really very plush faciltites in the changing room with brilliant white bowl-style sinks and frosted glass on all the doors and little uplighters on the walls. All the equipment is brand new and the cardio machines have little TVs that can be toggled on and off with the exercise data, or even shared with it.

But the reason I'm going to this particular gym is that I won a month's free membership by answering a few questions on the radio a few weeks back. I also won a meal and a night in the hotel for two, which is nice. Anyway, the good thing is, it's given me a reason to go along and start off the exercising phase of my new healthy lifestyle. Stop laughing at the back. I've been sticking to my eating plan, which is a sort of modified paleo diet. I don't eat bread, pasta or potatoes. Well, some , but not very much at all. I have bread maybe once a week now. Most of my food now is lean poultry and fish, vegetables, rice, oats, fruit and proper nuts (not peanuts or cashews, which aren't really nuts at all). i've found myself going right off junk food. Even when we went to the Johnny Rockets burger joint (a fabulous stainless-steel-plated American diner) last week, I thought about treating myself to a burger, but went for the chicken club on brown bread instead (easy on the mayo), and it was very tasty. I couldn't even face more than 2 of the WIFE's chips. They tasted greasy and bland.

So far, I've lost 7 kilograms, or maybe more, because I didn't start weighing myself immediately. That's 15 pounds or just over 1 stone for any imperialists out there. I seem to have switched over quite easily to this way of thinking, and I put it down to what happened a couple of weeks ago with my visit to hospital. I've never felt so motivated to do it and have never felt so sure that I can do it. I've even got a cold, which always seems to happen within 4 weeks of starting these regimes, but I'm nearly over it, fingers crossed, and I can get on with it for real.

Anyway, the gym session was hard work. The little life guard / trainer man (who was small but strong, as he showed me when demonstrating machines) was a great help and showed me how to use everything, and even took me through a slightly shortened general workout with cardio and resistance training. He counted my reps and gently encouraged me to do the leg extensions, shoulder presses and hyperextensions (not hypertensions).

After I finished and had my shower, I felt like I was walking on air. I had a real buzz. The only little annoyance was a bit of acid reflux during and after the session, but I put that down to the very acidic Strepsils I've been taking for my cough. I drove home, hearing the new U2 song on the radio (which is superb) on the way, and had some grilled fish and veg for me tea. I am in danger of becoming a bit of a health bore with all this, but if I keep the right mindset going, I don't really care. Like I said just a few weeks ago, I'm sick of being sick.

OK. Enough of that.

I should just mention a mate of mine who is having a really hard time at the moment. He's split up with his wife and had an accident in his jeep and all kinds of other things, and yesterday he found out that he had 9 broken vertebrae in his back. They were talking about doing a major operation on him to fix it, and naturally he's worried about it. I hope his luck turns soon, and I hope he gets well as quickly as possible. Our fingers are crossed for you, M.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nothing Gets In The Way Of Ssergorp...

Nothing, you hear?

So, if the powers-that-be decide to stop the unrestricted internet access available in the Dubai Internet City areas and subject it to Etisalat and their poxy proxy, that's Ssergorp.

And if they decide that they're going to introduce a trial road toll system next year on the Sheik Zayed and Garhoud Bridge Roads, even though the alternative routes aren't very good and there will be no Metro in place until 2009 at least, that's real Ssergorp.

And, if they decide that they won't renew the 15% rent-increase cap (for what it was worth), thus giving landlords huge boners all across the land, that's Ssergorp again, even if we beg the Great God of Market Forces to bring about the Great Blessed Correction.

Best of all, though, if the company you work for pays you on random days by cheques which take 48 hours to clear rather than electronic transfer, and they take over three and a half months to get you a residence visa, that's definitely Ssergorp.

However, if the powers-that-be decide that the stout fellows who work all hours in crappy conditions and live in ever crappier conditions should have some rights and protection and some health insurance, etc., well that is Progress, and should be applauded.

It's just a shame that it seems to be a case of one step forward and three steps back.

