x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Who wants to be (a sick) millionaire?

Saloon A night in Dubai City Hospital's Royal Suite.

A night in Dubai City Hospital's Royal Suite. This, apparently, is how the other half ails. I check in at Dubai City's Hospital's Royal Suite, and am immediately confronted by a large tray of multicoloured fondant delicacies - 60 in all, just for me. The cakes are supplemented by an equally impressive array of Arabic sweets, and enough fruit to service a fair-sized vegan convention. Before I've made a dent in the cakes, I'm served a four-course meal, which begins with Trio of Tomato (mousse, consommé and stuffed) and culminates in Pan Fried Beef Fillet, served with creamed Savoy cabbage and dumplings, followed by a stack of chocolate samosas.

Between courses, my personal butler ghosts into the room. Is everything to my liking? Will there be anything else? Coffee? Tea? A Sandwich? I am also visited by a team of nurses, who frequently arrive to check my vital signs. For a while now, Dubai has been jockeying for pole position in the lucrative health care tourism industry; the Royal Suite occupies the highest point of this endeavour. If your taste runs to velvet pillows and blown glass chandeliers, or if you think you might require the use of a majlis during your stay, then the Royal Suite is the room for you.

This sort of opulence doesn't come cheap. A regular room at City Hospital sets you back Dh1,370 a night; the Royal Suite costs Dh19,750 - not including the cost of medical care. Good luck trying to hit up your insurance provider for that. But the suite isn't meant for people who worry about such things. Hospital administrators won't say who, specifically, has stayed in the room, but the list includes Gulf royalty and some of Dubai's notable family names.

"The suite serves a certain market," says the hospital's director, David Hadley. "For you, it's a treat, for them, it's normal." Normal, he says. Beyond the 24-hour butler and the lavish decor, the suite boasts a private terrace, a VIP lift, pool gym, hairdresser and pedicurist. Every room has a flat-screen TV equipped with video on demand. And each offers sweeping views of downtown Dubai, the perfect place to stand and ponder the condition of one's prostate.

During my stay, I am given what the hospital calls the Executive Health Check, a top-to-toe anatomical survey for men of a certain age. This procedure, too, is surprisingly agreeable. To me, one ECG machine looks much like another - what's different here is the personnel: without exception, the people who administer my tests have the demeanour of maître d's. "Sorry," says the motherly lab technician every time she jabs a needle into my arm. "Just a little prick."

"I can see," observes the charming man who does my chest X-ray, "that you have had a lot of women in your heart." As I wait to go in for my abdominal scan, a nurse phones my butler, ensuring that another many-coursed meal will be waiting for me upon the precise second of my return. Oddly, this comes just a few minutes after I have been informed that I'm "in the overweight range" and have "borderline hypertension".

Hadley is quick to point out such hospitality is also available to non-VIP patients. A core part of the ethos at City Hospital, he reminds me, is that the unpleasantness of a broken leg, bladder infection or heart murmur can be alleviated by pleasant surroundings. Ordinary patients may not be able to order a guava shake at 4am, but they're still greeted by a warm smile at the hospital's slick glass-and-steel lobby.

This approach, of course, is informed by more than altruism. If City Hospital is to become a serious player in the health care tourism game, it will not do so by virtue of competitive pricing - the local economy won't allow it. So this facility, along with others at the Dubai Healthcare City free zone, has adopted an alternative strategy: improving the quality of the care. And this includes, as Hadley puts it, "the hotel side of the business".

Overnight, I roam across my suite's cool marble flooring, examining elaborate bottles of scent, scraping my fingernails along the gold brocade and mosaic tiling. I measure the length of the suite in steps (50). I sneak a smoke on the terrace. I watch Cloverfield, then Baby Mama. I try to sleep. The following morning, shortly before I leave, David Hadley warns me to remember more than the private-swimming-pool, sixty-cakes-to-a-serving stuff. Even in the madly comfortable Royal Suite, this is less about maximising pleasure than minimising pain. Think about it, he says: "Even if you won a million dirhams, would you want to go to a hospital?"


* Chris Wright