Friday, June 13, 2008

This is what a Patriot looks like

Dr. Muthaffar Kurukchi could join the exodus of middle class professional Iraqis who have fled the war-torn country. He has British residency and the resources to leave. He has been kidnapped and threatened, incentive enough to pack it in, most would say, but he refuses to flee. Every morning he comes to Amal Private Hospital and treats the broken and burned, the casualties of the disastrous invasion and occupation of his country.

His staff of surgeons has dwindled from 36 to 6, but still they soldier on, caring for their countrymen who are caught in the crossfire. They repair limbs shredded by bullets, they remove shrapnel from the bodies of bombing victims, they treat burns and they treat bodies contorted and broken by torture.

He's heartbroken over the fragmenting of his country and disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises of the U.S. occupation, but he's determined to stay.

Kurukchi graduated from Baghdad University's medical school in 1963. He spent a few years in England, where he married a British woman, Mary Rogers, before returning to Iraq in 1971.

He became one of the country's orthopedic pioneers, earning his stripes by treating the horrendous war wounds of young Iraqi soldiers returning from the Iranian front in the 1980s. His government salary was about $360 a month; he supplemented it by opening Amal Private Hospital in 1989.

"For the government, we were working for peanuts, but at the same time, we had the ability to give medical services to the rich, to our neighbors the Kuwaiti princes, to the Palestinians," Kurukchi said. "I was able to live a very good life. Six hours of my day went to the poor, and I had the rest to myself, and I made very good money."
As Iraq spun out of control, his wife, a native Brit, left the country. She died of a heart condition in Amman last year. His adult children are scattered from Britain to Australia, and he has two grandchildren he has never met.
Still, he can't tear himself from Iraq.

"I am who I am because of Iraq. I was born here, raised here and educated here," he said. "I owe these people."

Kurukchi's daily routine takes him straight to the hospital and straight back. The kidnapping risk remains so high — the United Nations reports that at least 250 medical workers have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2003 — that his driver handles even his grocery shopping. He no longer can attend church, dine at restaurants or relax at a cafe.

"All those have become details from another life," he said with a wry laugh.
Dr. Kurukchi is the very picture of patriotism and dedication. The next time we come up with a new oath for physicians to swear, it ought to have his name.

No comments: