A Question of Ethics

If you are Egyptian, as many Egyptians from my generation read these posts, then there is a high probability that you or someone in your family knows of or has been treated by the hands of an Al-Zawahri.

The Al-Zawahari family is a very reputable Egyptian family in medicine. For generations, every member of my family has visited and relied on a Zawahri family member to cure them of some particular ailment. In the 50s, my grandfather had to wait at least 1 year to be treated for a nervous condition because the original Zawahri had a super long waiting list. My mother was treated by his daughter in Abassaya as a teenager. My sister by his son. Me as a kid, by his brother in Switzerland where he attended to me as my own personal doctor. That same one who treated me back then, is now on the terrorist list for being a sidekick to Bin Laden. Look him up. That guy was my doctor and I only have fond memories of him as a kid.

The Zawahris were the best in their fields. No matter what your symptoms, there was a Zawahri out there who came with super high recommendations. Yet sadly, every family has a couple of bad apples in their bloodline. So it’s a shame when a flunky like Abdel Salam Zawahri, uses his great family name and tarnishes it with foul medical practices and exploits an honorable legacy to make quick mega bucks on the automatic. He’s been doing it for years, but this year, I nailed that bastard. Let me tell you my story.

When I was in California, I had my bed positioned next to the window, like I always did for years, so that I would wake up with the sun pouring its light on my face every morning. I never in my life wore sunscreen, and still don’t, even though I would fall asleep outside in the sun at a park, on a beach, anywhere with the sun on my face for hours. On top of that, I’ll share with you a secret. I have a severe addiction to intense light. It’s like crack for me. I used to visit sun tanning salons on the daily, not for the tan, for the intense exposure to light. Every tanning salon in Los Angeles knew me by name. When friends called me on my cell phone and my messages got backed up, that was where Suzy was. Hanging out under massive heat lamps with no sunscreen. Every day. Either that or with my headphones strapped on working on beats. I was so ashamed of my addiction that I wouldn’t tell anybody because I couldn’t explain it. I knew I would get lectures and I didn’t want to hear any of it. When I was under all those heat lamps, I was happy. It felt like I was sleeping inside the sun. As soon as the timer went off and I walked outside, I was down. Super depressed. For that reason, I only wear sunglasses with a yellow tint to make my days seem brighter. Light equals happiness for me.

To make matters worse, my skin is the most sensitive and delicate skin in the world so I can’t apply simple creams like normal people unless they came with a doctor’s blessing. So months before I left California, I went to see Dr. Obagi himself in Beverly Hills — at my mom’s repetitive insistence. I had developed uneven skin tone and it wasn’t that obvious but everybody I knew would say I looked tired all the time because it looked like there were constant shadows on my face. The doctor said it was hyper pigmentation from intense exposure to the sun. My forehead had a different shade than half my face and so on. So when I took off overseas, I knew very well what my condition was. I spent over $2000 on Obagi creams prescribed by the man himself.

At first, I refused to use them because one of the main ingredients was hydroquinone, a skin bleaching agent that is banned in Europe because of its cancerous effects. Yet my mom was on my back constantly. So I tried it out and I saw no difference. She told me creams aren’t supposed to work right away, so I extended its usage for the 6 months he advised upon. I noticed my face was getting whiter like Michael Jackson and panicked. I stopped using the routine right away. Then my mom advised me to go see Abdel Salaam Al-Zawahri who was infamous for treating skin conditions in Cairo. I remember asking her if he was infamous for his last name or infamous for being a success. She assured me both.

I called and made an appointment. When I arrived at his office, I wasn’t surprised to see hundreds of people waiting for him, with lines pouring outside the door. I left right away because I’m not one to wait in lines. After returning to my disappointed mother, she took me to see him again the next day, but this time we were the first ones there. I walked into his nicely furnished office stacked with libraries upon libraries of books, certificates, honors, and flashy advertisements announcing the days and times of his television show. He took one look at my face and said it was very minor, handed me a prescription and I was happy to be out the door within 5 minutes. I was told to get the medicine he prescribed and return the next day for crystal treatments. I was like, “Wow, he treats people with crystals? Cool!”

