Emergency Services in Riyadh

Because of an earlier conversation, I thought it might be helpful to post a bit of information about how the Emergency Services work here in Riyadh. I am a paramedic from America and i work for the Red Crescent, which is the public ambulance provider who will respond if you call 997. If you live on a compound, generally we will respond also, unless it is a hospital compound like National Guard, King Faisal, etc.or your compound has an agreement with these hospitals to provide emergency services. There are many private ambulances that display a Red Crescent logo, but they may or may not stop for an accident or medical emergency. These are private ambulances owned by private hospitals, dental clinics, or any number of other businesses. They only respond to private calls for service, and are rarely staffed with personnel with any training or medical knowledge. Every official Saudi Red Crescent ambulance will say "Saudi Red Crescent Authority" underneath the Red Crescent logo. They will also have "997" prominently displayed in English and Arabic, along with a red and white checkered pattern along the bottom of the vehicle. The primary colors for the official Red Crescent ambulances and response vehicles is red and white. Most private ambulances will be green or blue or some other color, although there are a few that are red. Unless you specifically stay on a compound where they tell you another ambulance is supposed to respond (King Faisal, National Guard, etc.) be very cautious about accepting any assistance from private ambulances. As i said earlier, the personnel may have no training at all. The Red Crescent, along with the ambulances from most major hospitals like National Guard and King Faisal will have staff that meet at least minimum training standards, and very possibly western trained staff.

For any medical or trauma emergency, 997 is the number emergency number for the Red Crescent. Not all dispatchers will speak English, but if you say "english only" or something along those lines, they will try find a person in the dispatch center who does speak English. Generally this will be a Saudi or Egyptian doctor. Also, if you are obviously having an emergency in public, a bystander who speaks Arabic may be able to assist, so handing off the phone is not a bad idea either. The main things you need to tell dispatch are: what is wrong (medical, trauma, road traffic accident (RTA) how serious it is (you can usually say "need paramedic") and most importantly, where you are at.

It is important to know where you are in Riyadh at all times. We don't think about it always, but when you are driving on the highway, you should always try to know what highway you are on (Dammam, North Ring, Khurais, etc.) and also what exit you just passed. If you are not on a highway it is important to know what main cross road you are close to (King Abdullah at Olaya Rd. or Al Aruba at King Fahd for example) and also what landmarks are you by (Kingdom Tower, Faisaliah Tower, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) you can convey a lot of information just by always knowing those two things, what major street you are on by what major landmark. You can also direct them to a compound if need be, just by telling them the name. They will almost always be able to recognize most major compounds by name.  Like i mentioned earlier, bystanders are helpful a lot. Even if you can not tell them what is wrong, you can tell them "tissa tissa sabba, mumpkin mousaif" This means "997, I need an EMT." if you want to be polite you can add "min fatlick" for "please" or if you are really in a hurry, you can add "RIGHT F****NG NOW!!!" (No translation necessary) either way, it is your choice.

Now, to give you an idea of how things work around here... Every call to 997 gets an ambulance. On this ambulance will be one of four possibilities:

1.) 2 Saudi EMTs. Most EMTs have a basic understanding of English and can muddle through things with you. Some speak very good English. They have basic medical knowledge, and can patch up your severe bleeding, start an IV, and even intubate if you are not breathing. They are not to be underestimated!

2.) 1 Saudi EMT and a South African or EMT advanced. The South Africans are sharp and have good training. I would let them take care of me any day over some of the doctors.

3.) 1 Saudi EMT and one Egyptian doctor. Some of the egyptian doctors are good, but most come from random specialties (cardiology, public health, etc.) that mean they should really be in a hospital setting, not on the streets doing "dirty work." Some of them are downright scary sometimes. Use your better judgement. Something is better than nothing in an emergency.

4.) Very rarely you will luck out and get a Saudi EMT and a Western paramedic. All of the Western paramedic speak good English and have outstanding training and experience. Believe it or not, we were vetted pretty extensively in order to get here. We had to have 3 plus years in EMS back home and come from an accredited school.

