Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Homage to Maryam

I have wanted to write about this for a long time. If you relied on the main stream media (MSM) for information on the occupation and destruction of Irak, you would never hear about or meet this courageous woman. You would also have a completely distorted view of the ongoing horror there. But, thanks to the availability of the net, one can readily get first hand accounts from her and her colleagues. They write at one of the most observant and informative sources of this type, Gorilla Guides.

This web site is several years old and it owes its existence in large part to an interesting gentleman who goes by “markfromireland.” Mark and his progeny (dubhaltach) were, for a while, the principal contributors to the site but now it has, as it should, a number of Iraki of whom one is the outspoken Maryam. There are posts in both Arabic (which I can’t read) and English. This in itself is important. The majority of us cannot even communicate with Maryam and her colleagues in their own language. It is one more example of our cultural imperialism.

Here and here are links that will tell you something about Maryam.

Maryam is a pediatric oncologist. That is, she is trained to deliver care to children with cancer. I have practiced pediatric oncology in the past and will have more to say about this in a bit. Clearly Maryam is not able to practice this specialty at this time in Irak. American forces have reduced the land to primitive conditions. There has been little or no respect for the medical community and many physicians and nurses have left the country. The hospitals are overcrowded and in shambles, there is a cholera epidemic, yet we hear nothing about this on the NBC Today show. As someone said, we live in a seismic disconnect.

Maryam recently (22 July 2007) participated in a long dialogue on FireDogLake. She has nothing but disdain for the American forces occupying her land and, by extension, to us who have done nothing about that occupation now in its fifth year. For instance, when asked if she was in Baghdad she replied:
I am in Europe buying and arranging for supplies of medications to be brought. When I am in Irak I live in and run a refugee camp for children whose parents have been murdered by the American war against my people. I will be back there in a few days. For obvious reasons I will not under any circumstances detail my movements to any American.

And again when asked if the Iraki people still liked the American People as opposed to its soldiers:
Stop telling lies to yourself American. We know that your racist brutal murdering war criminal troops came from your society and reflect its values. We know that because we see how they behave and have to bury their victims. If you are stupid enough to think we feel anything but hatred and contrempt for your soldiers and the country that sent them to make war on my people then you are a fool.

She continues:
As I am an Iraki and as my job is to treat children maimed and deformed by the weapons your country uses and then prevented me from getting the medicines used to treat those cancers you will forgive me if I tell you that you too are telling lies to yourself. What we konw is that when it comes murdering Iraki civilians that there is no difference between the cynical and corrupt party called the Democrats and the cynical and corrupt party called the Republicans. Both are infected with the belief that America has the right to behave as it wishes especially when the people being killed are not white.

Irak is for the Irakis the murdering pigs who have boiled my people alive in a sea of their own blood are the government and people of the USA. Expecting us to tolerate the presence of your war criminals in uniform on our soil is too fucking stupid to be worth refuting.

When a commentator asked:
In your opinion, Maryam, why did America invade Iraq?
Her answer:
Because you’re an empire now and you can make your own reality. Working really well isn’t it?
Many commentators tried to engage Maryam at FireDogLake. In my estimation they all failed. It is simple; we cannot speak to the evil we have loosened in Irak in any way. We can’t say “sorry.” We can’t say “forgive us.” We can’t say anything to her. There is nothing to say.

Pediatric oncology in the best of times is peculiar and difficult specialty. I have a small tome written by a pediatrician at Harvard that was the textbook relating to this field in 1948. It is about 50 pages long and for the disease acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL, the most common childhood cancer) it has only one page. It says that children diagnosed with leukemia will all die within one month of diagnosis. End of story.

Over the years, the treatment of leukemia has progressed to now almost all children diagnosed with ALL and receiving modern treatment are long term survivors. The treatment is 2-3 years and is long, arduous and intensive. It is also very expensive.

Just imagine that you are Maryam. She states, and I believe her, that under Saddam that if you were not involved in politics you could live your life unmolested. The mere fact that Maryam is a pediatric oncologist means that Irak had reached a level of sophistication in its medical facilities where it could deliver therapy to children with ALL. While I am sure that the sanctions imposed on Irak during the 1990’s took their toll, I am still confident that she was seeing results in her clinic. (I say this because I have worked with pediatric oncologists in both Siberia and Romania setting up treatment protocols for ALL in the mid 90’s. In spite of severe financial constraints, the care was delivered and long term survival occurred.)

