Monday, November 21, 2011

First Amongst Equals - A Tribute to a Former Colleague

I like to think that it is a rare individual who cannot name one person who has influenced their life. Most of us can probably name a parent or teacher. However, just occasionally somebody comes along who is more than just influential; someone who is inspirational and whose memory lives on as a person against whom we measure our actions.

I have several such mentors; most of whom are oblivious to their role in shaping my personality and actions. The first in medical terms was a doctor who was my immediate senior when I was a houseman in a Devon hospital. His unfailing courtesy, diligence and attention to detail made him stand out from all other doctors I had come across during my training. His name was Dr Assad Al-Doori, and he was an Iraqi. Over subsequent years, I have often thought of Assad and hope that I have incorporated some small measure of him within my own practise of medicine.

Until recently, there have been few doctors who have measured up to Assad’s standards. Then I had the fortune to meet a doctor some twenty years my junior, who subsequently became an associate within my practice. Such was his dedication to his patients that one year ago we offered him a partnership, recognising that he would be a tremendous asset to our community. He embodied the very attributes I had recognised in Assad: unfailingly kind, gentle, polite, thoughtful, and dedicated to the art of medicine, the care of his patients and the teaching of young doctors. He was an untiringly hard worker who thought of himself last of all.

His name was Dr Imran Arfeen. He was from Pakistan and he was a devout Muslim. It was his Islamic faith which strongly guided his principles and actions and, alone in his consulting room, he would snatch moments of his busy day to incorporate his ritual of prayer. To observe Ramadan, he worked non-stop throughout the day in order to overcome his hunger. Imran was inspirational and influential; holding long conversations with me regarding the comparative values of Islam and Christianity, the Koran and the Bible. I discovered from Imran far more about how the two religions overlap than I had previously discovered. Imran also quietly and gently reminded me on numerous occasions of the reason why we practise medicine – to serve the poor and sick. My colleagues now tell me that I was not alone in benefitting from his wisdom and humility.

I write of Imran in the past tense as, shortly after being offered a partnership, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He died two week ago. Throughout his illness, his courage and fortitude remained inspirational. Taking strength from his faith, he never lost hope and fought an heroic battle. Insisting that work was best for him, few of his patients knew that he was receiving chemotherapy, and was in effect more gravely ill than many of those he was treating.

Ironically, on the day he died, the practice received a letter addressed to Imran from a patient who is a retired Church of England priest. The letter is an outstanding testimonial to Imran’s attitude, beliefs and character; extolling his work as a doctor. It was meant as a private letter, but sadly not one Imran was to read. If he had, I am sure that we would never have known about it; such was his self-effacement.

No parent should ever suffer the grief of losing a child. It is equally true that no doctor should see a younger colleague succumb to a fatal illness. However, Imran was a devout Muslim amongst Christians, the most Christian of Muslims, and medically the first amongst equals. He taught us all something of value and his humanitarian legacy will live on as we endeavour to serve our masters the poor and sick.

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday, 3rd November 2011)


ghazala said...

Glad and sad to read this article....Imran was my brother.:(

Anonymous said...

Im very grateful to the author Dr.Robert who had to say what wonderfull things about my brother Dr.imran ...felt proud and sad at the same time...its still hard to comprehend that he is not around in the world and i can't c him ever again!... or have intellectual conversations with him! was always enlightening to talk to him!...ina lilahey wa ina alaiheyrajaon......Imran was my brother ....I'm really feeling very sad to write WAS instead of Is:((... Thnx.ghazala nafees.frm Pakistan.

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