Dr Kizzie handles the dead and the living passionately

Dr. Kizzie Shako strikes a pose during a break at a workshop at Silver Springs Hotel, Nairobi on November 11th 2015 [Photo/Elvis Ogina/Standard] 

It is 10am on Monday at the Police Surgery Unit at the Traffic Headquarters in Nairobi.

This small reception area with a few windows is packed, hosting about 20 clients comprising men, women and children, the latter comfortable on their guardian's laps.

Save for the occasional call-out by doctors in consultation rooms, the room is quiet. The clients' voices are barely audible as they talk to each other in low tones, almost whispering.

It is probably because of the enormity of issues that bring them here.

They are all seeking the P3 Form, the legal document used to request for medical examination to determine the nature and extent of an injury sustained by a complainant in assault cases that may wind up in court.

This document is important since it forms a part of evidence in a court of law.

As the men and women with children shuffle from the inquiries desk to the reception area, then to the doctor's room and eventually to the service counter for their documents to be stamped, others are checking in,  presenting a busy schedule for both doctors and police officers at this Police Clinic.

Dr Kizzie Shako is one of three surgeons tasked with the role of examining victims of defilement, rape, assault, road accidents, animal attacks and all sorts of incidents and accidents. She will ultimately fill in their P3 forms.

As the only female in the team, the 33-year-old mother of one is very much at home in this department jointly formed by the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Police Service to ensure justice is served.

"I see four or five defilement cases daily, and that breaks my heart," she says. "This is because it is a reflection of the cruel and unforgiving society we live in today."

On a normal day, she serves around 40 victims. Together with her two colleagues, they see an average of 120 patients a day. The clinic is open from 7am to 4 pm, and operates from Monday to Friday.

Dr Kizzie is not a member of the police service, but that does not stop some of the victims from referring to her as Madam officer, and not doctor.

Her day is no doubt a busy one, but she has learnt to take the rough with the smooth.

She had not really wanted to be a doctor, but her inquisitive mind from an early age, made her pursue a career in medicine.

Did she always desire to be a police surgeon?

"My dream was driven by the need to ensure that a scene of crime is not tampered with, and that the evidence collected is admissible in a court of law," she says.

Well, her initial career ambition was to become either a musician or a flight attendant.

"Flight attendants looked amazing in advertisements and obviously, they are widely travelled," she says. "As for music, I was good with instruments since I was five.

"Also, I come from a musical family  . . .  my mother played the piano, while my grandmother played the guitar and all of us were members of the family choir."

As she became older, her dreams changed and she began to think about life as a forensic scientist.

"When I was about six, my grandmother and her friend, a female police officer were chatting about a case the officer was handling and I was so intrigued by her experience that I wanted to have an investigative mind like hers," she says.

When it came to joining university, she was split between studying sciences or the arts because she was thrilled by both. Later, she decided on sciences, but discovered that life in medical school was not rosy.

"Medical school is tough and it is very easy to get swayed in the early years. However, I got back on track and remained focused for the rest of the coursework.

"During this turn-around moment, I learned the values of resilience, courage and perseverance."

Internship was more intense, especially the long sleepless working hours but she triumphed and was posted to the Ministry of Health's Forensic and Pathology Services division.

During that period, she worked at City Mortuary — and she was at home handling corpses to conduct post-mortem examinations.

At just 28, and eager to learn, she decided to work with different pathologists on different cases.

When her passion for investigating causes of deaths — conducting autopsies — became evident to her superiors, she was assigned specific days in a week to work on her own, but still under the supervision Dr Johansen Oduor, the Chief Government Pathologist.

Apart from Dr Oduor, she found another mentor in Dr Amritpal Kalsi who encouraged her to advance her studies in Forensic Medicine and in a distance learning course from a university in Australia. "Dr Kalsi is very aggressive and not easily put down," she says of the part-time model who was the 2005 Miss Kenya-India.

The fearless and aggressive attributes of Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai appeal to her too.

Strong-willed and determined as she is, and even though she does not fear handling the dead, and has handled them on numerous occasions, she still cites losing patients as one of the most traumatic events.

"I remember every patient I lost and still feel very saddened by it," she says, adding that it is equally hard to inform relatives and friends about the death of their  loved ones

 As a police surgeon, what are the most rewarding cases she has ever handled?

"Recently I was examining seven-year old girl who was allegedly defiled by a neighbour and the investigating officer wanted to see the case go to trial, so she ensured that all the necessary information and evidence were properly produced, including lab reports," Dr Kizzie says, emphasising the roles played by both the police officers and surgeons.

She advised the officer on how to handle the specimens and when the results were out, the suspect was arrested, tried and sentenced.

"The officer was  thrilled because she knew that she was a part of a winning team that saw to it that justice was served," Dr Kizzie says. "My heart was filled with joy."

Dr Kizzie has also assisted the division by attending to crime scenes, and handled the victims of both Westgate and Garissa University terror attacks.

She smiles as she speaks about her duties as a police surgeon, but that does not mean she faces no challenges.

At times, the work can be overwhelming, a situation that is made worse by inadequate staffing, poor infrastructure and equipment for examining victims.

Apart from examining victims of assault, she also conducts mental assessments of murder suspects to see whether they are fit to stand trial and gives expert evidence in court about cases she has examined.

Because of the amount of work, Dr Kizzie says it is not uncommon to miss to testify in court, a factor that can easily affect the outcome of a case.

"Poor handling of evidence is common but we hold consultative meetings with stakeholders and partners to address that."

As the only female police surgeon in this department, people might feel that she has to work twice as much to earn respect, but she gets that because of her good working relationship and upholding the profession's core values.

Even then, she would love to return to her first love — death investigations.

"I hope to work with the Forensic Unit of the police service, specifically in the homicide section," she says. "That is my ultimate dream."

The way forward at her current place of work?

"I hope the quality of services provided at the police surgery clinic can be improved," she says, and adds that there is  talk of creating a one-stop shop for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

"We can work together to curb sexual, domestic violence, and child abuse and ensure that survivors receive good care across the country."