So I went back and sat down in a chair. He pulls out this massager thing that blows out small crystals and ran it over my face. Right away I knew he was doing microdermabrasion, and from western experience, he was doing it wrong. They have ads on late night TV that sell that same gadget he was using for $29.99! He was charging a common Egyptian man’s one month salary for ONE session. I thought it was the biggest joke. Two, the pricey creams he prescribed to me were purely cosmetic and they came without instructions or any lists of ingredients. I asked him what was in them and he smiled and told me they were his secret formulas. So just like Obagi, he was also pimping his own creams. My mom told me to be patient so I endured the number of sessions he said I would need.

He flirted a lot. He asked me to marry him each time I came in. I took his advances as distractions from the main issue, the real concern. My intuition told me he was a crook. Sometimes he would take time out, even with crowds of people outside waiting to see him, to flip through his Mercedes catalogs and ask me for advice on what car he should get. Sometimes he would sit and talk about Cleveland and Miami, the weather, or if I thought he should get botox or tighten his face like the Americans do. It was disgusting and I tried hard to be courteous and patient. After wasting time going back and forth, I saw no improvement. And at that point, I was done with bullshit doctors.

In my mind, I was thinking about all the helpless people waiting outside his office. Had he cured them? He must be doing something right to have his own TV show and lines of people coming to see him. So unannounced and before heading to my uncle’s who lived nearby, I returned to his office on a busy Thursday and sat amongst the men, woman and children. I interrogated most of them. Many were there for scarring, hyperpigmentation, breakouts, and rashes. I found out quickly that he prescribed almost everybody, regardless of ailment, the same creams he advised to me. His own!

Then I met Tarek, an 8-year old boy with a broken arm in a cast. He was bullied a lot because he had patches of white skin under his eyes. I remembered seeing him almost every time I frequented the office. Yet this was the first time for me to hear his story from his mother, Amira. She told me that she had been coming to Zawahiri’s office for 5 months now, once a week, and for hours at a time. She told me that the doctor gave Tarek the same creams and put him in a box with intense sun lamps for 2 hours each visit! She said that she was told that by putting her son in the box, his skin tone under his eyes would blend in with the rest of his face, yet she hasn’t seen a difference. Instead he always came out of the office drenched in sweat and almost every time, he would have to call his mother from his cell phone while he was under the lamps to remind the doctor that he had been in there long enough. He was forgotten about half the time!

The effects were getting her kid harassed even more because he was only getting darker and darker and the patches were standing out even more. Immediately I got so sad. It was so sad. Basically, the damage I had done to my own skin due to sun damage was being imposed on this kid for greater lengths of time, and any doctor in the universe will tell you that intensive exposure to UV rays is harmful and cancerous. I knew that but I thought I was invincible. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Turns out, the poor woman was divorced, working all day, barely making ends meet, and behind on repaying her debts to relatives whom she borrowed from to heal her son of his “curse”. Yet she was desperate and I saw my own mother in her. I understood the prices parents pay to cure their children of anything at any cost. I understood it all too well just by observing my own parents. I told Amira that it was vital for her to get receipts for all the visits the boy had. In the future, if the boy got any serious skin or cancer conditions, it could be traced back to Zawahri. She asked the doctor’s aid in front of us for them and he snickered and refused. He said they don’t give receipts. I got angry. You have to question a business that refuses to give customers records of their sales.

Then I met a woman who had the same situation as me, yet far graver, who had been coming to see him for 2 years now. She said the healing has been super slow and his creams have had no effect yet he kept advising her to be patient. She told me she thought about quitting his visits but she had already invested so much money that she would regret it later as he told kept telling her she was closer and closer to recovery. I asked them all why they kept returning, and they all said hope – he was supposed to be the best. Best by who? I asked that question and they all said he came from a reputable family. I went on to interrogate more people and more families were anxious to share their stories. I heard more sadness pour from people of all walks of life. I found trends and commonalities in all.

Then Tarek was called in. By that time, I had the entire place chatting up a storm and complaining to each other with their grievances. Some women started crying, including Tarek’s helpless mother who realized she had just sent her son in for an early death sentence. I told her to be patient and to get the numbers of the women around her to act as witnesses in case anything bad happened in the future. Then Zawahri’s personal aid came to me and said the doctor wanted to see me right away. I had no appointment so I knew what it was about and when I went in, the entire place went dead silent.

Z: Suzanne! Have a seat! Have a seat! How are you? You look good? I see an improvement! Sharaftina! Narwartina! What is the reason behind this pleasant visit?

