Updated 2012-03-30 07:08

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 wil

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.

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