Remembering Dr Mirza Nazim Uddin, a true hero who always put his patients first
“Mirza ki boley?”
I had heard my mother and brothers say that after I was moved to the cabin from the ICU at Square Hospital. This was 2019, January. Dr Mirza died today. Covid-19 did not spare this dedicated doctor who headed the patient recovery unit at the intensive care in Square.
Little backstory. I am a patient of an autoimmune disease -- one of the rarest ones called Bechet’s. So much so that most doctors think multiple times before they even give me any medicine. I surprisingly lived for 35 years in that state. In 2017, I was in Bangkok and my friend Jamal and I randomly decided (literally for fun’s sake saying we were getting “old”) to get a health check up done.
Turned out that I had a swollen aorta, which literally means that the pipe that carries blood to my heart from the body had swollen. Swollen to the extent that if it expanded 1mm more, it could burst and I could just drop dead.
With much ado and months of research at Narayana, Bangalore, I underwent an 11-hour open heart surgery. Fast forward to a year later, again in Bangkok, again with my same friend Jamal. I had a brain stroke at Dhaka airport; I flew, landed, checked into the hotel, and met my friend. I told him I was not well. 24 hours later he found me passed out in my room and rushed me to the hospital. I was in the ICU for 9 days.
After that, there was a series of doctors and medications but January 2019 is when I collapsed in Chittagong. I was in the ICU and I could see my world fade away. CPR being performed; screaming; flashes of people.
But I woke up somewhere else. It was in Square Hospital, Dhaka. My family went through the ordeal of taking me there. The journey of my health can be longer but I will not go into that. I just wanted to paint the picture of the severity of my case. No doctor would take up this case except Dr Mirza.
I don’t know about the conversations between my family and Dr Mirza, everyday. They said he had a Whatsapp group in my name and would update my family, family doctors, and my doctors in Singapore. My vision was partially impaired; I may have been hallucinating at times. But I remember this gentleman.
Water had entered my lungs; it is still unknown if it was from the reaction of medicines or my therapy at the swimming pool. Dr Mirza did not care about the how at that moment. His focus was to get me better, remove the water from my lungs, and get me off the ventilator. At the ICU, every morning, he would come for his rounds. I think I had three or four doctors but Dr Mirza was special.
While many doctors came and checked my pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen level, Dr Mirza came and spoke to me. I wasn’t coherent for sure and still remember flashes. The days and incidents are not in order in my mind. He would check the X-ray report every morning for the water in the lungs, show it to me, and then assure me of improvement.
“You are getting better; look, this was your water in your lungs yesterday and today this patch is smaller.” To many abroad this may be normal, but in a country like Bangladesh, such empathy and engagement from an ICU doctor is rare. It is not a fault of the institutions but, rather, the individuals.
As I got better, they extubated me from the ventilator. Dr Mirza stood there as he guided me to breathe and use my lungs. It was tough. My family could not be there. He held my hand. For the first time in many days, I felt the touch of care. Yes, everyday I was allowed a visitor for five minutes but they could not touch me or come near me.
Dr Mirza was confident and fearless. Breathing through my own lungs was scary. He guided me through this. I remember talking to him about two silly incidents. First, post extubation, my logical mind thought that my oesophagus would be ruptured. The first time I drank water, Dr Mirza stood there guiding me. So I asked him that if I drink water, will it go into my lungs? He gave an assuring answer. I could no longer drink water lying in bed. We have to be upright.
The second incident was funnier. During my later days in ICU, I started off with a “soft diet.” One day the people there gave me fish; there was a long bone which got stuck. I quickly put my hand in and pulled out the whole morsel. Since I forgot things, I wrote this down. So, next morning when the doctor came to visit me, I complained. Like a father, he summoned everyone and assured me that this would not happen again.
I remember observing his empathy and respect for fellow health care workers. He was probably the only doctor who would speak to the nurses. Look them in the eye and listen patiently. I once thanked him for this action. Because, the junior doctors would sit in their cubicles and come in when seniors came; nurses were with me always.
My speech was not clear but he would make the effort to listen while other doctors pretended not to hear my complaints. That told me a lot about this man.
The day I was moving to the cabin, he came in: “I am handing over a newborn baby to you, take yourself to the day he was born. He can’t walk yet, he can only breathe. But he will be fine. I assure you that. I have faith and he has the willpower,” he told my mother.
That was the last day I saw him, January 13, 2019 as I was wheeled off from the ICU and he smiled waving at me. The man is no more.
He probably died saving a patient like me. Heroes are not only in battle fields; some are in scrubs. That is the real cape. Healing isn’t the only superpower -- empathy is as well.
We must not forget such bravehearts. Everyday, we must thank the universe or the Almighty for those who work to keep us standing strong. Dr Mirza was one of them. Thank you, Sir.
Saif Kamal is the founder of Toru.