Friday, November 13, 2015
A.R.K. (Russel) Paul - An Appreciation
By Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya
Russel was the eldest in a family of four boys and two or three girls Their father was Professor R.H. Paul who was the Professor of Electrical Engineering in the University of Peradeniya and he became the Dean later. Russel entered Royal College (RC) in 1952 and was senior to me by two years, but later I caught him up and we entered the University together. His younger brother Hillary, was a good athlete at RC and he excelled in the long jump and triple jump. I think he captained the athletics team and he was one year senior to me, but I caught him up later. Unfortunately Hillary died of a malignancy prematurely. Keith was one or two years junior to me and was an excellent ruggerite and he captained the RC rugby team. Beverly the youngest of the boys, played cricket for RC
Russel excelled in the Freshers Athletics Meet when he entered the University of Colombo in 1961, by winning four events. He was an excellent student and he came second in the order of merit at the Final MBBS examination in March 1967 ( I topped the batch). I really came to know him during the internship at GHC, where we worked together as Interns in the Professorial Medical Unit with Prof. K Rajasuriya, Dr, Oliver Peiris and Dr. David Chanmugam. We shared a room in the Main Quarters for one whole year. During our free time we played poker together with others such as Neil Fonseka, "Sodium" Karunaratna, Marius Cooray, C. Balakrishnan (who opened batting for the Ceylon Cricket Team), Michael Satchithanandan, Ajith de Silva, Sathanandan et al. He continued his internship with Dr, L.D.C. Austin at the GHC.
Later both of us went to Chest Hospital Welisara for the post-internship appointments. On 1st April 1969 I joined the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo as a Lecturer in Paediatrics. Soon after, Russel returned to GHC as a Registrar in the Professorial Medical Unit with Prof. K. Rajasuriya. In 1970 both of us spent many hours in the nights studying for the MD examination. In December 1970 we sat for the MD examination. Russel passed and I failed (the exam was only in adult medicine and there was no paediatric component). In 1971 both of us sat for the MRCP Part 1 examInation which was conducted for the first time in Sri Lanka. Both of us passed. The next morning, I managed to recollect the whole paper consisting of 60 True/False type MCQ's , five responses in each (total of 300 questions). As there was no question bank at that time, this document turned out to be extremely valuable for future candidates. The billiards marker in the students Common Room in the Colombo Medical Faculty, cyclostyled this document, sold it and made a fortune!
Russel was romantically involved with one of our batch mates, Dawne de Silva whom he later married. In 1971, Russsel and Dawne decided to emigrate to the US. When I asked him why he was doing so, he told me that his father was a University Academic all his life and after retirement, was living in a rented flat at Duplication Road (R. A. de Mel Mawatha). Therefore, he did not want to end up like his father. Dawne was quite affluent but Russel did not want to live off her. That was typical of Russel.
They had two children - a daughter and a son.. Unfortunately, the daughter was brain-damaged at birth and became mentally handicapped and hyperactive. Whenever they came on holiday to Sri Lanka, we used to meet up and socialise. As one of his children was an asthmatic, he used to bring all the necessary drugs, scalp vein needles and syringes which he used to leave behind for my use at Karapitiya.
In the 1970's or early 1980's one of Russel's sisters was abducted near the Eye Hospital Junction and was raped. A notorious criminal Gonawela Sunil, was convicted for the crime and sent to prison . Later, he was released on a presidential pardon given by J.R.Jayewardene. After he was released, he was gunned down by the JVP.
Russel became a specialist in Gastroenterological Oncology and settled down in Philadelphia later. I visited the US with my family in 1988 and was planning to visit Russel and his family. But I had to change my plans and we did not travel to Philadelphia. I last spoke to Russel from Indra Anandasabapathy's home in Staten Island, New York. Russel told me about the problems he was going through. Dawne had developed Ankylosing Spondylitis and was bed ridden latterly. Their daughter was a teenager by then, but was fed and washed by Russel as she was handicapped. Russel had avoided socialising with friends gradually because it was difficult for him to manage his daughter, So, gradually Russel became isolated.
In 1990 or 1991, when I was working at the Ruhuna Medical Faculty, I was shocked to read about the murder/suicide of Russel's family in the front page of the "Daily News". Russel had apparently injected some drug IV to his family members and committed suicide by injecting himself. I am sure that it was a joint decision taken by Russel together with Dawne.The coroner did not disclose details of the drug used as others may have followed.
Knowing Russel, he would have calculated the individual doses to a decimal point, taking the body weights into account. I think it came to a breaking point when he could not manage his family by himself. I am sure this tragic event would not have happened if Russel and his family lived in Sri Lanka because of the extended family support found here.
Thus ended the life of a wonderful human being and a close friend.