Oh well, at least my hair is growing better in this climate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Things to do in Doha when you're ...

bored and lonely:

Visit the Pearl Lounge bar attached to the side of the Marriott hotel. There you will be made to feel completely unwelcome, brusquely quizzed like a criminal suspect about your hotel room number and name and hastily ushered to the bar because all the tables are reserved even though the place is emptier than Paris Hilton's head. Even when you manage to convince them to let you sit at a table, by telling them you won't be staying long, they watch you like hawks wearing bi-focals as you slide down the leather-clad low seats with shallow-sloping sides, toying with your over-iced Jamesons and wondering what kind of people come to a place like this, apart from lonely and bored businessmen, of course. The lighting is non-existent, so much so, that the drinks menus have little torches attached to them. There are large Plasma screen TVs dotted around the walls, showing scenes of snowy mountains and trendy people skiing down them on a permanent loop, all accompanied by instantly forgettable chill/trance/technopap. You should probably have more than one drink, just to annoy them, and see if anyone comes in. When people do appear, they look at you like you are sitting there in the altogether. Finally, when you've had enough of feeling as welcome as Timothy Mallett at a wake, the bill appears in your face and you leave, tutting to yourself about the utter absurdity of it all, and swearing never to go that kind of place again. Until next time you're alone and bored in a strange city. Still, you feel slightly amused and smug as a couple of Japanese businessmen (dressed smartly enough) try to get in as you're leaving and get turned away from a 90% empty club because they aren't hotel guests. You think to yourself that the club must resent the arrangement with the hotel.

Which is a shame, really, because the trip was otherwise a reasonably good experience. Well, OK, the plane was an hour late, and there were no taxis to be had when I landed, which meant a 30 minute wait for one, and then after popping into my firm's local office, I had a really interesting experience in the most banged-up, crappy car I've ever been in, because there just weren't any taxis. This car was a wreck. The headlights were smashed in and the wing mirrors hung off, and the rust was just about holding it together. I even had to push it to get it going, and jumped in as it spluttered and coughed into life. The Sudanese man driving it was quite a good driver, but without a working seat belt and a seat set at a permanent 45-degree recline, I didn't feel very safe. When we inevitably encountered a local in a white 4x4 who cut across us, my driver let out a stream of exotic-sounding expletives and gesticulated wildly at the other driver. Getting to the hotel was a relief.

The hotel itself was a smooth operation and they were falling over themselves to help me at every turn. Every corner I turned seemed to reveal another oriental person in bell-boy get-up greeting me with the now-familiar American-accented, nasal whine of, "Good Morning, Sir," or something similar. The restaurants had good food and excellent service. The room was pleasant, and the free use of the business lounge (with 4 free alchoholic drinks a night) was a nice touch.

The aims of the trip were met as well. We had loads of meetings about the Big Hole in the Ground, and how much it was going to cost to build something in the hole and how long it was going to take, etc., and in the end people were satisfied with what I did. I hope. A few of us went for dinner in a nice Italian in the Rydges hotel on my second night, and as if by magic, the conversation turned to politics. We had me, a Brit, a South African, and Australian, an Iraqi and two Palestinians (one Christian, one Muslim) sat around the table, and the Australian broke the shop talk up spectacularly with a question about the whereabouts of a certain Mr. Bin Laden. In the end, some strong (and surprising) viewpoints were aired, but everyone managed to come away smiling and still on talking terms. The consensus was that the British had managed to mess about with and fuck up the Middle East after both World wars, and now the Americans were carrying on where we had left off. Scars run deep round here, it seems.

Apart from everything else, I found myself thinking how lucky I am to be living in Dubai. Doha is trying desperately to catch up with Dubai, but the general feeling around here is that they are about 15 years behind at least. There are few things for tourists and expats to do, and the infrastructure is seriously poor. People who work there constantly tell me they wish they didn't. Some even fly to Dubai every weekend. On the other hand, I bet they don't spend as much living in Doha.

The Asian games that start on the 1st December are looming large now. It's quite obvious that Doha is going to struggle, because hotel rooms are just impossible to get now, and traffic is getting heavier and heavier whilst they attempt to finish all the new roads and tart up the airport and the unfinished roads and buildings and erect huge scaffolding structures covered in plywood advertising the games. The taxi situation sucks, truly sucks. It seems that they are all being used as chauffers now, driving officials and dignitaries all over the place, because public transport is even worse here than it is in Dubai, and that's saying something. Even so, I wish the city well. I hope they pull it off and show the continent a good time. I hope the games give the place a good kick-start towards catching up with its bigger, glitzier neighbour.

