As I approached a derelict diversion road off the motorway, I noticed the impoverished billboard displaying the cities that the road led to Sahiwal, Multan, and Okara. Half-an-hour later, as we neared the remote but thoroughly bustling city of Okara, I glimpsed at the vast crop fields, noticing the dung covered mud-houses beckoning in the distance, chickens loitering on the playground, and an ensemble of cows crossing the road ahead. We were now, evidently, inside the city of Okara, where I had been invited to visit the Khair-Ul-Fazl Welfare trust hospital in my capacity as the chief guest.
The brick-red building of the hospital was visible from a distance, spanning over a large plot that was otherwise barren except the occasional rose-wood trees. During my experiences in hospitals in the USA, the UK, and in Islamabad, I had noticed the hubbub that almost always plagued the OPD departments of these hospitals, so the curtailed queues, the neatly organised parking spaces, and the existent tranquillity were a welcoming respite from the rushing cosmopolitan life that I am used to. Overcome by this realization, I swiftly made my way to the hospital reception. After all the niceties and introductions were over and dealt with, I was ushered to the finance department, where an affable man—probably in his early 40s—elucidated how the hospital operated on a free-of-cost basis.
I was used to viewing public hospitals as corporations that ought to be free, funded by the taxpayers’ money. I was also, additionally, cognizant of instances where doctors, having whiled away their fecund careers as physicians, endeavoured to open up hospitals that they would go on to fund solely from their savings, but in this instance, I found myself strangely taken aback upon learning that this hospital had in fact been set up by someone who had no knowledge of medicine as a profession, but who still had a compassionate heart that fosters incessant love for the local denizens of Okara.
As medical students, one of the imperative lessons that are deeply ingrained in our personas is the instinctive empathy that we must hone for our patients. Yet, amidst the commotions of the hospital wards and surgical theatres, physicians often tend to deal with patients as medical objects. Standing within the building that serves as an emblem of true altruism, I was reminded that it is compassion, first and foremost, that enables physicians to forge a bond with their patients that transcends all bounds—the fundamental bond of humanity that transcends cultures, races, and ethnicities.
The visit ended with the exchange of extended niceties, and sincere vows as to how, upon our own volitions, all of us will strive to contribute much towards the welfare hospital. I had initially come to Okara, both cynical and sceptical of how state-of-the-art a hospital in such a remote city could be, and had even decided that the hospital visit would probably not be worth my time, but I left the hospital with a realisation that had been buried deep within, but which nevertheless resurfaced only now, having been stirred by my hospital visit.
It was amidst these realizations that I vowed always to put the welfare of my patients before any other overlapping priorities, and to foster empathy and compassion with the same zeal that I felt in that moment.