The reason you will rarely see a Western paramedic on an ambulance is that most of the time we are in fast response vehicles, either a Toyota Camry, or possibly a Chevy Tahoe. Since there are so few western trained paramedics in the city, they try to keep us mobile. On serious cases we will respond with the ambulance and try to intercept them to provide advanced care. This is why i advise that when calling 997, you say something about needing a paramedic, as dispatch will pick up on this term and hopefully send one of the intercept vehicles along with the ambulance. We do not have all of the supplies we are used to at home, but we do pretty well with e little we have. If you are seriously injured, you really want one of us to come...

I mentioned earlier that traffic accidents are called RTA here. If you were to call 997 and say "RTA, exit 26, Khurais Rd. Need paramedic" I can almost guarantee you will be understood by the dispatcher, even if they really don't speak English. These are just a few terms they will understand though. You can also say "Medical case, (location) need paramedic" or something else simple yet explanatory. Remember, sometimes less is more. As always with a language barrier, using simple short terms will help avoid confusion.

Unless you are critical, meaning you probably will not be able to talk, the staff will ask if you have a file at a hospital. If you do, tell them where. Also, if your insurance is through a specific hospital, tell them to take you to that hospital. If you do not have insurance and do not have a file, they will take you wherever, but unless you are critical, that hospital will only accept you if you can pay in full in cash on the spot prior to treatment. This is not like America or other countries where they have to fully assess you to see if you are critical or not. Generally in order to be considered critical, you need to be in pretty bad shape. If not, the doctor at the hospital may take a glance at you in the back of the ambulance and say "stable patient, take them to shimesi." Shimesi is where the folks without insurance go. with that being said, i really only advise calling 997 if the situation is so serious you don't feel comfortable taking your car or having a taxi or friend drive you.

Good hospitals to go to if you take a taxi or private car are National Guard or King Faisal (both in Riyadh.) these are the hospitals i would want to be taken to if i was seriously ill or injured. Nothing against other hospitals (i know there are some on here who work for other institutions) but this has just been my experience. Please fill free to add your thoughts if you like.

If you have serious or chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, or something like this, have a friend who can write Arabic make you a note with your condition, a list of medications and allergies,  and your personal information (iqama, nationality, insurance info, employer, emergency contact) in case you are found unconscious or involved in a bad RTA.

A lot of this is common sense, but i thought i would throw it out there for those of you coming to Riyadh with no clue. This information is good for Jeddah also, along with most other major cities in KSA. Also, remember, on compounds, things are different sometimes, so if you have been given different emergency information by your employer, use that. This information is good if you are in public or live someplace that does not have an agreement with a private ambulance. 

To sum it up:
Keep it simple with the dispatcher
Try to find a bystander who can assist with Arabic communication
Know where you are at always!
Don't confuse a private ambulance with a Red Crescent ambulance
And stay calm obviously. The odds are you will most likely be alright. Even though the medicine over here is not totally western, if you are really sick or badly injured, the Red Crescent staff will recognize that and take you to one of the more advanced hospitals that has a higher standard of care than some of the gorier stories you have almost certainly heard.

For those of you who have been here,, feel free to add anything that maybe you see from your perspective, that i may have missed from mine. Also, if you have any advice or stories, put them here for others to see. If you are coming and have questions about this stuff, feel free to ask...I will either know the answer or make something up.

Excellent post WTENGEL

Thanks for taking the time to write that

So, now I know to keep my ID on me at all times, be aware of my location, and know which hospital to go for treatment.

Does anyone know what the Arabic phrase is for 'near to' ?



'Mumkin too sighdni?' means Can you help me?

near-kareeb
near to shahab-kareeb min shahab

maybe...me too learning arabic

its actually

GHAREEB = NEAR
POSSIBLE = MUMKIN (pronounced MOOMKIN and does not rhyme with Pumpkin)

Just to update this a little.

