SIXTY-SIX years old, a heart attack in a foreign land, a huge hospital bill and your passport withheld. It’s the stuff most travellers’ nightmares are made of.
When it happens in one of the busiest and most expensive cities in the world – Dubai, the trouble is doubled. It doesn’t even matter that you did have travel insurance, which he did.
Dieter Graf, a German national, arrived in Dubai for an exhibition on November 25. It was on the request of a German-Russian friend, to demonstrate German machinery. On December 5, after the exhibition was over, he was on his way to the airport when he had a heart attack. He was immediately rushed to the Sharjah-based Al Zahra hospital, where after being treated, he was presented with a bill of Dh70,400 ($19,171).
“This was the first bill, after I had paid Dh10,000 as soon as I was brought in. I realized that this was too expensive for me and asked to be released. I added that I had spent all the money I had and my bank account was empty. I did say I would borrow and send them the rest after I got to Germany. As expected, they didn’t believe me and decided to withhold my passport. We got into a huge argument and I suffered another heart attack right there, in the cashier’s room. I was taken back to the emergency room,” Graf told TTN.
Following the second attack, in one day his bill went up another Dh10,000 bringing the total up to Dh83,886. After debate and dis-cussion, they told him if he paid Dh30,000, he would be allowed to leave the hospital.
Graf turned to the German consulate for help and raised the amount but the hospital now decided that wasn’t enough. They demanded the entire amount and threatened to turn him over to the police. Not knowing what to do, Graf argued with the hospital authorities to let him leave and that he would arrange for the money once back in Germany. His health worsened immediately, and on a senior doctor’s intervention, the hospital administration let him leave. His friend had abandoned him and he had nowhere to go: he couldn’t check into a hotel, because he had neither money nor passport – and ended up camping on a beach in Ajman.
A local newspaper carried his story a few days later, with an official from the German consulate being quoted as saying he had travelled without health insurance and there was little they could do.
Unexpectedly, help arrived from other quarters: in the form of Alex Economides, general manager of the Majestic Hotel, Bur Dubai, who offered him free room and board.
“We were shocked that someone with a heart condition, who has had two heart attacks in a week, was living without a roof on his head. Arab hospitality is what the Dubai is famous for and if we could provide him with the most basic of comforts like a clean bed to sleep on, we considered ourselves blessed,” Economides said.
It wasn’t as if the hotel had rooms to spare. In one of the busiest of the season, the hotel has been turning away guests. “Some companies book bulk rooms with us which become available closer to the booking date. It was one of these rooms in which we could accommodate Graf,” says Alex.
The free publicity that comes with such an act of kindness was also not what the hotel wanted or expected but got nonetheless. “I wasn’t aware that the story would make front page headlines again and honestly it was not something we had thought about. Dubai is a tourist destination and the number of people coming here keeps increasing every year. We felt it was our way of giving back. This sort of thing can happen to any one, even you or me. It was the only humane thing to do.”
That only left his hospital bills, which were picked up by the Fujairah-based Stein Foundation. “We have reduced the bill by Dh19,000 and the rest of the payment has been made. His bills have now been settled,” said the public relations manager of the Al Zahra hospital, where he was treated.
His passport was returned and days later, he made it home.