Expat Bubble Burst

breast cancer doha

It’s the phrase that’s bandied about, ‘the expat bubble’. It suggests the notion that us expats live in a bubble, somewhat removed from ‘real’ life.

We tune in to the news from home and of course, we relate, but it’s not on our doorstep, we’re not looking at the fallout every day, so we scroll down to a different topic in our newsfeed and carry on with our lives beside the pool.

As time passes and we keep ourselves busy with Jones’s, its only natural that we become a little complacent. Our community in Doha are all professional thirty and forty-somethings, so we’re blinkered, we begin to think that bad news is when the Ritz haven’t booked the table by the window for brunch, the Airline hasn’t added your points for the last flight, worst case scenario a child breaks an arm and you have to spend like two full hours in A & E but we can console yourself with valet parking.

So far removed from our previous everyday lives back in the Ireland, parked here in the Persian Gulf with none of our neighbours talking to us, you might think that the woes of world can’t reach, but they can and do.

This week the news of brave Emma Hannigan is one story that jumped out of the newsfeed and into my thoughts all week. Always a fan of her courage to fight but now I’m in awe of her downright dignity to say goodbye, not to mention her ability to almost turn something from dreadful to bittersweet, almost. So of course, these days, breast cancer is forefront in our minds and I’m thinking of how recently a friend of mine here in Doha was faced with those three little words, she ‘found a lump’. In the absence of a familiar family GP she turned to me and google, between the three of us, we decided that it was best to be on the safe side and get checked straight away.   I think it’s important at this stage to mention that Breast Cancer awareness is being highlighted here and the Hamad Hospital are a centre of excellence for breast cancer detection and treatment, so the good news was we weren’t in a bad place, it’s always a bad time.

See it wasn’t meant to happen like this, she came to Doha for a few years out, she was of the same understanding as I was, that once your arrived in Doha nothing bad could happen. You had emigrated that meant you left everything at home, good, bad and ugly, everything in Doha would be new. Onwards we went and started on the examination journey. We were told the route, first to the Health Centre for initial exam where she would get a letter of referral to the Hamad hospital, once there her case would be dealt with immediately.

But the road is never predictable, we arrived at the Health Centre, and told for ‘this kind of problem’ we needed to see a female doctor, there were only male doctors available that day. My friend’s hands were at this stage red from wringing in worry, ‘please’, we said, we just need the letter, ‘Sorry, my dear, the female doctor will be in on Thursday, you can come back?’.   We looked at each other, there would be no back, ‘Actually’ we said, ‘there is another problem, sore leg, we can see male doctor for sore leg’, ‘yes’ the receptionist said, no problem.

We sat in silence outside his room door and once inside she asked, ‘I’m actually here about a lump I found on my breast’, ‘Sorry’ he said, ‘I cannot examine, ‘You can, and you will, I need the referral NOW’. Her insistence and subsequent yanking off her top and forcing him to feel the lump, left the Mr Abdullah somewhat shaken as he wrote the referral letter.   Following that shaky start, the service was impeccable and incidentally the results positively negative.

But breast cancer is alive and kicking in Qatar, there are Irish expats here getting diagnosed and treated every day, a courageous journey made even more courageous by being in a country far from home. There is no expat bubble there is only an illusion and those of us inside the imaginary bubble are just plain lucky.


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