Changing Departments: Off to Oncology Clinic

October 23, 2014

So I’ve been in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center for about 2.5 months now.

I had originally applied to KFSH&RC because I wanted to become an oncology nurse and learn chemotherapy. At home, it is fairly difficult to get into chemotherapy clinics as positions are usually snatched up by staff with much more seniority.

So learning that KFSH&RC was opening a big a new cancer center and looking to train new staff… I jumped at the opportunity to come here and learn new skills.

Unfortunately… but not really… I ended up in the Radiation Clinic for a few months initially as this is where I had some background experience back home. But after 2.5 months… of really not utilizing my Radiation Therapy nursing skills… and not much of my nursing skills in general… I realized I had to switch departments. To something a little more intense… where I’d actually learn what I’d come out to Saudi Arabia to do!

I requested a department transfer to the Oncology Clinic… and after a few weeks of following through the appropriate chanels… I landed an interview with the head nurse… who then offered me a job in the Oncology Clinic. YAY!! I would be trained in chemotherapy administration and also would take a basic oncology course to gain a greater understanding of oncology nursing.

Fortunately, between my Palliative ICU background and my Radiation Clinic experience from Canada… Oncology nursing isn’t completely new for me so I’ll have a bit of a leg to stand on… I hope!!

Anyways. Today is my last day in Radiation Clinic. I’ve loved getting to know a lot of the staff there and building relationships with them and some of the patients… However… it is time already … to move onto what I came out here to do…

Masalama Radiation Clinic… I’ll just be a couple floors above you now 😀

Nerd Alert: Can’t wait to start learning heaps of new things again!! I seriously love cancer care… it’s fascinating!! I could talk about it for ages… but I won’t bore you with my jabber of that at the moment.

So… enjoy this video… love the app… it had myself and my coworker Vivian, from back home, laughing hysterically for ages at work!! Stress relief!!



Welcome to the Radiation Team

September 18, 2014

Today is Thursday. And Thursday means it is a relatively quiet and lazy day in the Radiation Clinic. No doctors clinics. Just a few drop in patients who might need to see a nurse/doctor before the weekend but nothing scheduled.

So it is generally a day where we have inservices and various presentations for “staff development” and such.

And we also get to have parties!!!

I’ve been in Radiation Clinic for almost a month now, and Vivian has just arrived. So the unit held a welcome party for us… and a masalama (goodbye) party for Esperenza who is leaving us for another department.


The great thing about Thursdays here in Radiation Clinic is that there are no official clinics so it is so much less busy… Although it does get a little boring! But today it’s a good thing because we could easily spend some time decorating the staff room…


And easily spend an hour or so at lunch hanging out with the whole radiation interdisciplinary team… The radiation therapists, the nurses, even our head nurse and the doctors. I really really enjoy this group of people actually… and coming from a region in Canada, just outside Vancouver, where the majority of my coworkers were Caucasian as well as the majority of our patients… it is a wonderful experience to work with people from all around the world!!


I must say… it is absolutely wonderful to have a coworker from back home here with me… it helps you gain perspective one days when its a little hard to find a positive perspective… or when you’re feeling particularly challenged by the differences in practice between Saudi Arabia and Canada… It’s nice to have a friend who understands where you come from and what it was like back home… So, I’m very happy to have Vivian here with me!


There was so much food there it was a little ridiculous almost!! Asking everyone to bring a dish for a potluck results in excessive amounts of food. But in this extremely multicultural workplace, it’s great because we get to sample food from all over the world! Homemade sushi, Saudi dishes, Indian food, ceasar salad (my contribution as requested… Tried to make it with turkey bacon but it just doesn’t crisp up or taste as delicious on top of ceasar salad as the real stuff!!)

Anyways…. It was a really great way to end the workweek… especially because after the potluck, all of us nurses just sat around chit chatting and building friendships with each other!


The end. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!!!



We do work some days…

September 2014

So… I know it seems like all I do is have fun out here (and that would be pretty accurate!!), but I do also do some work!!

I’ve finished a couple weeks of orientation now and I’m really enjoying a lot of things about my new workplace… My radiation clinic coworkers are absolutely lovely human beings with such warm and loving hearts!! I feel extremely welcomed into the department and it’s a wonderful feeling.

image image

We have plenty of time to chit chat and build rapport and it is really really nice to build relationships with my new work family! I am going to spend the majority of my time here in Saudi with them… a minimum of 44hours a week… so it is a good thing that we all get along well!!

The actual nursing… I’m not going to go into much detail… but as I think I’ve mentioned… it is much different from back home. I don’t do a lot of nursey-nursey stuff… and I do really miss the nursey stuff!!!

Although I did have a couple hours in the recovery room today with the little kiddies as they recover post Ggeneral anesthesia for radiation treatment… Definitely more “nursey” skills involved!!!


