In my last post, I mentioned Greg Mortenson, a modern-day hero to the people of northern Pakistan, whose story has been widely publicized. I cannot fail to also tell the story of the Pakistani doctor who is responsible for medical care in the Shigar Valley, where one of Mortenson’s schools for girls is located.
My friend, Debbie, and I walked into the local clinic on a Saturday morning. We visited because, as medical providers, we were curious about the services offered in this very remote area of the mountains of Pakistan, where there are no modern conveniences. Women wash clothes in the river, there is no running water or sewage and electricity is dependent on generators, which means the overwhelming majority of those who live there have no electricity.
We were warmly welcomed in the clinic’s outer waiting area, and an attendant, who spoke no English, hurried off to get the doctor. The physician, probably in his late 30s, invited us into his office and offered us tea. I am ashamed to say I do not remember his name, because it deserves remembering. We explained who we were and he cordially told us—his English was quite good—about his life. Notice, I didn’t say he told us about his practice. That’s because we quickly learned that the practice of medicine is his life—it is clearly not a job.
This man, the government-stationed physician, is responsible for the 15,000 people of his area and the only formally educated medical person in the Shigar Valley. His staff consisted of local people who had received on-the-job training to assist him in caring for his patient load. His wife and children live at the clinic with him, and he works every day of the year!
While we talked, his assistant brought in patients, who were totally accommodating of our presence. In their language, they told the doctor their complaints. After briefly examining them, he wrote notes on small pieces of paper, which he handed to the assistant. He explained that he was writing down what treatment to give or medicine to dispense. There was a steady stream of people of all ages coming through the door to his office. The nearest hospital is 2 1/2 hours away and inaccessible four to five months of the year, when the roads and mountain passes are closed by heavy snowfall. This doctor takes care of what he can and comforts the patients and families when all he can offer is compassion.
He kindly offered us a tour of the clinic. There were women’s and men’s inpatient wards and treatment rooms for minor surgical procedures or deliveries. There was a small pharmacy and a very basic laboratory. Furnishings were old and meager, but the place was amazingly clean. We asked him if the clinic accepted donations of medicine or medical supplies. No, he said. Needs of government clinics were provided for by the Ministry of Health, and they were specifically forbidden to accept any outside assistance.
Undoubtedly, there will never be a book written about this man, but he is also a hero to the people of northern Pakistan and another fine example of what one person can do. I really wish I could remember his name.
For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.