So I left Doha after 4 days, looking forward to seeing my wife and kids again. The week had gone a lot quicker than the previous one in hospital, that's for sure. The plane out of Doha was 40 minutes late in departing, and I spent the whole flight quietly fuming as men in National dress sat in their seats sending text messages all through the flight, despite the many in-your-face reminders to turn off all mobile phones. I try to be understanding of cultural differences, but this annoyed me. They knew they were doing wrong, because they hid their phones when any cabin crew passed close. Some, I stress SOME of these people just don't give a fig about rules, regulations, common courtesty and cultural norms and believe themselves to be invincible and above everyone else because they wear a dish-dash. It's a shame, because a few bad eggs end up giving everyone else a bad name.

Anyway, despite all this, we landed safely, and despite some of the strangest and most worrying mechanical noises I've ever heard on an (supposedly modern) aeroplane. I am getting better at flying, and I don't have a choice but to do so, with all the flying that is done round here. My fear levels are reducing every time, but I still have my little superstitions and routines that I have to go through. I always read the safety information card on both sides, I invariable end up praying to that God who must be pissed off with hearing from this agnostic again, and I always find my imagination running riot with the infinite number of ways a plane can come to harm on the ground and in the air as we taxi out to the runway. Statistics can say what they want, but there's just something unnatural about hurtling at just less than the speed of sound, 6 miles up in the air in a pressurised tube.

It took me just an hour to pass through Dubai airport this time. Passport control was a chew as ever, and will continue to be until my company get my residence visa sorted out, and there was a long queue as ever. I remembered to pick up some duty free goods this time, though, so it eased some of the earlier frustrations. I even managed to find a taxi quite quickly, as you would expect at an international airport, and less than an hour later, I was home, and my kids ran with outstretched arms to greet the bags of goodies I'd brought them. It's good to be home again

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Doha or bust...

I get the feeling Doha doesn't want me to enjoy its charms again. The week after Eid I was meant to go and talk about the Big Hole in the Ground, but I couldn't find a hotel room for love nor money nor sexy shenanigans in the pantry, so I had to call it all off. Then last week, I managed to have a hotel booked, but ended up in the much-vaunted hospitel, so again the trip was off.

Today, back at work, and the owners of the Big Hole in the Ground are still insistent that I should go to Doha for a few days. Well, fine, but let me find a hotel room. I spent most of the day chasing various people hither and thither, than I finally phoned a lady who was supposed to help, and it transpires that I might actually have a room, but it ain't 100% certain, and the room in question is really expensive. There's the small matter of the Asian Games approaching, you see. There are tales of hotel rooms being rarer than an egg-laying bird with a smile like Tom Cruise and stories about the place not being ready for the event. They say it about everywhere they hold one of these things. People just like to whinge. Don't I, dear?

But anyway, I am undeterred. Tomorrow I'm getting on that plane for the short (but still nerve-wracking) hop to Doha. Even if I end up kipping in a bus shelter, I've got to be there and do my stuff. I've even changed my hospital appointment with the cardiologist so I can go. Committed? I should be.

Anyway, I think an important lesson today was (again) not to sweat the small stuff. I get stressed out about things far too easily, and it has to be affecting my blood pressure. A friend told me today that the frustration of living here with all the traffic and the bureaucracy and the over-use of the word Insha'allah was understandable. He also said that some people are just more stressed than others, and being told to calm down by other people is the worst thing they can hear. I agree with that sentiment. It makes me even angrier when someone says it to me.

But then, if it's my nature or not, I need to control it or focus it or something. I need to laugh more. And this picture of the under-construction Dubai Metro makes me laugh:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wherever you go in the world...

there are universal constants, undeniable truths that will never change.

The sun sets in the West.

Beer gets you drunk.

Quantity Surveyors are boring.

And, most pertinent of all...

Hospital food is crap.

Anyway, it rained the other day. I missed it, because I didn't wake up in my private room in the hospitel (hospital/hotel) until it was gone. I opened the blinds to see strange marks on the car park tarmac which seemed to suggest that precipitation had occurred. The sky was white, misty and almost chilly-looking. The WIFE confirmed that, Yes indeed, it had rained that morning and it was that "really fine stuff".

