Ivividly remember the day when I first stepped out of the plane at El Fasher Airport, Sudan. I was the first female medical specialist appointed to work at Pak Field Hospital-11 in ten years. I was apprehensive about the upcoming challenges that I might encounter during my stay. My passion to serve in the UN was one of the most humbling but rewarding experiences of my life. It is only after you have stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow and transform. Oprah Winfrey once said, “As you become more clear about who you really are, you will be better able to decide what is best for you — the first time around.” This is exactly what this article is about, a year-long journey that helped me discover diverse aspects of myself and allowed me to make the best decisions as a doctor, for the well-being of not only my patients but all of humanity. I have dedicated my life to improving the lives of others as a medical specialist and an officer in the prestigious Army Medical Corps (AMC).
A Lady Officer (LO) performs her duties without facing any gender discrimination in Pakistan Army. A physician provides treatment to the ailing patients the same way as he or she provides medical treatment to his or her own family. Our personal experiences and our values make up who we are today.
I have experienced life changing events, one of which was working as the first lady medical specialist in Pak Field Hospital-11, Darfur, Sudan. The decision to serve far from my own homeland and away from my family was quite challenging and demanding; leaving my children was one of the most difficult decisions I have made as a mother. My family supported me to take up the task assigned to me by Pakistan Army and I started preparations for the assignment with enthusiasm and excitement. Well-planned pre-departure formalities prepared us for the journey in just one and a half month. It was very reassuring to meet new colleagues who were supportive and friendly. By the time we landed in Sudan, we were gelled into a strong and motivated team ready to deliver our responsibilities with dedication and devotion.
As the Head of Department of Medicine, handling various medical emergencies and dealing with difficult patients was a huge responsibility. My fellow colleagues always supported me in my cause of serving humanity. The UN Mission provided us innumerable opportunities and immense privilege to help improve the lives of patients of all ages. Although there were language barriers, we were able to expand our opportunities to connect with patients and families during their most vulnerable time. In Kabkabiya, Sudan, my domain of duty was to treat UN employees, military and police personnel, which I did efficiently and devotedly, but poor health infrastructure and ailing, languishing people of the region compelled me to work beyond my charter of responsibility.
Various diseases are prevalent in Darfur but malaria is most predominant. There were many personal medical achievements but I will never forget the 14-year-old boy, Abdullah. He was suffering from malaria and was brought to us in a serious condition. Our medical team worked hard day and night and provided meticulous treatment to help Abdullah recover in a short period of time. The smile on his family’s face was our reward for the tiring efforts and devotion of the whole team.
On July 28, 2019, a mother of an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), 10-year-old girl, Saim, came to us for help. Saim was suffering from severe liver disease. After 24 hours of constant supervision and treatment she was relieved of the pain. I still remember the mother hugged me afterwards and that made my day. Being a physician trained to treat adult patients, undertaking the task of treating a child was never easy but there was no way out as her condition did not allow us to transfer her to some other facility dealing with children. All of us stayed focused throughout the course of her illness as she gradually recovered and was able to go back to her home, smiling.
There was another patient named Hawa, a 22-year-old girl who was bitten by a venomous snake. She came to us with an impending respiratory failure. You can well imagine the outcome of such patients in such a remote area with almost non-existent medical facilities. She received timely treatment for her potentially dangerous condition at our hospital and she recovered well, and returned home with utter happiness.
Pakistan Army uniform and bond takes us beyond ethnicity and borders. Ganesh Gaur an Indian UN IT staff was full of praises for Pakistan Army Contingent after receiving dedicated medical care in our hospital. He had severe heart problem and was suffering from respiratory failure. Our hospital team made every possible effort to treat him. Numerous appreciation letters by military and civilian patients were a source of motivation for us to continue our services in the best possible way.
Treating the patients at our hospital was just one part of our efforts to provide the best health facilities. Pakistan Army Contingent Headquarters encouraged us to take a step beyond this role and promote healthcare awareness among military officers and civilians. Our commanding officer encouraged us to conduct different awareness campaigns and interactive community sessions. This outreach to the community helped us gain knowledge of the health conditions of the people of that area and kept us motivated to do more for them.
Pakistan Army arranged quite a few free medical camps as well. Being a physician, I also participated actively in those camps. It gave us a unique experience to deal with a variety of patients suffering from different diseases, which are not so common in Pakistan. Providing treatment to under privileged local population was very satisfying and we all felt at peace afterwards.
Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create. Being away from family was difficult but it also gave me opportunities to indulge myself in various healthy activities. I spent time doing yoga, worked out at the gym, participated in cooking and decor activities for events and learned Arabic. I made arrangements to make a kitchen garden beside my accommodation and it was an exciting experience to grow a variety of vegetables and plants.
Working with people from forces of other countries in UN was also a new experience for me and my colleagues. During our tenure, we treated quite a number of patients belonging to other contingents. They not only appreciated the doctors but also Pakistan Army and Pakistan. We received numerous letters of appreciation from those patients, which encouraged to perform our duties with more dedication and sincerity.
Another worth mentioning aspect of my tenure was to work for quality health care in our hospital. We arranged different workshops and courses to teach emergency treatment protocols to nursing staff and paramedics. This allowed us to build a well-prepared team, ready to deal with day-to-day challenges at our workplace. We also delivered lectures to UN staff on topics like Ebola and Corona Virus. All these activities helped us to win the confidence of locals as well as UN staff in the mission area.
Treating patients and dealing with emergencies is a part of the daily routine for a physician. Lastly, exposure to traditional military mess life was wonderful for me as an LO. It helped me interact closely with other officers and helped develop good friendships as well. I heard somewhere that a friendship in the field lasts long and I feel that this is quite true.
Now that my tenure in Sudan has ended and I am back home, I recollect all cherishable and unforgettable memories. It was a wonderful experience for me to interact with people of diverse cultures, races and ethnicity. The long lasting experience of serving poor and needy in Kabkabiya, Darfur has left an imprint on my life and I will enjoy the inner peace and satisfaction for the rest of my life. I thank Pakistan Army for providing me this chance to serve humanity and I strongly encourage all LOs to not miss out on such an opportunity. HH
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