x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

'My father was never given proper answers'

A young woman describes her family's experience when her father was diagnosed with throat cancer.

The family feels hospital staff were insensitive.
The family feels hospital staff were insensitive.

A little over a year ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer in a hospital in Singapore. Two years prior to that, he had been having trouble swallowing and eating due to an irritation in his throat. He was being treated in Abu Dhabi, but doctors never gave us a straight diagnosis - all we got were speculations. They even suggested he may have some food caught in his throat.

When he went to a private clinic, they told him they thought he might have cancer. This frightened my siblings because of the history of cancer in our family and they took him to a hospital in Singapore that is well-known for its cancer treatment. That is where we were told he had throat cancer and that it was spreading. He underwent chemotherapy and various other treatments for almost 10 months in Singapore.

The doctors were initially very positive and told him there was hope they could contain the cancer and he would survive. But my father felt homesick and decided to come back to the UAE to continue treatment. However, there was no access to a positron emission tomography scan, which locates cancer in the body, so he had to go back to Singapore. What bothers me is that after two years of going to doctors in the UAE, no one diagnosed him with cancer when it was in its early stages.

In Singapore, the doctor told him the cancer had spread significantly, that there was no more hope and my father might as well just stay in the Emirates and finish his treatment there. Back in the UAE, he continued chemotherapy to no avail, and my family thought it best to take him to the US. It took almost a month to set up the trip and he had become progressively sicker. In the meantime, the hospital stopped the chemotherapy without explaining why to the family. At times, we literally had to beg people to get any medical attention for him.

Throughout, the doctors would speak directly to my father telling him his chances for recovery were bleak. There is no need to demoralise a patient in this way. During his last week, he went into a coma and the nurses were very insensitive. They knew he was dying but they did not care. The room was very cold and we were asking them to turn off the air conditioning. But they ignored us. In one week, they changed his room many times. They kept telling us another patient was coming and my father had to be moved. The family was told to accept that he was dying.

What really bothers me and my family is the treatment we got from the doctors and nurses. Whenever my father complained or asked about any of the symptoms that resulted from the treatments, he was never given proper answers. It is very scary for a patient to go through such a serious illness without understanding it. During my father's last day, the doctor said to us: "Khalas, there is no hope." She said we could place him on life support if we really wanted to, but that there was no point.

My brother, very annoyed by her attitude, reminded her that there was a God and that nothing was ever for sure. It still haunts me the way that she told us the news, especially considering that my father was present. There are 100 different ways a doctor can convey such news. Instead, we had to hear these things in the most unfeeling ways. I never imagined a doctor would tell a patient "there is no hope". They should encourage and support patients to help them emotionally fight the disease.

To top it all off, his body was taken to a hospital other than that specified by the family before burial. The disrespect that we felt throughout this whole ordeal was absolutely unnecessary. Culturally, we have a very delicate approach to illness and death, and to feel that none of that consideration was given to him and to us is just horrible. There is such an important need for change in doctor-patient relations and a crucial need to ensure that medical professionals deal with sick people and their families in an appropriate and humane fashion.

* As told to Fatima al Shamsi @Email:newsdesk@thenational.ae