Saturday June 3rd, 2023
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Life of a Salesman: What being an Egyptian Medical Rep Can Teach You About Life

Not a glamorous career choice by any means, but it does teach you a surprising amount about coming to terms with life’s curveballs.

Staff Writer

The rep business, much like the pharmaceutical and medical equipment industries, is one of the darkest fields of human employment you can choose to walk into, and you’ll often choose so without as much as a second thought; your pharmacy degree doesn’t do much here friendo, and you don’t even necessarily have to have one to get into it. So, if you can humbly spare a bit of time from your definitely busy day, how about you give my insights a go. Or not, and go read something sexy.

You Learn How to Deal with Almost Anyone, Anyhow, Anywhere
Pictured: Meaningful conversation

Anything you do in life, even fucking around with a yoyo, can teach you something or another. Though most jobs help you pick up the arduous subtleties of dealing with people, a job in the field of sales – especially in the Egyptian medical field – will see you dealing with every arbitrary social class and human archetype from your lowliest of equipment runners and security personnel to “renowned” medical masterminds. This was doubly significant (and difficult) for my fat ass back when I was in orthopaedic sales (I literally sold prosthetic hips to people); before I threw myself into what I thought was the most viable career path I had as a human being, I wasn’t exactly the communicative type, which is to say I couldn’t have a conversation about the weather with a defective lamppost.

This fucking shit was my life

When it comes to delivering your “message” to a region’s big cheeses, you’ll likely be dealing with the guy that gets you into the building first, usually with a few kind words, a couple cigarettes, a beer, a performance enhancing medication or just flat out cash. The nurses, on the other hand, holy shit. A silver tongue (and somewhat admirable physique) can give you a massive leg-up when it comes to getting on their good graces, and you want that; they can tell you when the best time to see a doctor is, or give you his entire performance record so you can zone in your efforts to sell. Also, here’s a bit of insight; when we’re done with a procedure at a hospital, we usually leave our horrifically expensive equipment at the hospital to be picked up later, and you really don’t want even a chipped piece of plastic going missing.

80% of what we did was spitting garbage into people’s ears, the other 20%? Sterilising our hands three to four times with betadine, putting on surgical apparel, wheeling in our equipment and assisting the surgeon with live surgery.

Each company that deals in medical equipment gives each rep an operations expense to counteract any sordid dealings; we’d pay the nurses and any relevant staff to make sure the shit stays where it should till our slave  runner comes a-knockin’ (and to make sure they don’t swipe it themselves). Of course, this gesture of anywhere between EGP 100 to 300 was also for their services in the OR; nurses can pretty much perform what the doctors and reps do with one sanitised hand, so you have to give credit where it’s due.

Convincing a doctor, more often than not, necessitated an exchange of sorts, and this is where the “sales” part came in; money talks louder than any coefficient of friction or elasticity module when it came to trying to sling your ceramic femoral heads, and they’d often only want to know what they can get out of you; a paid vacation, funding for their research, or if you had the (undue) misfortune of being a girl, flirting and debasing yourself usually takes you unreasonably far. It’s a miserable state of affairs, but so is life; it teaches you almost everything you need to know about how to talk, and in general, deal with all variety of moron out there.

You Learn to Overcome your Most Pervasive Sensibilities

Pictured: Excitement

Though I can’t rightfully speak for pharmaceutical reps, I can tell you that both our approaches are quite similar, if not identical. Save for one crucial little detail; one of us deals with exposed flesh and blood. Like I said before; I was a prosthetic hip salesman, I sold life-changing titanium and ceramic doodads to folks who had the misfortune of getting into a serious accidents, suffering from necrotic diseases, aggressive osteoarthritis (google it loser) and just those that succumbed to the ravages of time. Though a pharmaceutical rep’s entire routine consists of running around the far edges of Egypt waiting for their targets to pop up so they can lay down their sales spiel, ours was a bit varied; 80% of what we did was spitting garbage into people’s ears, the other 20%? Sterilising our hands three to four times with betadine (or once with Sterillium), putting on surgical apparel, wheeling in our equipment and assisting the surgeon with live surgery.

I am somebody who has absolutely no formal training with surgery, much less applied medicine, and my job saw me walking into operating theatres and - with my own two unskilled hands - aiding a seasoned surgeon cut into the thighs of Egypt’s broken masses, shattering what’s left of their already defective femoral joints, and assist with the proper placement of the prosthesis. Whatever reservations I had before about fresh human blood, still pulsating flesh and the unrivalled stench of somebody burning into and sawing bone was all but gone from my memory. 

