Guest Post by Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi
I spent a long period of time spanning over two decades from 1974-1994 within the campus of Dow Medical College and Civil Hospital Karachi, initially as a medical student, and later as an intern in Burns and Medicine, resident in Dermatology and for the last eight years as a member of hospital management team. These were truly the best of times and the worst of times for different reasons; there were upheavals followed by periods of tranquility. We nevertheless managed to remain optimistic at all times and I found my work always quite rewarding despite the minor irritants. Several incidents over this long period are so deeply etched in my memory as if they occurred yesterday. Those were my wonder years. The photo below is of Bohri Bazaar Karachi.
I vividly remember some of the major disasters; the bursting of a cylinder in Liaquatabad while I was working in the Burns Ward in 1982, followed by the ghastly Orangi massacres, the Pan Am hijacking and of course the incident, which is the subject of my present write-up namely the Bohri Bazaar bomb blast.
It was a fairly typical day for me in the second half of the eighties, working as RMO General I. Satisfied with my dayâ€™s work, I got up in the evening and went to the Cardiology Ward to check on my friend Dr. Qazi Moinuddin Ahmed. He was in the process of winding up too and proposed that we leave together. He had to stop by in Bohri Bazaar Saddar to get certain certificates plastic coated and I thought I would wait in the car until he returned. After around 10 minutes he returned although only half his certificates had been coated because he thought it was not fair to keep me waiting in the car. He then dropped me home around sunset time and just as I was getting tempted by the prospect of a late lunch, I received a frantic call from the CHK Emergency that some bomb blasts had occurred and a hospital vehicle was on the way to take me back to the hospital. It took me nearly forty minutes to traverse the distance of around 5-6 kms to the hospital.
Along the way, I could see the massive clouds of black smoke and I prayed for the best. On reaching the hospital I found the situation to be totally chaotic. There were patients all over the place and the emergency was so full of all sorts of people, it was a wonder anybody could do anything. I called up the nearby police station and requested them to clear out all â€˜spectatorsâ€™ so we could go about treating the critical and seriously injured patients. The police did the needful and some NGOs helped by posting details of the patients outside for the relatives so that they could be apprised about the position without coming inside the Emergency Department.
The Medical Superintendent Dr. Ghulam Safdar and Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr. Abbas Khan joined soon afterwards and proceeded to call all the general surgeons, anaesthetists, orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and physicians immediately. Meanwhile, patients were categorized according to the severity of their problem and the Casualty Incharge prepared a list of immediately required medications, minor instruments and other disposables.
By now my main medical store had been opened and the nearby chemists were told to issue all the medicines not available in the stores if they found my initials on any simple chit of paper. In quite a short time, the confusion was getting less and less and the surgeons were beginning to arrive. The main theaters were opened immediately and patients began to be lined up for emergency surgery. Again lists of requirements were produced and met with equal haste.
At around 8 p.m. the Secretary for Health and the Commissioner of Karachi, both civil service colleagues visited the casualties. An unpleasant incident occurred as some students tried to misbehave with them and protested over the lack of certain facilities. However, in the rush of things the bitterness was soon forgotten and normal work resumed. By 11 p.m. the patients began to be shifted in the wards from the theaters and by that time we also got a good estimate of the number of dead, critically injured and less seriously injured. Here we were working in a hospital where a surgeon had been operating for over 6 hours to carry out a renal transplant and save one life, while in minutes one person had extinguished hundreds of lives. Those are some of the contradictions that we have come to terms with in our daily lives. At around this time, we received a message that some VIP would be visiting the hospital soon. The large part of the emergency was now past and we were satisfied with the quality of care that was being provided. The MS and DMS waited for a while till around midnight but I offered to stay there for the whole night and look to any administrative problem while clinicians went about their work.
While calling a surgical unit at around 2 a.m. and asking for the staff nurse, I was told that she was on a round with the Chief Minister of Sindh. Wondering why I had not been informed I rushed to the Surgical Ward located on the third floor. I found the Governor and Chief Minister going round the ward and asking the patients about their welfare. The Governor happened to know me personally and he introduced me to the Chief Minister. Both of them appeared to be quite satisfied with the arrangements. The only glitch was that the Governorâ€™s escort had probably made a mistake and brought the dignitaries from a wrong gate. Now with the VIPs on the third floor trouble was brewing with disgruntled paramedics and the general public lined along the stairs and in a nasty mood. The security people were beginning to get nervous and we rushed down the stairs and out of the gate. In the process several indignities were committed on the visiting head and chief executive of the provincial government.
A little disgusted at the course of events and realizing that there was little left for me to do, I decided to go home and reached there in six minutes this time. On reaching there my mother told me that the Secretary for Health had called from the Governorâ€™s House. I called the Governorâ€™s House and introduced myself and soon the Secretary for Health was on the line. He directed me to immediately shift a ventilator and defibrillator lying in the main stores to the Casualty right there and then. I argued with him that the emergency was past and the shifting and installation could be done better in the morning but he was adamant. I immediately returned to the hospital and complied with the orders obviously handed out by the Governor at a high-level meeting, which was going on at that odd hour.
In the morning I apprised the Medical Superintendent about the happenings of the night. He told me that he had been called to a high-level meeting that day. The results of the meeting are now common knowledge as the â€˜Berlin Wallâ€™ was erected between the Dow Medical college and the Civil hospital, the doctorsâ€™ and studentâ€™s cafeterias and hostels within the hospital were totally done away with in less than no time. That was incidentally also the end of the era where people could park their cars inside the campus.
I had enough on my hands during those 72 hours not to worry about these far-reaching consequences, but there was an interesting sequel to this incident. I met Dr. Moin and he told me that his whole family had been praying for me. Seeing my bewildered face he said, â€œremember where we had parked our car, that was exactly where the bomb blasts occurred a few minutes afterwardsâ€. It took me some time to get the full significance of his words. He had returned early and probably saved us from being casualties ourselves! The very fact that I sit here to record these experiences indicates that sometimes real life can be more interesting than fiction.