I sat down in front of him and noticed he had 4 young doctors in training seated behind his desk taking notes. I realized it was a good day to have come. I also noticed in the corner of my eyes that Tarek was lying quietly in what looked like a casket in a dimly lit room off to the side.

Me: Doctor. I have great respect for your family and for that reason I was advised to see you. However, I am deeply disturbed by your negligent practices and the way you exploit the trust and faith of your patients. You have proved to me that you are not a doctor, but a crook in a white coat.

Z: Did you come here to create trouble for me? If you have no faith in me as a doctor, then why did you keep coming to me?

Me: It was not my choice. I came to make my mother happy for as you know parents sometimes exercise desperate measures to heal their children. Outside of this room, there are countless parents like my own that have given their trust to you based on what your relatives have been known to do. You have abused your family’s name and and without noise, I request you return everybody out there their money before I disgrace you in front of your colleagues and create a scene that will be talked about for years!

Z: You came here to threaten me? Do you think you are in America? Do insurance companies there return money back to people if their doctors can’t cure them? Where do you think you are? This is Egypt!

Me: Exactly. And for that reason I would have never expected to see the land of medicine corrupted by money hungry fools like you. It’s a shame that our ancients gave birth to the formulas that are now being used by the biggest pharmaceutical giants in this modern world, in addition to, Egyptian doctors are still the best in their fields around the world, that someone like you would give this country a bad name and rob the poor and the trustworthy of their hard earned salaries. It’s an embarrassment that you are an Egyptian and you are a disgrace to your name. Because of you, your tarnish the medical excellence your family has built strong all these years. I stand firm on my request and let it be known, doctor, that you know nothing of what I am capable of doing, and of my own professional experience, merits, and contact base. I will rip you out of your profession. Yet out of respect to your uncle who was good to me, I spare you a choice.

Z: Let me ask you something then Suzanne. If your own doctors in America failed to heal you then why did you come to see me?

Me: Because, like I mentioned before, Egyptians are the best in medicine and your family name earned you my trust.

Z: And in America, you mean to tell me, they give people their money back? A baker on the street here will not return a customer’s money for hard bread. We do not have that system here!

Me: Let me put it this way, in America, we do have multiple systems in medicine that deserve attention here. First, there is a system of ethics. Second, we have an administrative system made up of medical boards that review faulty doctors such as yourself. And third, we have a judicial system to protect the rights of patients and customers. If you had plans of going into practice in Europe or America, prepare to be jailed for you will be.

Z: Jail? I am the law and I set the laws of my practice! Here we do not have such systems! If a patient does not have respect or patience with their doctor, they can go elsewhere. That is the only system we need.

Me: Without ethics, doctor, you shouldn’t even be in business. Without a moral system, you shouldn’t be allowed to take money or give advice to anyone – period. Yet what does the patient do when the doctor has no respect for their time, money, or trust and faith they store in him? What if I was your sister, doctor? What if I was your wife or mother and I wasted my efforts and money on a magician like you and saw no results. After pouring so much fuel in soil, only a fool would walk away without seeing the fruits of their labor. In this situation, it’s money. Surely you understand that anger and frustration are natural emotions that flow through our nervous systems. That is another system you understand, don’t you?

Z: I admire your thinking Suzanne. How do you know what I tried on you is not working on others? Everybody’s case is different.

Me: That I know. However, I talked to more than enough. You know everyone’s case is different but there is evidence that you have been giving them all the same standard treatment. They are humans that need personalized attention. They do not come to you to be treated as mere statistics. If you want to treat them as cattle, go start a farm and be a farmer. You are in the wrong profession. I interrogated everybody outside your office and it’s unanimous that you are a flunky.

Z: A flunky? Do you use this language in your professional field?

Me: Let’s just say, that I could be…could be…a reporter for a reputable medical journal, newspaper, or magazine. And let’s assume that I could be…could be…investigating healthcare in the Middle East…and could be acting as a patient to write a well documented article about my experiences dealing with Egyptian hospitals and physicians in particular. Let’s say also, that I may use you as an example for negligence, misdiagnosing and abusing patients. Can you imagine what such an article would do to your family’s reputation and yours in front of the international medical community? Would you still have a TV show? A busy office with anxious patients? A Benz? NO. And if you don’t return money to the people waiting outside for their refund, I will particularly write about that poor boy who has pigmentation disorders that you have held up in a box with extensive exposure to UV rays for 2 hours each time, weekly, and for months. Even a rat would have died by now!! You get that boy out of that oven right now before he turns into a burnt sweet potato.

