Abu Dhabi: An Emirati former policewoman not only regained her mobility while recuperating at a therapy facility in Abu Dhabi but also launched an informal support group for her peers.
Khatoun Al Balushi, 62, spent four months at Amana Healthcare after a colon surgery left her temporarily immobilised.
While working to recover her strength and independence, Al Balushi — affectionately called “Mama Khatoun” — had a tremendously positive effect on the staff and patients at the centre.
Now back home, she is still fondly remembered by the healthcare professionals and peers. Her determination and positivity also helped the sexagenarian get back on her feet once more.
Impacting those around her
“Mama Khatoun’s vibrant personality had a profound influence on the atmosphere at Amana Healthcare. She brought so much light, love, and fun to Amana that everybody wanted to be around her,” Al Balushi’s physiotherapist, Stella Quealy, told Gulf News.
“We would go and sit with her even when it wasn’t her therapy session, and just have a chat. She would always be reaching out to anybody, be it a doctor, the catering team, or [someone else],” Quealy added.
Informal peer support group
“She formed an informal peer support group here at Amana Healthcare with the other patients from different streams of therapy at different stages of their therapy and all different age groups. And Mama Khatoun even when she left, those bonds remained with other people who probably wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for her,” added Lynique Dennis, an occupational therapist at Amana.
Mama Khatoun, a mother-of-four and professional at the Dubai Police, first arrived at the rehab centre in a bed-bound state, reliant on others for her daily activity.
“[I had been suffering] with digestive issues and constipation, and after assessment, my doctors suggested colon surgery. Unfortunately, after the surgery, I went through a period of unconsciousness and issues with my mobility, leaving me unable to move my legs and hands. This resulted in a hospital stay of two-and-a-half months,” Mama Khatoun said.
After being discharged, the Emirati and her children looked around for a rehabilitation facility to help her recover, and settled on Amana.
“Mama Khatoun was dependent on the nurses and on her caregiver for literally everything — from brushing her hair to dressing herself. She could feed herself, but that was about it. Her diagnosis was critical illness neuropathy post-surgery resulting from abdominal surgery,” Quealy said.
This type of neuropathy can occur in people who have undergone surgery, and experienced a critical illness or extended stay in an intensive care unit (ICU).
A neurological complication that affects the peripheral nervous system, the neuropathy typically manifests as weakness and loss of muscle function, primarily in the limbs.
Recovery from critical illness neuropathy can be slow, and rehabilitation and physical therapy are often necessary to regain muscle strength and function.
Mama Khatoun had already spent four to five months in acute care at a hospital, where she had had a tracheostomy, and been on a mechanical ventilator.
She then stayed recuperating at Amana for four more months.
Serving the UAE
“She is a very, very determined and headstrong woman. She is also very spiritually grounded,” Dennis said, awed at the Emirati’s remarkable journey.
Mama Khatoun attributed her optimistic spirit to a lifetime of activity and service. She had been one of the first women to enroll in women’s courses with the Dubai Police back in the day.
“From a young age, I have always been an active person, prioritising daily walks and regular exercise. I am also still involved with the Dubai Police Department, and thoroughly enjoy my profession.”
Since childhood, she has dreamt of a career in this field, fuelled by a desire to serve her country and community.
“Initially, I enrolled in the first women’s course offered by Dubai Police, where I had the privilege of being trained under the guidance of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum - may his soul rest in peace,” Mama Khatoun said.
At Amana, the 62-year-old made significant progress. “She had been fully independent before these complications, working, driving and even enjoying activities at the Kite Beach.
“At Amana, she really wanted to impress us, and whatever we asked, she would really try and prove that she could do it. And she was an ideal rehab candidate to have at Amana because she was so motivated. She was so, so determined. She kind of understood everything that we wanted her to do. And there was always carry-over. So, if she did something on a Monday, that was it, it was done on Monday, and she would do it for the rest of the time while she was here,” Quealy said.
Due to her progress in therapy, Mama Khatoun even decided to document her daily improvement through video footage.
“She was like the cool mom. So that was the role she basically took on. [Working with her] never felt like a job to us. When we did our therapy sessions with Mama Khatoun, and it was like helping our mother. She is really, really special,” Dennis said.
A kind word for all
“She always had a word of encouragement, for everybody, regardless of who you were — whether a therapist or another patient, and it was always like she really wanted to lift people’s spirits,” Quealy added.
From being dependent on machines for her breathing, Mama Khatoun progressed to swimming in the pool.
“She was on a mechanical ventilator when she first came to us. As we did hydrotherapy with her, she went under the water. She could hold her breath. She was able to swim the full length of the pool. She went from being dependent on a machine for her breathing to challenging herself in the pool. I think that was quite a special moment for her as well,” Dennis said.
Family support was also instrumental in helping Mama Khatoun bounce back. Staff at Amana said her children were her biggest cheerleaders and supporters.
“We formed quite a strong relationship with some of her daughters in particular, and they would be around, they would stay with her quite a lot. They were really, really, supportive of her. They were her number one support system. Anytime she would go to the gym, anytime she would do anything, they would be with her, giving her words of encouragement,” Quealy said.
Mama Khatoun went on to spent Ramadan at Amana, and also celebrated a number of other occasions at the facility.
“She always really enjoyed participating in the many gatherings and events here, like Eid and Mother’s Day. She made the celebrations special, even for people who were here and obviously maybe at one of the worst times in their lives being in hospital,” Quealy said.
For her part, Mama Khatoun was appreciative of all the support she received at Amana.
“The staff at Amana Healthcare became like a second family to me. Each team member took great care in ensuring my well-being and worked diligently to help me regain my mobility. It truly felt like a home to me. The nurses were particularly attentive, taking me for walks in the facility’s outdoor green area and even accompanying me to shopping malls and dinners. I also had the opportunity to connect with fellow patients, forming deep friendships and special bonds,” Mama Khatoun said.
The day that she finally left Amana, Mama Khatoun’s children organised a going-home party for her.
“[Her children] had a beautiful gathering. It was during Ramadan and there was an iftar and fireworks,” Dennis remembered.
Now back at her residence, Mama Khatoun is continuing to work on her strength.
“I strive to remain physically active by regularly walking around the house as much as possible. This commitment arises from my desire to improve my physical health and overall well-being. I am also committed to maintaining the great reputation of my beloved country. I am always working hard to make it safer and more secure, as part of the Dubai Police,” she said.
True to her reputation, Mama Khatoun has set fresh goals to inspire her.
“Once my health is fully restored, my foremost goal is to embark on an Umrah journey, God willing. I also cherish a great passion for travel and exploring new destinations, and look forward to travelling again,” she said.