(one half of our recovery room… shown above)

One of the biggest challenges I’m facing now, is the language barrier!! I knew it would be a challenge before I even moved to Saudi, but a couple weeks of general orientation and being constantly surrounded by English speaking people, put me in a slightly delusional state, forgetting that it wouldn’t always be that way!

So now, when I do happen to have a patient who actually speaks English enough to communicate with me or to understand me fairly well (when combined with an excessive amount of hand guestures), I feel this overwhelming sense of joy as I can really get into nurse mode and ask them questions and assess them properly and teach them things about managing their side effects! It’s wonderful!

I had a patient with breast cancer one day… and she showed up in the clinic with her daughter. They were both very well dressed individuals and spoke remarkably beautiful English, and seemed like highly intelligent and knowledgable people. It was only the beginning of this woman’s cancer treatments, so she asked me what she could do to prevent her skin from breaking down. (Note: one of the most common side effects of Radiation Therapy is Radiation Dermatitis… where the skin breaks down due to the radiation damaging the poor little surface and deeper cells).


This is when I’m in my element… Educating patients!! (Very very rarely get to do that here as it is generally not our role… again, largely due to the language barrier.) So I got to tell this lovely lady and her daughter all about how to keep the skin clean and moist and to moisturize regularly and what type of products to use and things to avoid in the products. And they soaked it all up, and asked lots of questions. It was wonderful. I felt like I actually was able to fully do my job for the first time in a while!! Hopefully, this patient will have learned from what I taught her, and be able to take measures to prevent Boxes, B,C or D (above) from happening!!!

At home, at the BC Cancer Agency, we have well developed policies and protocols for managing side effects such as Radiation Dermatitis, plenty of handouts and leaflets and information sources for patients to help them prevent and manage these side effects. However, here at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center, these policies and protocols haven’t been developed yet, although they are working on some of them. So I hope that myself and my colleague from home will be able to help them implement some strategies and information sources in order to reduce the risk of side effects in patients undergoing Radiation Therapy here. Prevention is key!!!

Anyways… enough jabbering… this turned out to be a long-ish post. But I figured I needed to put something up for once that wasn’t about parties and fun. Although as you can see, we do still have a lot of fun even at work!!

And we have lovely patients who bring us all sorts of deliciousness… just like at home. Like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups… Om nom nom!!






Gone caving!

August 20, 2014

So, KFSHRC has a massive campus! Not only is the hospital and all its various buildings completely massive, but theres multiple apartment complexes, support services buildings, training buildings, recreational center, and all sorts of stuff. And then on top of it, theres a large cave park in the corner of the hospital grounds.

My friend Sarah and I decided to go exploring one night and check out the Al Mather, the cave park.

It was warm outside and dark… but the park was well lit. And from the top of the park we could see the lights of the downtown area of Riyadh ahead of us… the cone shaped buildling with bright lights at the top is Faisaliyah Tower… its a beautiful building with a great shopping center and a beautiful restaurant, the Globe, that I have yet to check out yet! one day soon!

imageimageimageAt the bottom of the cave park, was a little lake, fed by a waterfall that spilled down from the top of the park (no clue where the water actually comes from cuz there’s definitely no visible stream feeding it!) But anyways… it was really nice… there is a little boardwalk around the lake and bridge over the waterfall… and nice little walking paths through the “gardens” around it…

imageimageThe park also includes a bunch of BBQ stations… can’t wait for the weather to get cooler so we can have parties here in the park!!

And the view of new King Abdullah Center for Oncology and Liver Disease from here is amazing!! I didn’t realize really how big the buildling is until I stood in the park below it at night and looked up at it! 19 floors strictly for cancer care and liver disease care! Currently the buildling is still under construction, and I’m supposed to be working there eventually… once it opens… hopefully this year yet, although it looks like it will be sometime next year for sure… Insha’Allah.

imageSo… it was a great walk. I tried to google the history of the cave park… and what the caves really are from… but google wasn’t particularly helpful in this case. So I really couldn’t tell you much about the park other than that its lovely for an evening walk and for BBQ’s once the weather is cooler 🙂

The end.



Week One…

August 10-16, 2014

Week 1 in Saudi Arabia… Week 1 in Riyadh… Week 1 at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center… I’m absolutely LOVING it!!!!!

Life here started out with a bang… a few hours of sleep after arriving… and then off to an afternoon welcome tea for all the new arrivals! We had a general introduction to the hospital and a bit of a tour around… found out what we’d be doing all week… and then it was back to settling in to our apartments and catching up on sleep!!

Fortunately, the housing department had put together little packages of food supplies to get us through a couple days until we could make it to the grocery store and get set up. Also, the hospital has a great cafeteria that serves massive portions of delicious food… for super cheap!! For 10-15 Saudi Riyals, you can get a massive meal including a beverage and a salad!! Thats only about 3 USD!!! Starbucks here costs more than that!!!

