Fearless, compassionate and spirited, Dr Seemin Jamali will be remembered for her commitment to providing care under all kinds of circumstances
t was a cold night in January 2008. Some journalists were interviewing Dr Seemin Jamali, the then in charge of the emergency department of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), Karachi, outside the old emergency building where some injured police personnel, as well as some militants, had been brought for treatment following an encounter in Shah Latif Area of the city, when she saw emergency department staff and some security personnel evacuating the building in panic. They were shouting, “Uss kay pas bomb hai (he has a bomb).“
As people fled the building, Dr Seemin Jamali ran towards the emergency ward without caring for her life and saw one of the injured militants, Danish alias Qasim Toori holding a hand-grenade.
Dr Seemin checked the injured militant, who had was unconscious due to excessive blood loss. Realising that the injured militant was not in a position to use the hand-grenade, she called for the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS). She remained with the injured militant until they arrived. There were dozens of other injured and sick patients at the emergency department who had been unable to leave the building.
“I and some other reporters were talking to Dr Jamali that night. A BBC guy was recording a video while I was taking notes. All of a sudden, we saw people coming out of the emergency. They included staff, patients, their attendants and some armed men from law enforcement agencies. We were unable to read anything but overheard: “bomb hay.. bomb hay... uss kay pass bomb hay,“ says Imran Ayub, a senior crime reporter.
“It turned out that one of the injured suspects was holding a hand-grenade. At that time, everyone started running away for safety, but shedding all fear Dr Jamali ran inside,“ says Ayub.
Imran recalls that Dr Jamali rushed to the injured militant and found him unconscious. He was mumbling something and holding on to the grenade. She then challenged the LEA personnel: “Kahan bhag rahay hoe sub... grab that hand-grenade… come with me. I am with you. Call BDS guys... Meray yahan hazar mareez aur hen.. sub ko aisay hee chhor ka bhag jaun kia?“
Her fearlessness and sense of duty made her the Iron Lady of Pakistan. She established one of the best emergency and trauma centres at JPMC, Karachi, and saved hundreds of lives during some of the worst periods in the history of Pakistan.
“It was a Friday noon when I told Dr Seemin that I was leaving as my duty hours were over. She asked me to stay till the Jumm’a prayers were over, fearing that something untoward might happen. We were talking in her office when we heard a loud explosion and within minutes, we started receiving patients injured in a blast. Once we settled down that night, she said she had had a gut feeling that something might happen during the congregational prayers. That was why she asked everyone to stay at the emergency,” recalls sister Daisy Nasreen, a chief nursing instructor at the JPMC who served with Dr Jamali for longer than two decades.
Her fearlessness and sense of duty made her the Iron Lady of Pakistan. She established one of the best emergency and trauma centres at the JPMC, Karachi, and saved hundreds of lives during the worst periods in the history of Pakistan.
Another JPMC official and a close friend of Dr Jamali, Dr Nausheen, says it was a hot evening in the month of Ramazan 2020, and Dr Seemin was having extreme abdominal pain when they heard that a PIA aircraft had crashed during landing at the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi.
“She was about to leave the hospital for her medical check-up, but when she heard about the plane crash, she dashed to the emergency department. Despite her pain, she remained at the hospital, managed the bodies and spoke to the officials and media. She did not let on that she was quite sick. The next day, she underwent scans and learnt that she was suffering from colon cancer, which had started spreading in the abdominal cavity,“ Dr Nausheen recalls.
Despite the cancer diagnosis, she continued to serve the people till her retirement in August 2021. She also managed the Covid-19 crisis. Dr Seemin Jamali established the Covid-19 treatment wards and intensive care units as well as a diagnostic lab at the JPMC. She kept the hospital running for other emergencies and ailments when most of the hospitals were refusing patients.
She was the first health expert in the country who noticed in the early days of Covid-19 that some people were being brought dead or near-death without a plausible cause. She ordered a chest x-ray and HRCT for some of the patients and found severe Covid-19 pneumonia. This helped in treating such patients in the early stages and saving their lives.
Her husband, Prof AR Jamali, believes that one of her biggest achievements was the establishment of the Anti-Rabies Clinic at the JPMC. It works round the clock and has the latest vaccines for dog-bite patients.
“In 1995, one of our staff members died after a dog bite although he had been given 14 injections of a vaccine. She sent the samples of that vaccine to France, and the French experts revealed that the vaccine being administered in Pakistan was of no use. She then started working for the establishment of the rabies clinic at the JPMC, arranged the latest vaccines and saved hundreds of lives,” Dr Jamali says.
According to him, she had been serving people since she was a medical student. He had seen pictures of her during Gen Zia-ul Haq’s regime. “She used to rush to hospitals, leaving behind guests at home. Sometimes I did not find her on her bed in the morning. I checked and learnt that she was at the hospital,” he recalls.
Prof Jamali says authorities should transform the emergency department of JPMC into a teaching and training centre where young graduates should learn to manage emergencies, disasters and calamities. “She was an entire hospital by herself. She did so much for the suffering humanity. A whole book cannot cover all that she did,“ Prof Jamali says.
The writer is an investigative reporter. He covers health, science, environment and water issues for The News International