Every Friday, on the 13th-floor of Square Hospital, the resident medical officers, registrars and nurses waited for a call from the medical director, Dr Mirza Nazimuddin. He would ask, "how many of you are at work today?" Nurses or physicians learned to treat Fridays and government holidays as just another day at work. However, that call was not an administrative task. This would be a call for a headcount to make sure we had enough snacks or enough cake (if it was Christmas, puja or a new year).
After going to work on a day when one's friends and family are resting or enjoying themselves, simple pleasures like a pastry from Shumi's or a samosa from the shop next door and tea with the rest of the team can really boost team morale. He would invite other consultants from different specialties to join us. Those moments were among the few times when junior and senior doctors, along with nurses, sat together and spoke about their lives, families and future goals. Some of my fondest memories with Dr Mirza are of those tea breaks on a Friday evening. A sincere, brilliant man who always spoke with a kind reassuring smile that made him a favourite among patients, other physicians and nurses.
Dr Mirza Nazimuddin was born in the small village of Jangalia in Tangail district. He was an intelligent child and would often have to go to Tangail town for academic pursuits that were not possible in his small village. In Tangail town, he would stay with my family. Dr Mirza was my grandmother's nephew, and because of his diligent and sweet nature, was much loved by both my grandparents. After his HSC and SSC, he was selected to attend the prestigious Dhaka Medical College. My aunt, who resided at the Buet teacher's quarters (her husband was a faculty member at Buet) when he was a student at DMC, remembers him as her dependable cousin who was always there when they needed him. On his weekend stays with my uncle and aunt, he would remain buried in his textbooks. Not surprisingly, he graduated with excellent results.
He married Dr Khaleda Yeasmin, a fellow physician, and they relocated to Medina in Saudi Arabia. He completed his Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians (MRCP) in internal medicine from the UK. However, the desire to serve his nation and his family remained, and he relocated to Bangladesh. He was employed as a medical consultant at Square and after a few years as the medical director.
His return was a huge relief to my family, as he was one of the few physicians in our family. For my father and my aunts, Dr Nazimuddin or "Khwaja" bhai's opinion was of utmost importance. He did not take this responsibility lightly. As a good physician should, he would always take time for us. He treated every ailment, ensured we got appointments and made appropriate referrals for everyone in our sizable Mirza clan. As a physician in training myself (in internal medicine), I have learned to appreciate not only the soundness of his clinical judgement but also the humility of Dr Mirza in seeking other's opinions. In fact, Khwaja chacha is the reason I was inspired to be a doctor. He was not only a skilled and disciplined professional, but also a selfless and loving family man who went out of his way even for those he was not related to.
While working on the 13-floor at Square, I was often asked if I'm related to a patient by the nursing team, if it was one of my uncle's patients. The attention he gave his patients confused the staff members and made them wonder if these patients were his relatives. He made courtesy visits whenever he was asked to, no matter how busy his schedule was. He never refused patients and always made time. In his efforts to prioritise his patients over his own health, he got infected with Covid-19. He returned to work after recovering from a condition. He loved the hospital and he was dedicated to his patients. He passed away after battling Covid-19 for several weeks on June 8, 2020. He leaves behind his wonderful wife Dr Khaleda Yeasmin, his children, and all those who worked with him at Square, to whom he is either a dear friend or a father figure.
He gave me my first job and mentored me. He celebrated Fridays with us. He asked people about their day with a smile every time he met them. As junior physician or trainee, one feels invisible, he made us feel seen, and as valued members of a team. When he passed away, former co-workers, people I deeply respect, reached out to me to tell me how Khwaja chacha had impacted their lives. The path to obtaining a post-graduate degree can be challenging if you have a 48 hour per week hospital job. He made adjustments to schedules so that his registrars and RMOs could finish their training and appear for their exams while still supporting their families. Many brilliant and wonderful doctors working in different parts of the world remember his encouragement and his support.
The Mirza and the Square family lost their guardian. However, he has left us with many valuable lessons. Great individuals achieve great things. Truly great individuals, help others live up to their potential. Dr Mirza helped countless individuals, as a doctor, a mentor and an administrator, without losing the smile on his face, and the warmth in his voice.
Naomi Ferdous Mirza is a MD (MPH).