Ahmed Kazmi is a GP at Exmoor Surgery in West London. He is also a stand up comedian and his next shows will be used to fundraise for the dispossessed. For tickets go to: www.doctorahmed.net and to donate: www.justgiving.com/doctorahmed. He is on Twitter @drahmedkazmi
London 15th June 2017. I am a GP working in the West London area. My clinic is less than 800 metres from Grenfell Towers and several of our patients were resident there.
The day after the fire was a tragic day for many and a very atypical day in our surgery. We spent it trying to compile a list of our patients who had been dispossessed. We made comfort calls to those affected, (especially the vulnerable ones), offered walk-in appointments for those who found themselves without medication and tried to offer some comfort. It is difficult though, what do you say to someone who has just lost their home and every possession they own? “I am so sorry for what has happened to you, here is your insulin prescription”.
I went down to help at the rescue centres. Walking past the towers was eerie. It looked like something from an apocalypse film. There were men in white biohazard suits, police and exhausted firemen. The building was still smoking. I was fearful what state the rescue centres would be in. I took a big breath and entered.
If this type of unity is possible in times of tragedy I think it is realistic to aim for it all the time.
I struggle to describe what I saw without getting emotional. I didn’t see or feel any despair or terror. The overwhelming feeling was of love, unity and solidarity. Every corner of St Clements Church and Rugby Portobello Trust were taken over by agencies there to help. A make shift housing office, a lost relatives bureau, the Red Cross, a doctor and nurse station to name a few. There were emergency services workers circulating the floor. I have never seen so many priests in one place (which is saying something considering I went to a Church school!), even the Bishop was there.
The most beautiful observation for me was the conduct of the local residents. People arrived one after the other, with food, clothes and toiletries. People quickly sorted the items and displayed them and helped the affected pack what supplies they needed into bags. A group of young black Muslim boys, who were fasting themselves, walked around with jumbo pizzas offering everyone slices. A group of ladies arrived to offer face painting for the children.
As a doctor I felt slightly redundant. There were so many doctors and nurses who had volunteered the centres were very well staffed. I sat down on the floor and played with some children. I asked a young boy if he wanted to do a jigsaw (he replied he didn’t like jigsaws). I asked why he had no teeth. He said the dentist took them; we both laughed. I didn’t use my stethoscope those hours I was at the centre, but I still feel I was a doctor. I think sometimes empathy and witnessing someone’s grief are as important a part of our role as procedures or prescribing.
It was striking how all of the usual prejudices or divisions which so frequently surface, were all suspended. People from all walks of life were empathetic and loving to each other. For a period at least people stopped being black, white, Muslim etc and were just ‘human’. If this type of unity is possible in times of tragedy I think it is realistic to aim for it all the time.