Since August of 2010 Red Crescent has air ambulance helicopters fully equipped in Riyadh and Jeddah full time 24/7 and during Hajj and a couple weeks before and after there are helicopters stationed on the main highways south of Jeddah, at the entrance to Meccah in Shemaisi, and all the way north to Medina.

Here in Riyadh we have helicopters stationed full time at Al Imam Hospital and others stationed north at Thumama airport. We transport patients to National Guard and other hospitals depending on various reasons. We fly with 2 Saudi doctors and one of them will have a specialization in emergency medicine. In fact one of the doctors I'm flying with today was the medical director for an emergency room for over 3 years.

I've already seen the doctors insert chest tubes and perform other advanced lifesaving techniques that most ambulance crews aren't permitted to perform due to their protocols. As an ex-flight paramedic (State and military) before I became a pilot I can say that emergency medicine can only get better as time goes by.

One important thing to remember also is that the helicopter services ARE TOTALLY FREE no matter who you are!!! Let me repeat that TOTALLY FREE and you'll get 2 doctors to take care of you on the way to the hospital.

Having said that please drive carefully and use your seatbelts at all times, not only when you're driving up to a checkpoint.

So as you see emergency medicine is slowly getting better here in Saudi and if you're in a real bad situation you can count on the Red Crescent (SRCA) helicopter to get to you and get you to a hospital while giving you great treatment on the way there.

Ioanna :

Excellent post WTENGEL

Thanks for taking the time to write that

So, now I know to keep my ID on me at all times, be aware of my location, and know which hospital to go for treatment.

Does anyone know what the Arabic phrase is for 'near to' ?



'Mumkin too sighdni?' means Can you help me?

help me ---  "too-saw-id-knee" with the id pronounced as in kid

as part of the cultural traditions, saudi men will generally refrain from helping/touching a woman even in trouble unless she specifically asks them/give them permission to do so ..

thank u for the information regarding the helicopter emergency service. most kind

Sure. Regarding the medics or doctors touching female patients your idea is correct but in reality when you're hurt the majority of people just want help. All the religious feeling go out the window and they're glad anyone is helping them!

Besides since I travel every month in and out of Saudi I've been seeing lots of woman who wear the abaya here but as soon as we're on the plane out of the country the abaya comes off and they're left wearing super tight short short skirts and have their boobs sticking out of their open shirts.

Not judging anything just saying what I observe.

WOW!! that is one very very helpful and informative post.. Keep em coming! the more we know about all these things the better!

TexasPilot :

Sure. Regarding the medics or doctors touching female patients your idea is correct but in reality when you're hurt the majority of people just want help. All the religious feeling go out the window and they're glad anyone is helping them!

Besides since I travel every month in and out of Saudi I've been seeing lots of woman who wear the abaya here but as soon as we're on the plane out of the country the abaya comes off and they're left wearing super tight short short skirts and have their boobs sticking out of their open shirts.

Not judging anything just saying what I observe.

I didn't say the saudi women would mind being helped by a guy ;) I was referring to saudi guys refraining from helping a woman in trouble.. specially a saudi woman..

Our medics and doctors don't really care if the patient is man or woman, they just treat a patient. Of course with all the respectful treatment that both men and woman deserve but don't stop treating them due to their sex.

TexasPilot :

Our medics and doctors don't really care if the patient is man or woman, they just treat a patient. Of course with all the respectful treatment that both men and woman deserve but don't stop treating them due to their sex.

TexasPilot, I greatly respect the honorable job you guys do .. I was referring to the general attitude of the crowd, not the professional medics..

Although there's always the possibility that you could get some family members who might get upset about a man treating a woman the reality is that everybody just wants their family or friends to be taken care of and when we land at a car crash we're treated like rock stars.

The drivers of the cars that are stuck while traffic is blocked for us to land hate us but oh well....

The statement "Every call to 997 gets an ambulance" is incorrect.  Also, if the helicopter service is available, I'd like to know how to get it activated, since we could not do so when we needed it.

