Real-life Superman makes time for comic asides

Between three jobs and a young family, Dr Hassan Galadari still enjoys the adventures of the heroes he looked up to as a shy boy.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - June 17, 2010.

ARTS & LIFE: Dermatologist Hassan Galadari (cq-al), 32, of Dubai, enjoys reads the comic book, "The Punisher," during his down time at a Starbucks coffee shop in Dubai on Thursday, June 17, 2010. "Everybody has this stereotype about doctors being very serious," said Galadari who has been reading comic books since he was a child. "I believe doctors should be accessible. We can cut back and have time to ourselves too." Amy Leang/The National

ABU DHABI // Dr Hassan Galadari has a set routine on Thursday evenings after the rigours of a long working week which sees him dashing between three jobs.

After a busy day teaching at UAE University (UAEU), where he is an associate professor, then seeing patients in the dermatology department at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, as well as at his family's private clinic in Dubai, Dr Galadari heads to his local Starbucks and settles down with the latest edition of The Incredible Hulk comic. Contrary to his public persona, Dr Galadari is a self-confessed "geek" and has a collection of 50,000 comics. He has a particular fondness for superheroes such as Spiderman.

It was a passion that he developed as a painfully shy schoolboy, when he had few friends other than the characters in the comics that he would devour. Despite now being a successful, outgoing doctor, he remains an avid reader and collector. "For me, comics are a way to escape," he says. "It's escapism, but at the same time it reflects reality in a different way. Everybody is his own superhero. The people the superhero meets every day could be other fellow superheroes, and everyone has their own villain, like their boss at work, someone they don't like. Everyone likes to believe they're someone."

His personal favourite is Batman, but Dr Galadari says he is also a fan of Spiderman and the Hulk. "Spiderman is so human. He has his own personal problems every day. I love the Hulk because if he's angry he can smash things around, but inside is a very kind and caring character. I'm a mix of these characters. I'm also Superman at work and to the family." Dr Galadari orders his comics from a store in New York, spending around Dh1,500 each time.

His collection is filed alphabetically and numerically, and includes rare items and collectors' pieces worth several hundred dirhams. He once harboured an ambition to be a writer, but trained to become a doctor on the advice of his father, who was a founding member of UAEU's medical faculty. At 31, Dr Galadari is the youngest faculty member at the UAE University's medical school, where he studied medicine.

The eldest of four children, the onus was on him to inspire his younger siblings. His father, Ibrahim, always hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps. "I always wanted to be a writer but my father said that was just a hobby. He knew that it wasn't going to sustain me, not in this country or in the Middle East. "He didn't want me to be on the breadline so he encouraged me to do medicine, saying that it wouldn't stop me writing."

Dr Galadari was born in Cairo, but travelled to Michigan, in the United States, at the age of seven for one year while his father did his postgraduate training. He did not speak a word of English. To encourage him and his brother, Abdullah, their father gave them US$1 each day they only spoke in English. "I collected $20 and Dad bought me a $2 plastic shark," said Dr Galadari. "Of course, I had no idea and it was only years later that he told me, once I realised the value of money."

Dr Galadari was taught that success came with hard work. "My parents expected a lot," he says. "If I got a 96 per cent, the highest grade in the class, Dad would ask me why I didn't get 100 or 98." It was at university that he says he came into his own, finding himself in a field which he says makes him truly happy. "I became more social," he says. "I took on more leadership roles and didn't mind being the front man. I was quite competitive. I have no problems speaking publicly or ad lib."

While studying, he considered becoming a surgeon, but later opted to specialise in dermatology. He went to Boston to do a one-year surgical internship. Strict rules, such as time keeping, would show him another side of life. "It was like going to the army. I felt like a soldier," he says, laughing. But it was the first time that he could truly be himself. "I wasn't the stereotypical Emirati boy," he says. "I was listening to Metallica and Megadeath, Iron Maiden, I'm not sure how that happened."

He became a big sports fan and is still an avid follower of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Dr Galadari stayed in the city for four years. He returned to the UAE in 2008. Now he has settled down, married and is a father of two young sons. His six-day week has a hectic schedule. He takes his son Ibrahim, seven, to school, teaches at the university, goes to work at Tawam Hospital and his private practice at the family clinic, Galadari Derma in Jumeirah, before heading home.

He became the residential programme director at UAEU, alongside his father, the associate professor of dermatology. "It felt good to come home," says Dr Galadari. "I needed to get it out of my system [going to America]. I would always want to go back but I'm glad I'm here. I feel I can make a difference, setting a standard and an example to lead the next generation of medics." Reem Ibrahim al Hashimi, the Minister of State, is one of Dr Galadari's childhood friends. From grade four, she says, he aspired to be a doctor and work alongside his father. He stuck by his dream, even while his friends struggled to decide on their future, she adds.

"He always wanted to change the world," says Mrs al Hashimi. "He's always been the most diligent and determined person. He really believed he could make a difference and that's what he's doing now, along with helping people. He's a very inspirational person for the younger generation here." She says Dr Galadari always had a deep hunger for knowledge. "He was never happy not knowing something," she recalls. "One time in class someone spoke about World War Two and Hassan didn't know what he was talking about, so he went out and bought loads of books on it."

When he had thoughts of becoming an author, it was Mrs al Hashimi who read his first draft and gave him feedback. Dr Galadari wrote about a man who was obsessed with immortality, part vampire, part immortal. "Hassan was into vampires 10 or 15 years ago, before this recent craze came about through Twilight or True Blood," says Mrs al Hashimi. "We all thought he was crazy but his interest in immortality was, I'm sure, linked to his wanting to make a difference and change the world."

Dr Galadari is campaigning to see the establishment of a medical board for the UAE. He is also working to set up a fellowship for sub-specialists. Despite his success, he still drives the 2004 Dodge Durango SUV that he bought in Boston. It has made the journey with him. "What I do makes me happy," he says. "You can actually see that the treatment is working on someone in dermatology. "I love to make people look good because I know it will also make them feel good."