Captain Dr. Asma Malik narrates her experience at the UN Peacekeeping Mission
The path from dreams to real success does exist if you have the vision to find it, the courage to walk it, and the perseverance to follow it. T.E. Lawrence said: "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." I consider myself among the latter. Therefore, you could imagine the elation my parents and I felt when I finally had the honour to wear this sacred uniform and serve this prestigious institution as the third-generation of my family. The difference, however, is that I am the first Army doctor in our military family.
I, Capt Asma Malik, graduated from Dow Medical University and later got inducted into Pakistan Army Medical Corps (AMC) in 2014, translating my long cherished dream into reality. I then served in multiple military hospitals. Being a doctor in the Army, the feelings of accomplishment are immense. But I was not yet fully familiar with the true military vista of the AMC until I was selected for the UN Peace Keeping Mission in Darfur, Sudan. There I got the opportunity to experience a new facet of serving in AMC. It was there that I got the chance to serve with an infantry battalion and I experienced the sheer excitement of being a combat medic. I was attached with one of the infantry battalions as a Medical Officer (MO), in a facility we referred to as Level-1 Hospital. Lady Doctors of Pakistan Army have been serving on UN Missions in hospital setups for quite some time now but there hadn't been a lady doctor serving with an infantry battalion in a Pakistani UN setup until now. I was one of the pioneers and had the supreme honour to represent AMC at this level.
Serving with an infantry battalion was a rich experience in every way. I got to see the struggle our officers and soldiers went through every day to keep the flag high. I served not only in the battalion headquarters but also in our team site as a Medical Officer and that definitely introduced me to the actual combat aspect of the military life, which I wasn't accustomed to before. The sense of fulfilment I experienced while visiting far-flung areas to accommodate and provide health care to the native population while wearing Combat Uniform with bulletproof jacket and helmet, is difficult to describe in words. We used to do regular Short Range Patrols in a bid to interact with the local population and address their ailments as best as we could. Every face I saw on these patrols was a story in itself. The painful awareness of the reality in the eyes of worn-out mothers was sometimes too much to handle but at the same time, the glittering hope in the eyes of bare-footed children often balanced the scales. On these Short Range Patrols, I witnessed the profound resilience of the Sudanese people especially of the women and children, in a country riddled with conflict and gender-based violence.
Draped in Toob (Traditional Sudanese long wrap-around cloth worn on top of a shirt and skirt/trousers), the Sudanese women used to do all the manual work, mostly agricultural, and though stricken by poverty and disease, they still always hold their heads high. We used to address their health concerns, guiding them on not only hygiene practices but also measures to prevent infectious diseases and the issues regarding maternal and child health including family planning. Women in Sudan do not have ready access to basic healthcare services as is evident by the country's high maternal mortality rate. We tried to address that problem in our humble capacity by regularly arranging Free Medical Camps for the local populace and frequent interaction with these native women and children through SRPs. Lack of health care facilities in the region was as evident as day. We frequently entertained more than 3000 patients in a single day at these camps, organized at El-Daien and Kabkabiya in the East Darfur and North Darfur regions of Sudan respectively, providing people with vital medical check-ups, free diagnostics, and medicines in an area where the concept of an actual doctor was almost non-existent. But the locals’ response to these medical camps, undoubtedly, was always a sight to witness. The glistening happiness in their eyes and the sheer joy on their faces was always a reminder of why I entered this profession and the military in the first place.
Stationed in the military camp, I ran a basic field hospital, alongside my fellow doctors and the cases we dealt there were not less important by any means. Apart from routine cases, we regularly used to manage snake bite and scorpion bite cases as their incidence was quite high in the area. Moreover, emergencies like Acute Abdomen, Acute Appendicitis, Renal Colic and burns cases were also dealt with frequently and with utmost prowess at our hospital setup.
