Haider Warraich is a cardiology fellow at Duke Medical Center. When not treating ailing hearts, his byline shows up regularly in the New York Times, The Atlantic and The Guardian.
The physician is probing, provocative and poignant in addressing some of the most affecting issues in medicine and in the world.
Warraich caught my eye with a recent column (http://bit.ly/beyonddonoharm) on assisted suicide. He wrote, “We physicians need to reassess how we can help patients achieve their goals when the end is near.”
Warraich has a book due out in February called, “Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life.” I wanted to talk to this doctor with so much to say. I began by asking when he realized he was such a good writer.
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Warraich: “I started penning short stories in high school. It wasn’t until I started writing that I truly felt connected to my work as a doctor and found inspiration.”
Q: How do you find time for all this?
Warraich: For me, writing is like a muscle that needs to be constantly worked out. A way to channel the noise within my brain into a cohesive voice.
Q: Tell me about your book.
Warraich: “So many times, I encountered patients and family members facing the end of life without any idea about what was going on. The book combines history, research and personal anecdotes into a description of how death and dying have evolved.”
Q: Near the end of a piece on when the body actually dies, you wrote: “As I see it, my life is as a person, not my body."
Warraich: “In medicine, we need to never lose sight that within the bodies that we treat with medications, surgeries and procedures live actual people, each of whom has their own world within them.”
Q: You were an Army “brat” – only it was the Pakistani Army. How did the moving around shape you?
Warraich: “I changed nine schools by the time I went to college, and I still feel like I carry that wanderlust within me.”
I see it as a blessing as well because I can show people perhaps a different type of Muslim, one that challenges people’s preconceived notions.
Q: What do you do besides being a cardiologist and writer-author?
Warraich: “This coming year, I am going to Africa and Asia to write about childhood malnutrition and will be taking photographs along the way.”
I interviewed Warraich one day before the election of Donald Trump as our next president. During the campaign, Trump called for Muslims to be banned from entering the U.S.
Q: Is it fair to say that being a Muslim in America is a burden as well as a blessing?
Warraich: “Being a Muslim is burdensome because you cannot have an apolitical existence. I see it as a blessing as well because I can show people perhaps a different type of Muslim, one that challenges people’s preconceived notions.
Q: Did you expect to find so much fear and intolerance?
Warraich: “I was surprised, but a deeper look at the history of this country makes this less an anomaly and more a recurrent phenomenon that we as a species just have to figure out.”
Q: Do you worry about this country?
Warraich: “America represents the most important idea that humanity has conjured – to build a society where everyone can find a place regardless of whatever permutations of DNA and culture they harken from. I believe it will always be a better place.”
Q: What's the coolest thing about being a new dad?
Warraich: “Eva is the most amiable baby ever. The fact that no matter what is happening around her, she remains obliviously joyful, is a gift every single day.”
Q: What do you do for fun?
Warraich: “My wife is an unbelievable chef, and we love hosting people and treating them to delicious Pakistani cuisine.”
Q: What are one or two of the memorable things you've experienced during your fellowship at Duke?
Warraich: “Watching some of our cardiac surgeons and cardiologists take care of critically ill patients at the drop of a dime, in the middle of the night, with the utmost amount of deft skill has been awe-inspiring. Everyone gets a chance, no matter how miniscule, no matter how unlikely.”
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org