Medicine in Lebanon: The VVVVIP Patients

The following are bits and pieces of things several of my medical student colleagues and I, at many Lebanese hospitals across the country, have lived over the past few weeks. 

“What do you mean I have to deliver in third class? I DON’T DELIVER IN THIRD CLASS.”

Beautiful thing to wake up to in the morning, right? Well, such things are not fiction – they are every day reality in Lebanese hospitals. The woman in question was very very pregnant to say the least. She was also very very angry. Why? Because two emergency C-sections had taken up the first class beds she was promised to welcome her bundle of sunshine into the world.

“We couldn’t help it,” the nurse pleaded. “Those two women just came here in labor!” The nurse was almost begging as I stood there watching.

“I don’t give a shit.” The woman shrieked. “I want first class – I am not a person who can deliver a baby in third class. Take them to third class, they already delivered.”

A few phone calls later, that woman got her way. I guess some vaginas are more precious than others. Literally.

The separate classes in the Lebanese social hierarchy also reflect in its hospitals. There’s really very few things that hospitals can do. They accommodate what they can given how messed up and archaic our health sector financing is. What is bad, however, is the sense with which some people view medicine in this country: it’s not a human right that should be guaranteed to everyone. It’s a privilege, a luxury that only they should be entitled to.

“My ovaries hurt.” I was staring at the face of a supposed emergency condition who had just presented to the emergency room. I could see sunscreen all over her body. She was definitely tanning a few minutes earlier.

“How are your ovaries hurting you exactly?” I had no idea how ovaries could actually hurt a person, not to mention how a person would know where their ovaries actually are. When had the pain started? Well, the pain had happened 6 months ago and had died since but she wanted to know why that pain happened then… now. Bref, there was absolutely nothing urgent with her. But she knew enough people and had enough resources to take away physicians from places where they could be needed and keep them busy for a couple of hours in order to make sure her ovaries are perfect.

And then there are those patients who are so important they book two first class rooms because, you know, what if they got visitors? Can you imagine hosting them in one first class room? They are the patients who are so revered their treating physicians would drag themselves out of bed at times they shouldn’t be at the hospital just to do an exam that I, as a medical student, should be doing – just because it’s that particular patient. Those are the patients who are even treated differently in operating rooms just because they can enforce such levels of fear: “be careful with her… she’s important.”¬†They are the patients on whom we don’t learn simply because they would get “too annoyed” to have that many students in their room. So no one enter please.” That vagina glows of gold, I was told.

Those are the super duper very very important patients that come to Lebanese hospitals: patients whose medical cases are nothing more than mundane, simple and even boring… patients who can turn those cases into a matter of national security. And there’s nothing you can do but smile and the most professional individual that you can be be while you secretly hate on the system that hammers hospitals and medical education alike.