Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

First female medical director of temporary Hajj hospital tells of extraordinary tales

'Working in Hajj is a totally different experience,' Dr Iman Ashgar tells Balquees Basalom in Mina

Tens of thousands of medical staff will be on standby this Hajj to spring into action and help pilgrims who are unwell.

Some have been working at the temporary hospitals and clinics for years while others have signed up to help for the first time but all say they are honoured to help people complete their holy rituals.

For one woman, who has worked Hajj for 20 years, this year will be particularly special.

Dr Iman Ashgar had planned for this year would be her last in the frantic halls of Mina Emergency Hospital but, in a surprise turn of events, she was made the first female medical director of a hospital at one of the holy sites in Makkah.

“It is never too late. It is a great ending to my career in Hajj,” she told The National.

Dr Ashgar overseas 550 medical staff at one of the biggest hospitals in Mina, which only operates for about two weeks a year, during Hajj season.

“Working in Hajj is a totally different experience,” she said.

“In our daily work we have a routine but nothing passionate. When you come to Hajj, the work is very passionate.”

Dr Asghar and her staff are propelled by an urge to help tens of thousands of strangers who have come from all corners of the world to “seek God’s mercy and to be beside God’s house.”

Her first experience working Hajj was in 1984. Since then she has skipped a few years to complete her studies but has always returned to the temporary hospitals with a different role.

“I worked as a resident, specialist, cardiologist, as a leader, as an ICU supervisor and in critical care management,” she said.

Ten years ago, she named medical director of the H1V1 influenza hospital between Jeddah and Makkah. But her position this year is a first as it is for a hospital in one of the holy sites, which have previously been held by her male colleagues.

“I feel honoured that the health minister and Mina Emergency Hospital director, Dr Faisel Nassar, saw my ability and elected me.”

In her time working during Hajj, Dr Ashgar has seen her fair share of extraordinary sights but she looks back fondly at the happy memories — particularly in cases where babies are born in Mina or Arafat.

“I like how the parents sometime name them Mina or even Eid,” she said.

The most shocking thing she witnessed was a woman’s reaction to the death of her husband.

She said the Egyptian woman arrived at the hospital on the first day of Eid with her husband who was in critical condition.

“We tried to save him and give him all the CPR manoeuvres but, unfortunately, the patient died.”

But it was the woman’s joyous reaction that surprised the medical staff.

“She was beyond happy; her eyes were gleaming with happiness and was ululating.

“We thought she had a nervous breakdown so we tried to calm her down.

“But then she said ‘Why are you trying to calm me? I’m happy for him because he came to Hajj to die and his wish came true.’”

Updated: August 8, 2019 08:05 PM

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