There have been times when patients who had Hepatitis-C spurted blood into my eyes, other times I would find chunks of somebody clinging to my shirts (you wear your normal clothes under your scrubs sometimes), and if that wasn’t gruesome enough, there have been times when our laughable expenses wouldn’t cover a staff member cleaning our equipment, so you can guess who had to do that. Do you know how hard it is to yank a femoral head off of a giant corkscrew? Or how Betadine is an amazing solvent for all things gory? Shit, after we got used to the smell of the diathermy (a little tool surgeons used to cauterize/open up skin and flesh) cutting into somebody, it made us hungry. Yes, smelling somebody literally being burned made us want to run out after a two-hour procedure for shawerma real fucking quick. Gore? Not a problem. Corruption? Whatever. The realisation that your future is mired in both? That wasn’t acceptable.

You Learn the True Virtues (and Detriments) of Patience

Pictured: Most of my sales life

Right, so when I wasn’t sticking my hands several centimetres inside some 53-year-old’s left thigh, trying to literally pop their (brand new) femur into place, I was out on the mean streets of Cairo, zipping across the entire mid and western sectors of Cairo so I could remind the most prolific surgeons in the biz that “hey, remember us? Remember me at least? I will suck you off for commission.” As I said before, 80% of the job is making your rounds around town(s) to literally rep(resent) your agency/brand, and in my case, it was one of the purest exercises in patience; I reside in New Cairo, and as is (mostly) customary with sales jobs, my coverage areas were Downtown, Mohandessin, Dokki, October, Hell, Maadi and Zamalek. I had a car and all (it’s a requirement for the job), but that was only more salt on an already festering wound people call gainful employment. Between each of the three-to-four visits I’d have to make sure were done (they monitor that shit), there would be hours in between, I was hell-bent on being worth a shit.

80% of the job is making your rounds around town(s) to literally rep(resent) your agency/brand, and in my case, it was one of the purest exercises in patience.

Sleeping in the car was as normal as taking a shower (not in the same car), crashing at people’s places (and leaving a bad impression) was also a routine I’d find myself in, and I would refuse to go home in between long visits to save gas; I was only making EGP 3600 for the first three months, and their “gas allowance” was EGP 500, which was good for barely two weeks (back then, gas was EGP 3.5/litre). Going home wasn’t a thing you wanted to do, you wanted to keep up your drive to keep going, you didn’t want an excuse to give into failure, and I know you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with patience. Let me tell you in regular terms; conditions such as these aren’t something any self-respecting human being would ever want to deal with, but you stuck out anyway, perchance for a better future, maybe to hype yourself up in the company, or maybe just because you wanted to improve your work ethic, without an insurmountable amount of patients (one that steadily grows as you go on), you won’t cut the first month. Of course, I don’t have to mention the detriments; you can clearly see (and feel) them.

You Learn More About Your Psyche Than You Ever Could Before
Pictured: Slavery

Look, Manal, although I’m painting quite the vivid picture of only some of the things that medical sales entails, it is by no means the worst job out there; I don’t want to get comments about how I’m a spoiled bitch who’s only sour about a past vocation for an already despicable company, this isn’t me complaining. You have to understand that, all things considered, this job taught me and so many others like me a great deal about life’s many, many facets that I would have never seen otherwise.

Everybody told me not to do it, and they didn’t even have to tell me; to say that working in sales is hellish is akin to saying “eggs come from chickens.” It wasn’t new to me, but I went into it anyway, knowing full-well that it would be difficult, tiresome, inhumane at times and ultimately not worth the time or effort (unless of course you like it, more power to you). It did teach me that I have a breaking point when it comes to being out in the streets 90% of the week (did I mention we work six to seven days a week often?), it taught me that dealing with people too often sapped the ever-loving shit out of my energy reserves, and it taught me that although pushing your mental and physical limits is the only way to get ahead in life, you can only go so far before you pop a flat tyre. It left me with a brand of depression (one that’s been building up for ages) that I was only able to see after such a stint. It showed me what I can and can’t do, what my limits were, and it clearly outlined when enough was enough, and when it was time to agree with the sentiment that money (and a “career”) isn’t worth the psychological deterioration. Funny enough, I’m a writer for Cairoscene, which entirely goes against the latter sentiment, but like I said; Masochist (holler at me).

although pushing your mental and physical limits is the only way to get ahead in life, you can only go so far before you pop a flat tyre.

Bearing all this in mind and heart, would I recommend medical sales or a similar profession? Yes. Without it, I wouldn’t have learned what I needed to learn to be that much more capable of weathering the storms that I can now. I am by no means an example (I only stayed in it for six months), and I am by no means your go-to reference for something like this, but these are my honest insights; ones that many who were in my scrubs would (hopefully) agree with.

So yeah, thanks for visiting.