Oh, yeah. I was in the hospitel because last Sunday, the day after my last posting, the day I was meant to fly to Doha, I had another episode of the dreaded Atrial Fibrillation. I thought about sitting it out and letting it go back in its own time, but since I was unsure of why it had happened this time (there's usually a definite trigger), I went to the local health centre. The doctor there was very nice and reassuring. He did an ECG on me, and told me what I already knew - I was in AF. Between us we half decided that my new diet might well have been the trigger this time. I'd been on a form of the Paleo diet since the 1st November, which was 4 days ago. Something didn't ring completely true to me, though. I was feeling quite good in myself up till Sunday night. I had got over the initial slight dizziness and my appetite was adjusting. More importantly, my ectopic beats (skipped beats that can be a precursor to AF) had reduced by a significant amount. What else could it have been, though: the ginger and lemon tea the night before, or the large diet pepsi consumed at lunchtime the day before, maybe even the handful of walnuts eaten as an evening snack? I was confused.

The doctor decided to send me to see a cardiologist at a new hospital in the Bur Dubai area, near Port Rashid. We got directions and more reassurance, and with the WIFE driving, we headed along the SZR towards the hospital. We landed and I booked into the ER. Another ECG was performed, then I was transferred up to a small white, functional room in the Intensive Care/Cardio Care Unit. That may sound alarming, but they have the best equipment for dealing with matters of the heart. Well, maybe not broken ones, and we all know that Padme Skywalker died because of a broken heart.

I digress. I told the WIFE to go home with the GIRL because the BOY needed to be picked up from school. She knows the drill by now, and so do I. I was soon covered in wires and needles were stuck in various places on my hands and arms. I ended up with 2 IV drips this time, one in each hand. They tried a drug on me, but it only slowed the fast rate down, so they ended up putting me under for a few minutes and zapping me with the defibrillator. I've had it before, and it invariably works. The best bit is being gradually more drugged up with various legal substances, which make you feel like you've had a bottle of wine in 30 seconds, then the oxygen mask descends and they add the real knock-out stuff. It was ever so slightly disconcerting to hear the nurse ask the anaesthetist if it was 50 millilitres, and the anaesthetist replying in a loud panicky voice that, No, it should be 15 millilitres, but before I knew it I was having a strange dream about being inside a computer or something, and then I was awake and back into blessed Normal Sinus Rhythm. It's hard to describe the feeling. It's one of utter relief, after being in AF and on edge for several hours. It's as if a huge, not agonising but naggingly painful splinter has been removed from your bum. Lying there with AF is pretty crappy. People can tell me it isn't life-threatening in itself, etc., but when your heart is doing a dance like a drunk uncle doing the birdy-song in your chest, it isn't nice. I always end up praying to God, and making deals with him about how I'll be good from now on, even though I'm a sworn agnostic with a leaning towards (without the utter certainty of) atheism.

I thanked the man who put me to sleep, who was a genial Libyan chap with an impossible name who had lived and worked in various UK locations for a good deal of his career. He melted back into the hospital hubbub as quickly as he had arrived, and I was left wondering what time I would be let out. Wishful thinking is what they call that. The cardiologist came and spoke to me and told me he wanted to keep me in ICU overnight, then transfer me down to ward for observation tomorrow. Blimey. In the UK, I've been pretty much sent home 2 hours after going back to NSR. The last serious obs and tests had been over 2 years ago when the AF had resurfaced. Not this time, though. This doctor wanted to watch me and prod me and poke me, so who was I to argue. The only worry for me was the insurance. Would they cover it? Would I have to pay it and reclaim it? I rang the WIFE and told her the good news. She was also surprised that I was staying overnight.

So I spent that night in that small white room. No TV. Nothing to read. I did get some food, nd it was pretty good, but then all food tastes great when you've not been allowed to eat for hours. I didn't get much sleep. The automatic blood pressure monitor inflated every hour through the night and then the nurses came to take more blood every 6 hours, and with all those wires and tubes, I defy anyone to sleep well under those conditions. In fact, they should use it at Guantanamo Bay as a new form of torture. OK. Maybe not. Anyway, I was ready for some more of that magic bottle of wine in a syringe from The Affable Sandman of Tripoli.

