Friday, December 18, 2015
From Here to Eternity
By Nihal D. Amerasekera
I left Sri Lanka to complete my MRCP which I did 18 months after arriving in London. The bright lights and the personal freedom was a great distraction but commonsense prevailed. The rest including my desire to follow a career in radiology is now history. As always, I will continue to call this turn of events that lead me to leave the country, as the awesome force of destiny.
When I qualified as a doctor in 1967 all I wanted was an easy life. I wanted to be free of the stresses of examinations , to be far from the madding crowd and closer to nature. My obvious choice was to be a DMO. After 2 years as an MO/OPD in Kurunegala I applied to become a Medical Officer of the Peripheral Unit in Bingiriya which had fallen vacant. Bingiriya was a small, serene and peaceful town at the edge of the dry zone. Chilaw with its bounty of fish. crabs and lobsters was just 10 miles away. The peripheral unit had its own doctors quarters. It was a small quaint hospital with a garden full of mango and jak trees. I waited with bated breath for my official confirmation but when it arrived, I had the shock of my life. I’ve been transferred to the Central Blood Bank in Colombo with immediate effect.
These movements of doctors often in a four yearly cycle were euphemistically called transfers. In my recollection half a century ago, there were many thousands of these transfers arranged by the Head Office. The Director was unable to do it all by himself and the work was delegated to a clerk who was quite knowledgeable and had done it for many years before. Some of it was done like shuffling a pack of cards and where you were posted depended on your luck. Occasionally what mattered was whom you knew. It makes me humble to think my entire professional future finally depended on a random selection at the Head Office.
The Central Blood Bank (CBB) was at the GHC site. It was on the left when you enter the hospital from Kynsey Road. It had a modern façade but within it was an old house. Many warned me this was a dead end job. I was quite prepared to while away my time and enjoy life in the capital. The CBB was an autocratic setup with Dr Percy Gunawardene as the boss. The doctors and other staff were happy and the Blood Bank was run with precision and efficiency. The doctors went on trips to collect Blood from all corners of Sri Lanka except Jaffna and Trincomalee. I saw the country on government expense.
Being in Colombo had its pleasures. Many of my medical and school friends were still around in town ready for a good social life. We frequented the bars and eating houses. Health Department Sports Club was a popular watering hole. After a couple of years I got tired of this hazy, lazy, crazy life. For the first time they planned to hold the MRCP Part I examination in Colombo in 1973. The faculty library was next door to the CBB. I worked hard to pass the examination. This changed my life forever.
It was now the early 1970’s. The country has been through a bloody insurrection in 1971. Our coffers were empty with constant government reminders to tighten our belts. There were import restrictions and occasional food shortages. It was then the dark clouds of ethnic strife appeared on the horizon. It was rather ominous but these never bothered me as much as my desire to complete my professional qualifications. I remember the well oiled and endless circular discussions I’ve had with my doctor friends whether to leave or stay.