Working with very ill young patients and the families who watch over them in hospital is more than a career choice for Suhaila Abdulla. It is her life.
The dedication of the Emirati, as head of case management at Latifa Hospital in Dubai, means she never has a weekend to completely relax or enjoy herself.
But she does not mind at all.
“That is the job,” says Ms Abdulla, 45. “My phone is on 24 hours a day and I give my number to patients’ parents.
“They call me, always, even after their relative has been discharged. You might spend months, even years, with a patient’s family.”
The nature of her work handling bed management for chronic and long-term patients means she often forges long-term relationships with the families of patients.
One such patient has spent every second of his life at Latifa Hospital.
“He has been with us since the day he was born 24 years ago, in a coma all this time,” says Ms Abdulla.
“The parents refused to have him transferred to a dedicated, long-term healthcare facility, and they are afraid to take him home or transfer to any other hospital.”
Her work means she has to deal with the cycle of life and death that is common to any hospital.
“When patients pass away, that is the difficult side of the job,” says Ms Abdulla. “And that is when I need to support the patient’s family even more.”
Although she has been in her role for 11 years, her association with the hospital stretches back almost three decades.
She was working in administration before being chosen for the position.
“I am very happy in my job,” Ms Abdulla says. “I like to be with the patients and their families because I put myself in their situation.
“If that happened to me or my family I would need someone in the hospital to support me. This is my mission – to make the patients and their parents or relatives happy.”
It is a role that requires her to be part hospital worker, and part social worker and counsellor.
“All my time is with patients – the difficult cases, the chronic cases,” Ms Abdulla says. “Maybe they will be angry and shout but you have to put yourself in their position.
“My job is to make their life easier, to oversee the nurses, the machines, the beds. But first, it is to support the parents, to explain what has happened to their relative, to their child.”
She works with the medical team and families to decide if a patient can be discharged to a home or to make patients comfortable if they face life on a ventilator because of their illness.
For expatriate patients, this can mean trying to get them back to their families in their home countries.
For local families, Ms Abdulla designs a blueprint that best suits patients’ everyday long-term care.
It is a tough and sometimes emotionally wearing job but Ms Abdulla says the rewards are many, and she would like to see more Emirati women in health care. For now, she remains an “unsung hero”, an accolade bestowed on her by many of her colleagues and by the relatives she helps to care for.
Dr Arif Faquih, the hospital’s acting head of neonatology, says Ms Abdulla’s job is not just work, it is a calling.
Her natural empathy allows her to relate to parents and family members during troubled times.
“She has passion and understanding,” Dr Faquih says. “She realises how difficult it is for them.
“What she does is a very difficult task, and she is never bound by time.”
© The NationalAug 2016