I was fortunate enough that God chose me to save some precious lives in our hospital setup. Each one of these patients we catered for, is a testament to the integrity, commitment, and steadfastness of our military set up in Darfur, Sudan. I still remember one such patient very vividly. We were in El-Daien in our Company Headquarters. It was mid-noon on a hot summer day. I was the duty doctor when a middle-aged female, about 40 years old, was rolled in. Zahiya was her name. She was a small, curly-haired woman and visibly in a painful spasm, as her body was in slight hyperextension, her head and heels bent backward and her body arched forward. She was slurring indistinct words, obviously confused and disoriented. There was no time to wait. The nursing and I assistants huddled around the patient. I thoroughly examined the patient from head to toe, starting with her neurological exam. She was a GCS 12 (Glasgow Coma Scale, which rates the severity of comatose state from three to fifteen) on arrival. She was a mother of five children. What needed to be done had to be done quickly. There might not be any second chances for her if we delayed her treatment any longer. But ours was a small health care setup. It was a risky situation. The better course was to refer the patient to a better equipped medical centre. Another predicament was the fact that the patient's attendant was not even slightly willing to take the patient anywhere else as she made it absolutely clear that she only trusted our setup to take care of her ailing sister. This trust actually stemmed from her own good experience with our hospital setup. "Do we really need to take this chance," I asked myself. But I also knew that she probably wouldn't survive the journey. That was the moment I decided to take a leap of faith. We put her on the bed, cannulised her and started her on empiric treatment consisting of parenteral Antibiotics and Antimalarial along with Muscle Relaxants and sent her samples for basic labs. She was running a high fever, her blood pressure was on the lower side, her respiration a bit shallow but fortunately she was breathing on her own.
I remember, standing on the side of the bed, with a Laryngoscope in my hand, ready to intubate the patient if needed for a clear airway. My heart was pounding with concern, eyes on the patient's spasmed body and hand on the patient's wrist, trying to feel the rhythm of life. Upon enquiring, I came to know from the patient's attendant, that she had a high-grade fever with chills and rigors for the past five days. She had been sweating and vomiting for the better part of these five days and now since the previous day, she was drowsy and confused. It was when her body went into a spasm that her sister finally decided to get her checked and as ours was the only medical facility nearby that she trusted, she brought her sister there. Standing on the edge of the bed, half an hour later, I finally breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed that the patient's spasm had settled and she was still breathing on her own. The labs came back positive for Malaria which made the diagnosis of Cerebral Malaria evident in this case. It was happy news though, as now I knew what I was dealing with. At night, I visited the patient again and her vitals had considerably improved though she still was not completely oriented. The following morning was better and things finally started to look promising. The patient's fever had started to settle down and her symptoms started to improve. That poor lady from El-Daien was fully conscious the next day, having tears of gratitude in her eyes. She told me about her children and the dreams she had for them. We kept her under observation for three days in the hospital and she went back home fully recovered and ready to take on the world once again.
It is tales like these that really make me feel like the luckiest girl on the planet, serving the most deserving of populations, in the noblest of professions, in a military I've always longed to serve in.
The year I spent in Darfur, Sudan as a MO with an infantry battalion was one of the most fulfilling times of my life. The respect I witnessed and the experience I garnered will, without a doubt, would always be a memory to cherish. May the Almighty always keep Pakistan Army in His infinite blessings! Pakistan Army Zindabad! Pakistan Paindabad! HH
First Pakistan Army Female Engagement Team departs for MONUC
First Pakistan Army Female Engagement Team, comprising of 14 Lady Officers recently left from Multan to perform peacekeeping duties under the aegis of Mission of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).
Brigadier Wasim Ahmed Malik and Brigadier Ambreen Anwar bade them farewell at the Multan International Airport, prior to their departure on a UN Chartered aircraft. The departing troops will replace the already deployed Pakistan Army Contingent in the strife-torn country as part of the relieve and rotations schedule.
Pakistani troops joined MONUC in 2004. By deploying Female Engagement Team, Pakistan has met the United Nations target of deploying 15% female military and staff officers in UN peacekeeping missions. This will further augment gender parity and enhance women's participation in the world body's flagship activity.
Pakistan Army has added glorious chapters in the annals of peacekeeping history by rendering dedicated services for the restoration of peace all over the globe.
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