The next morning I rang work and the WIFE and the BOSS and told them the score. I was going down to the ward and was likely to spend at least another night there. Finally they released me from the drips and monitor wires and I performed a very unsteady stand up routine that wasn't funny at all, and managed to walk around for a bit. They wheel-chaired me down to the ward, and I was in for a bit of a surprise. Being used to the good ole' NHS, I expected a large ward full of old men in ill-fitting pyjamas surrounded by bored relatives. But of course, all healthcare is private here, and I got my own private hotel-style room, with a separate lounge and 2 TVs and a wardrobe empty fridge. A minibar might have been too much to expect, in hindsight.

So I ate increasingly poor food and drank water and watched The Golden Girls on TV. The family came and went, soon getting bored of seeing Daddy in a open-backed dress. The vital sign checks and blood pressure tests carried on at 4-hourly intervals, but just before bedtime (Ha! You're always in a bed in hospital) they noticed my BP was up a bit. They took it again to check about half an hour later and it was down a bit. The next morning, as I waited for the doc to come and tell me to go home, they took my BP again, and again it was high. They started getting a bit more urgent about it, getting doctors involved, and another 2 checks later, they were asking me about hypertension and family medical history and all kinds of things. Hmm. Me - Hypertensive? Don't be so bloody stupid!

I was given a really nasty dissolving tablet to stick under my tongue and promptly wheeled down to the Cardio Outpatient clinic where they performed an ultrasound scan of my ticker. After 10 minutes of prodding with a gelled-up device, the doctor told me that I was definitely suffering from hypertension and my heart was showing signs of it that indicated a long-term problem, maybe going back 3 or more years, and which has avoided detection until now. He told me that the high BP was making my heart work harder, and it was now over-muscly, like some mad keen body-builder. The problem with big muscles is that they get stiff and eventually weaken. Oh bugger. But then, it dawned on me, and the doc was alluding to the fact that the hypertension could be the major factor behind my AF. It's not often you are happy to find out you've got a condition, but this time I was, because if it's true, I have found out what has caused all this crap I've been putting up with for the last 6 years. Now I can treat it. Now I can beat it.

I knew what was coming next. The doctor told me I had to stay another night. He told me I had to go on medication. He told me to go on a diet. He told me to exercise! Well, duh! The list of drugs was growing. Anti-arrhythmics, anti-cholesterol, anti-aircraft, and now anti-high blood pressure. It's kind of at odds with what I'm trying to achieve with this Paleo diet, because they are yet to dig up the remains of a Homo Erectus branch of Boots the Chemist from 100,000 years back. C'est la vie. I went back to the ward with a strange sense of elation mixed with terror. Now I know what has to be done. If I do it right, and lose the requisite weight and lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, I should be able to get off the meds within a year or two, one by one.I knew that from now on I held my destiny, or at least a great deal of it, in my own hands. I have been given control.

I left hospital yesterday, and was glad to get away in the end. The hotel-style room had impressed me to start with, but after 2 days in there, I was bouncing off the walls. The TV was my only companion for much of the time, and it was starting to grate with its repeats of Roseanne and Different Strokes and straight-to-video movies. I did see a couple of good ones late at night, mind. The doc gave me a final pep talk and told me that while nothing was outright banned now, I had to remember the simple golden rule - the more legs an animal has, the worse it is for you. It's like Orwell's Animal Farm in reverse - 4 legs bad, 2 legs good. No legs even better (Fish, that is). I wonder if this was a case for cannibalism, although I wouldn't eat myself given the choice.

It's kind of fitting that this has happened now. I came to Dubai for a new beginning, a new life, and all that guff. I was worried about my health, naturally, but carried on as normal, eating and drinking crap and living the luxury, lazy, expat lifestyle. My weight got to its highest ever, and my stress levels also got higher. I now realise that this has been a factor all along, and along with the obesity, it is a potent combination. I had a really bad stress-out session the day before my latest episode. That probably sent my BP through the roof and kicked the AF off. But every cloud has a silver lining. The thoroughness of the medical care here has impressed me, especially my cardiologist, who has been encouraging and reassuring and also frank with me about where I am. I now have a positive outlook, and feel ready to put right the years of abuse my body has suffered. I have gone right off fatty and sugary foods. I'm not a puddingy person any more, as my dear Mother says.

Oh yeah, and the insurance wasn't a problem. I showed my company insurance card, signed a couple of forms and didn't have to pay a penny. Suh-WEET.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Three months down...

How many to go? Dunno. Who knows what's round the next corner.

