Dubai: Some healthcare professionals do not have the luxury to rest or tweak their duty hours during Ramadan, yet they work with as much enthusiasm and compassion even while fighting hunger and thirst.
Naushad Mohammad, 42, a South African expat from Durban and director of emergency services at VIP Health Care Ambulance Services, Dubai, said: “There is nothing more powerful than helping a sick person and in our company we never say no to a patient. Be it 2am in the morning or at [sunset] when I have to end my fast, I am on the job 24 hours. If my drivers are busy, I volunteer to drive the ambulance because to us, the patient is priority.”
Mohammad has been a paramedic since the age of 20 and heads an ambulance service with a fleet of 25 ambulances, and medical and non-medical staff of 65 personnel. He said his job is always challenging and stressful, regardless of fasting.
‘I never say no to anyone’
“During Ramadan, I look at this as a test of my patience, forbearance and compassion. I never say no to anyone. Recently, I had a call at 2am in the morning, when a man called to transfer his mother from the hospital to the airport. I agreed to fulfil this need, because in our organisation, this is what we do. My wife and four kids, who have to deal with my long absences and call to duty at irregular hours, have cooperated with me always.”
Mohammad takes extra care of his health to be able to rise to the rigours of his job.
“I make sure to spend a good amount of time in the gym, doing weights and cardio to keep fit. I take care to hydrate myself well during suhoor and iftar and am disciplined about the food I consume. I avoid oily, high-sugar snacks. I also make sure to get at least five hours of sleep in an intermittent fashion when there is no call. Over the last 22 years in this profession, I have trained myself and the biggest satisfaction to me is doing my job well,” he said.
‘I never miss a day of fasting’
Ever since Filipina nurse Maria ‘Ameena’ Romina L Reyes converted to Islam in 2009, she has been very pious about keeping her fasts during tRamadan. Maria, 51, who hails from the Mindanao district of the Philippines, came to Dubai in 1999 and began working as a nurse in a government hospital. She currently works as shift-in-charge at the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit of the Canadian Hospital. Maria is married to an Iranian expat and has a daughter.
“Since childhood I was greatly drawn to the teachings of Islam and when I joined as a nurse at one of Dubai’s government hospitals in 1999, I had a chance to experience the culture at close hand. I converted in 2009 and since then, I make sure that even if I am on duty, I never miss a single day of fasting, praying and reading the Holy Quran with my family,” she said.
Maria often chooses to work during the fasting hours.
“It is very tough as in our job, we cannot slacken our pace. During Ramadan, I go to bed by 11pm. I have a proper meal when I end the fast during iftar time. This is usually while we are on duty and the hospital provides us food during Ramadan. Once I am done, I reach home, shower, rest have a snack and go to bed by 11pm. Then I am awake again by 3.30am for suhoor and prayers.”
She ensures she eats the right suhoor to give her energy to be able to complete her duty. She usually go back to sleep after Fajr (dawn) prayer and gets up at 6.30am again to report to work by 7am. Usually her duty hours are 7am to 7pm.
Being the shift in-charge in the NICU ward at Canadian Hospital, her duties require her to be on her toes at all times.
“We have are pre-term babies who require close monitoring. There is lot of paperwork to be completed and phone calls to attend. Sometimes it feels tough and I try to catch some short power naps in the day when work is light. The hospital allows us to rest in turns when it is less busy, during Ramadan,” Maria said.
“I feel Ramadan provides us an opportunity to be able to learn the true virtues of patience and service to others. I look at my work during the holy month as an opportunity to practice the teachings of Islam in a first-hand manner.”
'I have learnt to be very calm'
For Egyptian expat Dr Hesham Gad, 60, who is medical director and specialist in internal medicine at the International Modern Hospital, Dubai, there is no slowing down of patient traffic during Ramadan.
“In fact, as an administrator and as a doctor I find often there is more work to be done during Ramadan. The number of patients who come to the clinic is usually high, as illness does not decline during this period. Patients come in with complaints of fever, food poisoning, diarrhoea, nausea and issues that are even more serious during festival times. This is usually a busy time at our clinic,” said Dr Gad, who feels that even though the number of hours at his work are reduced to six, he is still attending to patients beyond the reduced hours.
“Over the years I have learnt to be very calm and cool even though I am fasting. I feel this is an important part of who I am while I am contemplating on the Almighty, I cannot afford to get angry no matter how provocative hunger and thirst may be as triggers. Ramadan teaches us about maintaining work-life balance with grace. Therefore, even though I might be hungry, dehydrated, or tired while attending to a patient, I have trained myself to attend to the needs of my patient.”
He added: “In the evening, if for some reason iftar is delayed because there was some loss of time in preparing food, I make sure I am calm and even-tempered. Being in control of your emotions is very important during this holy month as we learn the value of these virtues in this month more than in any other period of our lives.”
Giving his 100 per cent to his work is important for Dr Gad. Therefore, he makes sure his suhoor is brief but balanced.
“I wake up and have my pre-dawn suhoor meal, which is usually high protein and natural sugars and water. We have a secret recipe from my hometown Alexandria, where we add fresh dates to omelette. That is a very nutritious dish and I make sure I include, nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits and water in my pre-dawn meal.
“After prayer, I go back to sleep by 5am and wake up for work by 9am. I report to work at the hospital by 10am and work through the six hours. Work often spills beyond the stipulated time. However, I cannot say no to a patient, as this is my duty. When I reach home by4 pm, I take a two-hour nap and get up by 6pm to prepare for prayer and iftar.”
Since Ramadan means family time also, Dr Gad loves catching his favourite TV shows with his wife and four kids. “We often are awake until midnight,” he said. “I catch a couple of hours of sleep after suhoor, a power nap in the afternoon and at least five hours in the night. This way I make sure that I am not sleep-deprived.”