But now? Nothing. That is all gone. Maryam is reduced to running a medical facility in a refugee camp. I doubt seriously if children with leukemia are treated at all in Irak, certainly not by the American Army (although the Army has pediatric oncologists at Walter Reed and other large bases.) This is just one more tiny example of collateral damage in this obscene occupation.

Again, there is nothing to say. The career of an obviously talented physician that was caring for very, very complex patients has been irrevocably altered. The children with ALL are allowed to die without benefit of therapy that the world has invested billions of dollars developing. It is just one small piece of a gigantic tragedy.

Let me say one final thing about pediatric oncology. The way in which we got from 0% survival to >85% survival with treatment was using protocol based therapy. Always taking the best known therapy, this was compared to a new, possibly better therapy. This boot strapping has produced the treatment schedules of today. The most recent treatment in the United States is COG-AALL-0331.

This protocol has four arms, i.e. compares four slightly different treatments. With the survival rate using standard therapy being so great, there would have to be a major difference in survival between that and an experimental arm to notice a difference. There has not been this difference in over 20 years, yet we continue to run these protocols. Why? Because running protocols means support for the academic institutions and, God forbid, we should not pay these institutions to do basically useless studies. Anyway, what would we do with the money? We certainly wouldn’t pay for children to receive therapy in Irak, would we?

So, on the one hand we have a courageous and outspoken Iraki pediatrician who is trained as a pediatric oncologist delivering basic clinical care to refugees in a camp somewhere near Baghdad. On the other hand we have a lot of academic pediatric oncologists in the US making minor changes in a treatment that hasn’t really changed for 20 years so they can keep the bucks rolling into their institutions.

Somehow this discrepancy points out for me all the tragic insanity of the American involvement in Irak.

In summary, I have nothing but admiration for Maryam. As I said above, there is nothing to say to her; we can only listen.

Let me close with a quote from 26 September 2006 (a year ago) from here:
What of Maryam? Well I got one piece of good news today. My friend Maryam phoned me. She got another death threat the day before yesterday. A very detailed and specific death threat. It detailed every movement she'd made over the last few days, it detailed every one of the many different routes she took from her home to the hospital where she worked. It gave similar details for her widowed mother and for her children. It was so specific and so detailed that she knew it was time. She and what remains of her family didn't bother to pack. They piled into their cars and drove hell for leather through the night. Through al-Anbar on what is the now the most dangerous highway in the world. They were shot at three times during that trip.

At least they made it. At least she's alive.



Montag said...

Thanks for the post.

The most intolerable effect of this war is the realization of what we really are; how much evil we are prepared to accept in our names as long as we are comfortable.
We are ready to accept a lot of dead non-Americans.

I looked at the discussion in firedoglake.
What impressed me was a post by "Wordsmith": "...Oh-oh….so I take it, Maryam, that you won’t treat us with kid gloves, then? We’ll be learning your truth."

"Your truth"?

When it comes to our own evil actions, we throw out any notion of Moral or Epistemological absolute standards and become Relativists: that the Iraq war is a noble fight is true for us.

Dr. C said...

Thanks, Montag. I just don't understand when so many of us see things the way you do (and I agree completely) that we can't DO anything about it.

dubhaltach said...

Hi and thanks for this and for your comment on our place telling us you'd written it. Sorry to take so long to reply. Life is a little hectic at the moment.

I've saved your posting as a PDF file and have sent it both to Maryam and to Dad.

Dad is currently in Irak and will be for some months more. I actually managed to get to talk to him two days ago - this can sometimes be difficult given the 'phone situation. He sounds OK but says that this breakout is spreading and that he fears the real incidence is much higher.

I have a lot of respect for Maryam who I have known since I was a baby - and who dad has known for 33 years. She manages to work in a hospital and runs what is now several refugee camps - as you know she also lives in one. That particular camp has a lot of children who Ali and his team have managed to talk off the streets and into one or other of Maryam's orphanages. It's a better life than the streets of Baghdad or Mosul and they get well looked after - this includes treating them for VD which has had to be done depressingly often.

You're right there's nothing to say or as Mohammed Ibn Laith put it when talking to Americans in general:

The only thing a predator understands is force. We have nothing to talk about you and I.

(Mohammed is Maryam's nephew btw.)

I think it will be a long time before Americans understand that though. I think part of your national mythology is that you're always part of the solution - not this time. There is simply nothing to say.