So, I've been here three months tomorrow. It's gone so quickly, but it feels like longer, if you know what I mean. So much has happened since I accepted the job whilst on holiday in Pembrokeshire back in July. That seems so distant now, in both miles and minutes. One minute I was enjoying the sunshine in Wales, the next I was enjoying the sunshine of the Arabian Gulf.

And it could have been so different. During that week I went for an interview for a job in Afghanistan, and it was pretty much there for the taking. The clincher was the offer of free body armour. It clinched the decision to go to Dubai instead of a war zone.

So, now we're here, almost settled in, the weather is cooling all the time making it a pleasure rather than a chore to take a walk outside. Eating out can be done on terraces and balconies now. We went for a bite at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel the other night, sitting outside on the wooden decking amongst the light-decorated palm trees and granite water features, the towering form of the Burj Al Arab lurking just behind the trees, changing the colour of its lighting every so often from purple to blue to yellow to white. Shame the veal roast was a bit on the bland side...

I ask myself: Does that sum it up? Is this place a triumph of style over substance? Do the glittering hotels and sparkling malls hide the reality? Is this city on the sand built on strong foundations, or are the movers and sheik-ers setting themselves up for a seriously big fall? Doubts crowd the mind, like over-concerned, fussy waiters who want to know if everything is alright with the meal. Does anyone ever say, "no"? I don't.

I watched a short documentary by a local director the other day, linked on another UAE blog (Secret Dubai Diary - I would recommend it), called Do Buy. It's available on You Tube, and shows the sides of Dubai that you don't see reported in the glossy brochures or even in the papers that much. It's an eye opener for anyone in any doubt.

It didn't take long for me to realise what was going on here. You can't help but notice the constant stream of wheezing white buses full of blue-overalled, sullen-faced subcon men being shipped from their labour camps to the many construction projects sprouting from the sand, where they invariable work 12-hour days, 6 days a week. You can't help but notice the small armies of other blue-overalled men that beaver away watering the grass or trimming the palm trees that have been planted along the roads. Most of all, you can't help but notice that you don't see any of them in the shopping malls. The vast majority of the people in malls are Emiratis, Western expats, and professional family men from the subcontinent, who dress like Western expats. You don't see the labourers in there, or in the hotels, and these are the men who built them.

Being of a liberal, left-wing bias (I know, the shame), it is sometimes a strange feeling to live in a place that has been described by Jim Davidson as, "a right-winger's paradise," and he doesn't mean that David Beckham likes the place. For once, the man is right. If you're rich here, or a Westerner at least, you will love it, because you can live an opulent lifestyle under constantly blue skies. What does that make me? A champagne friggin' socialist, no doubt. I prefer red wine anyway.

And still, and still... what can you do? I DO like it here, well most of it. I came here by choice. My eyes were wide open. I knew this place was an obscenely corpulent (and growing) capitalist's wet dream. Of course, I didn't know everything about it, and I still don't. I didn't know about the prostitution that is rife and completely brazen in areas of Bur Dubai. This came as something of a shock. I didn't know (despite the warnings) that driving here is akin to playing Russian roulette with an AK-47, with aggressive and dangerous driving that regularly takes the breath away, and daily encounters with the aftermath of another crash. Now I know that I will probably buy a gas-guzzling 4x4 or other large vehicle for the family. I just think they'll be safer in that than in a small family saloon. Am I wrong to want to protect my family?

Yes, my own hypocrisy does trouble me on occassion - well quite often. I like the lifestyle. I like the sunshine. I like the mostly tax-free living. I understand that I'm a lucky sod for having what I have, even if I whine on and on about my health. I realise that I'm extremely fortunate to have been born where and when I was, with the best chance to live a more-than-comfortable life. When I'm dodging speeding Prados and Landcruisers with permanently-flashing headlights and blacked-out windows on Sheik Zayed Road, I often see these buses full of the blue overall brigade. I see them staring impassively at the unreal world outside, staring at us Western expats and our clothes and our cars. I wonder what they are thinking. Are they envious? Are they angry at being seduced by a dream but buying a nightmare? I'm sure they wouldn't want my pity. I'm just glad that I'm on this side of the window.

Tomorrow I fly to Doha for another look at the Big Hole in the Ground. I'm staying till Wednesday at least, so might not post on here for a while.

Ciao for now.