Day number 2… and we started General Hospital Orientation, along with about 60-70 other new hospital staff members! General Hospital Orientation was basically a general introduction to the hospital, security services, fire and safety, employee benefits and such… a lot of basic info. But along with it came several very inspiring speakers who were extremely passionate about the hospital and providing and promoting excellent patient care. King Faisal was recently awarded magnet status and there is a huge push to excel in all areas of care! It is very motivating and encouraging. The education opportunities are immense. The career opportunities are even better! So much potential here and I’m so excited to see where the journey will take me!!!


So, we had a couple days of general hospital orientation, which was then followed by a couple days of general nursing orientation. Most of it was a lot of information we knew already, just refreshers on moving and handling, program quality indicators and all sorts of things. But there were some very fun and informative and interesting classes… such as the Saudization class where we learned a bit more about the culture of Saudi, some of the unspoken rules and customs… we tried Saudi coffee and fresh dates and sweets… and even got to try on traditional Saudi costumes… ones that women would generally wear to a fancy formal event. We learned a few words of Arabic too, but I’m definitely going to need classes still!!



Now… I plan to share more about what the hospital itself looks like and is like… but for now I’ll just say that it is absolutely massive!! Takes a good 10 minutes at Annemarie speed (which is like a serious power walk) to get from my housing complex to the Main Entrance Starbucks!! It’s over a kilometer! And there are parts of it that are absolutely glamorous… marble everywhere… supremely clean… absolutely gorgeous! You’d think you were in a hotel, not a hospital!! And then other parts are older and somewhat dated. But overall… its an amazing hospital and I haven’t even discovered half of the different areas yet. But I do know where the two Starbucks are… and the Dunkin Donuts… and a couple of the Dr. Cafe’s (the Saudi version of Starbucks)… And that’s all the really matters. Hehe.

Below is the North Tower, aka the Marble Tower. Obviously due to the great quantity of marble inside. It is mostly Administration stuff, but there’s also some auditioriums and the Pain Clinic and a bunch of other stuff in it.


The hospital grounds are absolutely massive also. Theres at least 6 housing complexes just for female staff, which all have their own pools and gyms and such. And then there’s the social club which has offices, an amenities center and some shops. There’s a grocery store, souvenir shops, a pharmacy, a mini spa… Squash courts, tennis courts, basketball courts… And all of it is right by my apartment complex! Super convenient! However, there is construction happening everywhere and it’s always supremely dusty and theres big metal walls up everywhere blocking off construction sites… so the grounds aren’t quite as beautiful as they could be or as the pictures show. So I’m excited to see what it looks like eventually once all the construction is done.

The new King Abdullah Center for Oncology and Liver Disease (shown below) is where I’ll eventually be working, but it’s still being built and Inshallah we will be in it next year sometime! It will be amazing once it’s finished! 19 floors… all dedicated to cancer and liver disease…


So, enough about the hospital… and more about Saudi life…

One of the first days in Riyadh, the nurse volunteer group took us out to Lulu, a big supermarket here, to stock up on groceries. One thing I definitely did not think of before I left home, was how I’d need to set up my own home for the first time, and buy everything in a strange new country where not many of the brands are the same and supplies in general are quite different. Never mind trying to find the English label vs the Arabic labels! But it’s not so bad at all. It’s all part of the adventure!

Although I did a lot of reading about Saudi Arabia before I left, there is so much to learn still!! And so much that is so completely foreign and unfamiliar to us!!  I knew that the vast majority of men wear thobes (the white robes) and either the white or the red and white checked head covering, known as a ghutra or shemagh (not sure which it is yet and google was no help!) and women wear black abayas and generally wear a head covering called hijab… but nothing prepares you for being completely surrounded by people dressed like that!! It is a bit of a shock to the system. Raises some feelings of outrage that a country and religion mandates such  dress… and you can potentially feel oppressed by it…But then you get used to it. You realize that you don’t want to be the one person that stands out by dressing completely different. It’s always nice to have people notice you and to maybe take a second look, but not here! You don’t want to be stared at all the time! Plus, I think it is amazing that this culture mandates modesty!! North America could really take lessons!!

And then humorous situations arise… like the first time we ate at a food court in a mall, one of the girls went to grab a table as the women’s eating area was very crowded as it was nearly prayer time… when my friend and I attempted to find her, we realized that wasn’t the most brilliant idea we’d ever had. Trying to find your friend in a group of a couple hundred women all dressed in black, most of them covering their hair and faces also… very difficult!

Anyways. That’s it for this post. Just a bit of a blurb on my first week.

So many things to get used to…the heat probably being the most difficult thing to get used to actually!!! Coming from the very temperate climate of the west coast of Canada… this is a bit brutal some days. But fortunately there is a gorgeous pool in my housing complex and I thoroughly enjoy relaxing by it in the heat and sunshine after a day of orientation is over! Rest and relax and rejuvinate my brain 🙂

imageimageMore to come on my first night out in Saudi… stay tuned!!!


Love Annemarie