Saturday, March 6, 2010

Please, please, please - I beg! - figure out EXACTLY where you live, and do it now

I had a scary experience last night when a very sick colleague who lives across the hall pounded on my door in the middle of the night. Whether it was food poisoning or an allergic reaction – she has before gone into anaphylaxic shock and felt she was again – she'd called an ambulance via 999 and wanted me to wait with her until they arrived.

Until they arrived! I can only be thankful that her condition did not worsen, as I spent the next 30 or so minutes on the phone with the ambulance driver, finally running blocks away because it is pretty hard to convey a set of directions that involve four major cross streets, a bunch of left and right turns, one university, a place called "White Cat Laundry" and a series of other minor landmarks I was too tired and confused to remember.

There is no street addressing system in Abu Dhabi - the city is due one by the end of the year - and I have heard tales before of people who try to get ambulances and cop cars to them, seeing the lights and hearing the sirens but not being able to direct them closer. Now I know why the US Overseas Security Advisory Council advises that those who move to the city prepare a set of workable directions that can be kept by the phone, and that they make sure the emergency operator fully understands them. Getting an ambulance to one's house is a little different than inviting a bunch of people over for a dinner party. There is no luxury of time.

This is a place that survives on landmarks. I even wrote about this for the Globe and Mail last year, and just to give you an idea of what it is like, here is an excerpt:

Julie Greenhalgh, a British expatriate, has lived in the capital for seven years and runs a reflexology business out of her home. Without any major landmarks to reference in her neighbourhood, she e-mails her clients a map and provides a series of directions that includes "a mosque on the right, a low yellow building that's a new school ... two buildings that used to be yellow and now are brown," the colour of her villa, the pink bougainvillea draped over its walls, and her sandy-coloured Mitsubishi SUV parked outside.
"I'd say 70 per cent of my clients still can't find it," she said. "I'm used to standing in street waving."

But try to remember landmarks when you think a person could be dying! Last night I had a paramedic telling me repeatedly he was by "Technical Scissors", a store on Muroor Road almost one major city block from our place. I tried to direct him to us, saying he should head to the Corniche, turn left and then a quick right. But I quickly grew defeated as I wondered how to navigate past all the twisty turny roads to our place. It didn't help that every time I asked him where he was, he said "Technical Scissors". At one point he was a block away, heading in the wrong direction. I was running towards the store, now far away from a very sick friend, when I found this out. I am ashamed to say that a few minutes later when I asked him where he was and he said "Technical Scissors", I began to scream "how is it possible that can you be at Technical Scissors again???" (To his credit, he simply asked me not to yell at him. Later, when we were chatting as our patient was being loaded into the ambulance and we were having a debrief - and after I apologised - I mentioned Technical Scissors. He smiled and said "let's not talk about Technical Scissors".)

Alls well that ends well, and she is recovering in hospital and I am about to have a big nap. As soon as I wake I am doing exactly as the US Overseas Security Advisory Council advises and keeping clear instructions by the phone. What if it was life and death and there was not 30 minutes to spare? After experiencing what it is like to get an ambulance while groggy, panicked and dealing with the ever-present language barrier, in a city that waits for street names and numbers that all of its residents will follow and use, in an apartment building that might as well be hidden, I implore anyone who reads this (and hopefully all the friends, family and colleagues they tell) to do the same.


Jayne said...

Have a chat with your Editor & see if you can't do another article for publishing in the National on this subject!
Even though I lived in a prominent building, when it came time for me to call an ambulance, it was extremely frustrating. I had to first get someone to talk to who actually spoke English (turns out it as a Filipino medic) & when I explained we lived in the NBD building on Electra St. he said he knew it (who didn't??) but trying to explain to him that there was a car park at the back of the building was incredibly frustrating! Eventually, at 3am, I went & stood out in the road & 'directed' the ambulance into the car park.

Fast forward a couple of years & I find myself now living in a small town that's suffering a huge expansion & it's like deja vu; 'Do you know where the police station is? Well, you go past that...........'

Dave said...

Your Blog is certainly an eye opener for me, and I will confess to not having given this subject much thought at all, apart from when the pizza man can't find me or I speak to a frustrated cabbie.

Naturally I can give clear and concise directions when not under pressure, but I put myself in your situation and I can understand the strain and confusion that must have occured.

I will be writing directions down in case I am also involved in just such an emergency. Thank you for enlightening me.

Mohammed said...

To add to the problems, it doesnt help that most people here have no spatial awareness, and are unaware that Sharjah is to the North of Dubai, or that Al ain is to the east of Abu Dhabi. They are robots who only understand "straight, first right, u-turn", and similar instructions ..

mezba said...

In Abu Dhabi they did that some time ago but no one used it and people retained the old names. The government should try and force the issue.

I am doing a comparison of living in Canada (Toronto) and the UAE (Dubai) on my blog right now, and this is one of the little issues I would have.

rosh said...

I hear you Ann. Sharjah now has street names, numbers and home addresses. It's a huge relief for some, and a learning process those used to landmark based directions.

Wreckless Euroafrican said...

"Technical Scissors".
Whats that? A referance to being emotionaly cut up? A place where they make / use / sell cutting equipment for industrial use? Geez, it's a scary thought that you can't direct someone to your home, especially in a time of crisis.
yup, you better suryvey your surroundings, and make copies for your immediate neighbours. In fact, why not offer the "Survy and map" as a service! Could be a business opp. there!
Good luck,

Anonymous said...

Who cares if a few foreigners die? It's God's will. Whores and bastards die. Simple.

M said...

If i am not mistaken, there are about 2 or three "Technical Scissors" shops in abu dhabi; good thing the ambulance didn't go to one of the other locations.

keep up the good work on your blog :)

Amanda said...

I had a similar experience with getting the police and ambulance to come to my place a couple of months ago when I discovered a maid who had fell and hurt her head and back trying to escape from her employers in the middle of the night. They took forever to come and I eventually had to flag the police down as they drove right by my place the first time.

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