Dubai: I celebrated another birthday on October 10. A celebration I got to be a part of largely thanks to Dr Ahmad Kazim, who quite literally, saved my life all those years ago.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, mourned the loss of Dr Kazim, while paying tribute to the legend as the first Emirati surgeon who dedicated more than five decades of his life in service to the people of the UAE.
Dr Kazim was certainly a brilliant orthopaedic surgeon, graduating from Bombay University with a gold medal in 1955 before leaving for Edinburgh and then England to achieve his FRCS. As his travels took him further afield to Trinidad, he returned to the UAE in 1975 when he realised his country needed him more. And that service never waned until the very end.
I don’t recall my first meeting with Dr Kazim; I couldn’t have been more than a few years old in the early ‘80s, watching agog as my grandmother made her monthly visit to his little room in the old Rashid Hospital building where he headed the orthopaedic unit before taking over at Dubai Hospital years later. He was always ready to greet with that gentle smile of his, addressing my grandmother as his ‘mama’, while chattering away with her in fluent Hindi.
As years passed and my adventurous side took hold, there were several visits with Dr Kazim, often to patch me up, set a cast and once to even cut into my knee in an operating theatre after one leap over a hurdle proved too challenging for my not-so-nimble body. By then, Dr Kazim had already retired from Dubai Hospital and had opened up his own humble practice in Bur Dubai, on Khalid Bin Waleed Road or as we old-timers called it, the Computer Street.
He laughed uproariously when I told him that my surgery had to be timed perfectly to ensure I didn’t miss India’s batting during the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup. My country needed me, I argued.
Mending my wayward ways soon after, I wouldn’t see Dr Kazim for another seven years during which I lost my father to a brief but brutal fight with cancer. Returning home after his funeral, the enormity of his loss and being the sole caregiver to my mother weighed on me in the weeks and months that followed. With each passing day, my headaches worsened, while I barely passed through the night with more than a few hours of broken sleep.
One morning, I woke up to realise I was barely able to move my left arm and leg. I thought it would pass. It was just sleep deprivation. It didn’t. A friend finally hauled me off to a hospital where I was pumped with drugs and told they had to rule out a tumour. Alone, confused and still trapped in the throes of grief, I picked up the phone to call Dr Kazim and landed in his clinic the following day.
I’m pretty sure I presented a sight, with my uncombed hair, leaning heavily on a crutch and looking utterly terrified. You see, by then I had decided that I wasn’t going to have my mum see another person in our family fade away to cancer. I would handle things in whatever way necessary. But as soon as I sat in his chair, the cracked dam erupted: “Dad’s gone. I am dying of a tumour,” and I promptly burst into tears. Not much of an opening line one would say.
I’m not sure how long I cried that day, but Dr Kazim just patiently sat there, waiting for my tears to dry before simply saying: “My dear, tell me everything from the beginning.” And I did just that, uncorking those emotions bottled up for months and my plan to make it all go away quickly, while he listened without judgement. Once I was all cried out, he sat back with that beatific smile of his and simply said: “My dear, I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong and it’s definitely not a tumour. But go get that MRI so we can rule that nuisance out and then plan a course of action. But if you feel the need to talk to someone in between, call me. You aren’t alone.”
Emotionally spent but strangely at peace, I was back with him a few days later armed with MRI scans. And as he suspected, there was no tumour. What it was, was a child dealing with the pain of losing her father and that pain had manifested into a physical ache that were worsening with the growing stress. My heart was broken and my brain was telling my body that it was broken as well.
Dr Kazim took me off the pills and ordered me to find myself a good massage therapist, followed by a counsellor who specialised in grief. And I had to check in with him every week. That was it. Go for a massage, speak to someone and tell him weekly how I was doing. It may sound silly, but it gave me a sense of purpose, a routine that I needed. And perhaps some reassurance that someone cared enough. And for the good doctor, it gave him a legitimate excuse to check in on me without saying outright that he was worried about me.
As I got better gradually, Dr Kazim would celebrate those simple victories, urging me to reconnect with my friends and go live my life. It was on his prompting that I took my first holiday eight months after dad died. In fact, it was Dr Kazim who convinced my mother, dealing with her own treatment under his care at the time, that she needed to let me go and allow me the time to find myself again. To heal.
That degree on his wall may have called him an orthopaedic surgeon, but he was so much more than that for the people of this community. He cared, genuinely cared about his patients, and always made time to hear our stories, lend an ear or simply watch over as a caring father figure.
As we bid goodbye to the legend, I extend my deepest condolences to Dr Houriya Kazim and the rest of the Kazim family. Dr Ahmad Kazim was a true UAE pioneer; a gentle soul who gave back more than he received. In a parting message, I would like to say: Rest in Power, Sir. Your legacy lives on in every single member of this community whose life you touched.