Z: You do not give me orders in my office! You get out of here! Get out of here!! Barah!

Me: In front of your doctors in training, let this be a grave lesson to their future careers. Take what you learned here today and report it back to your learning institutions. This man is a crook and I will not leave without seeing refunds issued to all the people out there RIGHT NOW. I even took pictures of that poor boy’s face, written accounts of all those outside, and will be in contact with them regarding their progress and treatments. I will no longer tolerate doctors like you who abuse helpless patients and I am not leaving without justice. So let it begin!

He picks up his phone and talks to some man or woman. He tells them he has a violent patient and to come help him.

Me: Don’t forget doctor that I am not like the others out there. They are my equals, yes, but I come from your sweet America. The police will arrest you first based on my account and those people outside will all stand up to be my witnesses. Do what you want, but you have yet to see the rage brew from me and see what I’m capable of doing! AGAIN, GIVE BACK THEIR MONEY!

He gets up and opens the door of his office. His aid rushes to him and they exchange words. Immediately, the aid announces that the doctor is not seeing anymore patients for the day and right away people start getting upset and many turn to leave. I tell everyone to stay put and that the doctor agreed to return all their money back and they will be reimbursed for the creams they purchased and their last 3 visits, which I thought, was fair to him, but not fair enough.

Me: Should I call all the rest of the doctors in the building and tell them all to come and see what your patients are angry about?

He gives me the ugliest evil look and signals for his aid to get moving. His aid flips open a notebook with patients’ names, visits, and dues paid to date. Ironic, that with such records, they don’t give out receipts? A long line formed before him.

I grabbed his stacks of cards on the desk and threw them in the air and left. A crowd of people came after me kissing my hands, asking for my number, to come over for dinner, or lunch, or whatever. I didn’t even care to be compensated because I felt like I had been compensated more than enough. When I left the office, I went to my uncle’s and my cousin Amr told me about a skin cream that gets rid of everything, called Dermatin. I asked for it at the pharmacy and it costed less than the equivalent of 2 bucks. Three days later, my face was restored to its youthful appearance and it was uniform in color. TWO BUCKS AND JUST THREE DAYS LATER! It’s sad that cures to conditions we consider serious are actually all cheap, easily accessible or naturally available. I glowed and the lights beamed again from my eyes from my quick recovery. Obagi and Zawahri are just two crooks in a savage world filled with others like them.

It is possible people, to stand up to corruption through the power of words alone – on any level. I have never lost an argument with superiors across professions because of my strategic tongue and training in management. Yet you do not need to know management or strategy to fight for justice on any scale, for you only need to speak the voice of reason. I’ve been in over 41 fights this year in many countries. Men will intimidate me with their guns, badges, or credentials, but know this, there is always a way to reverse any situation if you see the hole, their weakness, their fear. Every situation has a hole and every man has a weakness no matter how strong and firm they seem to be.

I am every manager’s worst nightmare and proud of it. No joke. I always get what I want. I talk many languages, in many tones, even slangs, and in many styles of speech. I am no dummy though I may sometimes act like one when I deal with dummies. The power of language is a powerful thing so arm yourselves. If you can’t find reason, you have a wasteful brain. Reason comes when you have mastered the ability to rotate perspectives. The reason for living is to feed your mind. If you can’t stand up for yourself, you don’t stand for anything and can’t stand up for anybody. And if you don’t stand for anything, your life doesn’t mean anything because your journey lacks meaning and purpose. Now is the time for everyone to stand up for what they believe in. We can’t stay dormant any longer.

Businesses around the world are acting unethical, people are too, and the demoralization of society as a whole is evident everywhere. If you don’t see everything collapsing around you and think Obama is going to save the world, you are fooling yourself. The whole world is being degraded while the people remain sedated. Start standing up for what is right and prepare to take beatings for your causes – no matter how big or small they might be. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than representing the voices of reason and Truth. The journey starts now.

Fear something and the vulture will come. Fear nothing and you are the vulture.

–Suzy Kassem