I was involved in evacuating a very badly injured person from an offroad location yesterday, since the call to 997 resulted in our being told "If the injured person isn't Saudi, we're not sending an ambulance.".  Our situation was clearly communicated, since we had an Arabic speaker in our group.

Are there alternatives to calling 997?

Thank you for any additional emergency contact recommendations you or others may have.

I have not heard of that happening before. I am currently in Riyadh working for Al-Ghad International Health Science College Paramedic Program. You said it was an off road location - where exactly were you?

Off Makkah road, only 3 km past the police checkpoint, about 2 km offroad there.   We tried to get them to meet us at the highway, but they refused.

We're not going to push the issue, since it could be that we simply had a communication issue (even though we had an Arabic speaking person on the phone), but I'd still like to know if there are alternatives to the 997 number.

Thanks,
Rob

I think there must have definitely been a mis communication. When I was in Saudi we transported many non Saudi patients. The 997 dispatchers never asked if the patient was Saudi or not.

Your alternatives would be to call a private hospital based service, most likely the hospital your emPloyer has insurance with. You are highly unlikely to get western trained personnel with this option, unless you are calling a larger hospital like National Guard or Faisal.

Like I said, I'm thinking there must have been a mis communication. I can't imagine the dispatcher asking the nationality and refusing service. It never happened while I was there, and transporting non Saudi patients was common.

Thx all. I will chalk it up to a one time error in communication and cross my fingers that I don't have to test the system again. Cheers.

Found this thread to be very useful.  I will be arriving in KSA on January 5th and will begin working with a comapny called Alpha Star Aviation as a flight Paramedic.  I have been doing some research and the input on this blog just verified a lot of what I have learned. Don't know much about th eoutfit that hired me but my position is as a Flight Medic Supervisor in Riyadh.  I was just happy to be selected for the position.  I'm guessing they are one of the private outfits you spoke about. Appreciate the information...

thank u for the information regarding the helicopter emergency service. most kind

Dear WTENGEL,

Thanks immensely for the detailed, step-by-step instructions of what to do in an emergency.

God forbid we need to use the services, but in case we do, it's great to know that there are such competent paramedics to salvage our organs.

Have a nice day !!

rehabdoc :

salvage our organs

LMAO!!!!!  (did you mean to be funny?)

LMAO!!!!!  (did you mean to be funny?)

Well, it might be I have a wry sense of humour, but I'm a Doc myself, and I know that in case of a sudden cardiac arrest, or a shock following a large haemorrhage, the blood pressure can fall critically to cause damage to organs like the brain, liver & kidneys.

A prompt response by the paramedics can rapidly restart the circulation, perfusing these organs and limiting the damage, making the job of us Docs that much easier.

I wasn't doubting the validity of what you said--rather, how you said it :)

Mmeooww  !!

*purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr*

:joking:

Hi,

My name is Abram,thank you very much for information that you have post in June2010 about emergency services in Riyadh it has helped me,I'm from South Africa. I'm practicing as a intermediate life support-Paramedic and been offered position in Riyadh,what I like to is that can I live and support my family of three with amount of 10,000 in Saudi?

Thank you very much for your kind assistance and looking forward to receive your. reply.

Regards,

Abram

Hello Abram -> As you've noticed, this thread is old. I suggest you to start a new thread on the Riyadh forum for more visibility. :)

Thank you,
Aurélie

Aurélie :

Hello Abram -> As you've noticed, this thread is old. I suggest you to start a new thread on the Riyadh forum for more visibility. :)

Thank you,
Aurélie

Good suggestion, Aurélie.  But before doing that, he should go to COST OF LIVING in 'Topic Categories' and read the other threads that deal with this subject (which has been covered extensively).  I'm sure he'll find all he needs to know :)

Good luck.

depends of wo pays for the living expenses. my brother has a family of 4 + one maid, and it is hard at times. If they take care of the living then 10000 is reasonable. if you have to pay for living then 10000 is not so good. rents for a 2 bed 2 bath apartments go from 25000 SAR and up. if you want to rent one floor of a house it would be 55000 SAR and up (all of that rent is per year)

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