Nowhere is it more challenging to fast and keep a straight face, a civil tongue and a smile on your face as it is in Ramadan for a Doctor.
As Doctors one thing is obvious from day one and that is: we are no longer in control of but fully responsible for our time. We are also asked out of the goodness of our heart to give more and receive less (in family time, comfort, sleep, good food, time to play with our children and much more).
However the general public including the patients have no sympathy or understanding that as a muslim doctor in Ramadan I may have been up all night in the hospital. I may have been in the ER or in the surgical unit and Sehri time may have come and gone. By the next afternoon my fast is reaching beyond 24 hours. Yet there is no letting up of work, attitude of nurses, and non Muslim colleagues. They laugh and talk and offer you brownies and when you decline explaining that you are fasting they offer you a drink and are surprised that you cannot even drink water. They shake their heads and look at me as if I am an unusual animal “we do drink fruit juices when we fast” they state with the confidence of their belief and discounting of mine.
So why do we as Muslim Doctors put ourselves through such rigors?
Fasting during Ramadan unless we have a valid excuse (listed in the hadiths in detail) is obligatory for a Muslim; it is a responsibility that we acquiesced to when we were born a Muslim and stayed on the path.
Here are two vignettes from my internship days. One in Pakistan and one is the US.
I start after graduating from medical school as a house officer first in Pediatrics and then in General Surgery (to become eligible for my license ). By the time Ramadan comes to Karachi and Civil Hospital I am smack in the middle of my General Surgery house officer duties. I remember my first day of Ramadan as a surgical house officer:
I am assisting in surgery as a house surgeon in Civil Hospital, Karachi. We have been busy putting together a man who has been knifed many times. It is an emergency surgery that has been going on for two hours. Asr time is waning and the heat of the day is pushing at the windows despite the whirring of the air conditioner doing its best to keep it at bay.
My focus is on keeping the retractor in place so that the surgeon can repair damage, is becoming an act of “mind over matter”.
We don’t even hear the siren that announces the opening of the fast; one of the female assistant and a nurse have fainted and have been taken out earlier. I am the last assistant standing other than the surgeon himself.
The surgeon turns to me and there is a question in his eyes, “ are you okay?” I nod with my eyes and go back to the retractor.
It is 117 degrees Fahrenheit outside but we are blessed in the OR with air-conditioning, albeit old and decrepit like all free government hospital equipment.
I feel a tap on my shoulder I incline my head towards it while holding the retractor. The lady orderly is holding a cup full of water, “Roza khul gaya” she says “it is time to open the fast. She lifts my mask and I drink. It is Iftar time in the city…….. and we continue with the operation for another hour”
When we come out of the OR, the cafeteria and the coffee shop are both closed. The stars are lit and the cool evening breeze of Karachi touches my sweat-covered forehead, with a gentle caress. Patients offer me food as I walk through the wards, giving last minute orders. I decline politely touched by their generosity despite their state of poverty.
There must be some food in the hostel I think and head towards it. Confident that my friends and colleagues have stashed some iftaar for me. I open the steel wrought iron gate and walk into the green sanctuary, the naked bulbs hang in the verandah weakly lighting up the yellow sandstone building.
Yes they have! I am overjoyed and thankful! I am met with smiles, tiffin carriers filled with aromatic Pakistani food, fresh roti from someone’s home. Suddenly the days rigors are forgotten. I am surrounded by food with love and laughing friends, a rare combination in the halls of the hospitals of the US.
Fast forward…………I am an intern in a Hospital in the US. I am posted in Ramadan in the well baby nursery and have to be present all night to attend deliveries and do the first well baby examination. There is no place to stash my food. The janitors clean out the fridge of the interns lounge on a regular basis.
I pray that no baby is born at sehri, and for a whole month Allah(SWT) honors my prayer. My dear friend and colleague who is a surgery resident lives in the hospital apartments. In the wee hours of the morning we rush to her apartment and eat delicious hot food that she prepared last night. We rush back after a quick fajr prayer to attend to the delivery room and pre-op patients respectively. I am forever grateful for sharing that memorable Ramadan with her.
Evening arrives; sunset and night progresses……….there is no letting off. An admission arrived at 4.55 pm, thus it is mine. Eventhough this was my call night and I get off at 5 pm.
Interns count their hours and minutes like gold, and no one ever happily gives any away.
Jewish and Christian residents who are nonchalant to not only my needs but also to each other surround me, in my daily work. We live in a bubble where we work and go home. Few socialize with others as they already have families and built in social systems.
On call nights are unique, some tea and toast from the nurses kitchen starts the Sehri. I fall into a bone-tired slumber when the phone rings in the interns sleeping room…”Doctor you have an admission in the ER. “Sure” I reply. I put a smile in my voice, “I will be right there”.
Is there any other profession where you can call a person at 2 am or 4 am and they get up with a smile and come to fix your oven or leaking faucet?
Iftaars are usually sandwiches from the machine. To this day my brother and I cannot look at another tuna sandwich from the machine. They are not only encased in plastic but to my starving exhausted body they taste like cardboard……….. And so goes another solitary Ramadan as an intern/resident in the US.
There is no Masjid like here, no one to invite you to iftaar, and no one really cares if you fast or not, and if you do, you are on your own.
Yet I continue to fast. Why? Because the option of not fasting has never entered my mind.
The call to fasting is hardwired in my body from the first time when Allah raised all the progeny of Adam and asked them “ Am I your Lord?” and I along with all human beings past, present and those to come had replied, “Yes”!
[7:172] Yusuf Ali
When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful”: