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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Their names liveth forevermore

By Dr. Nihal D Amerasekera

There are many from my era in medical school who feel deeply grateful for the fine education they have received. Gratitude is one of the finest of human qualities. It is a divine gift respected in the Eastern cultures.  Appreciation of ones’ teachers is a tradition as old as teaching itself. I must reiterate we were students in the golden age of medical education in Colombo with a plethora of some of the finest lecturers and clinicians we have ever seen in our island. While I can’t pretend to have matched the dizzying heights of their success, those long five years of interactions with our teachers made a significant lifelong impact on many of us. They were inspirational. It is my greatest pleasure and privilege to remember a few of them on this Blog.

Dr Don Jinadasa Attygalle
He was born in 1916 in the southern city of Galle. After his education at Royal College Colombo he entered the Colombo Medical College. He qualified LMS in 1941. DJA married Dr. Daphne Kanakaratne in 1951. She later became the Professor of Pathology. He worked in the Health Service in various parts of the country and sailed to England in 1951 where he remained until 1954. There he obtained the MRCP and returned to Ceylon to complete the MD examination.

He was tall, well groomed, impeccably dressed and ever courteous. From what I recall he was a dignified man of few words. Whenever he spoke to the patients, doctors or students he was calm and spoke respectfully. DJA was of a quiet and reserved disposition, never flustered, never upset. He had the ability to show and teach genuine compassion.

He took great care to teach us well. He corrected our mistakes but never lost his cool. DJA was a fine teacher of the best traditions of our era and taught us the basics well. He was a quiet retiring person who never looked for publicity. A few could claim to know him well.

DJA had a fine private practice where he saw patients at home and also at the many private hospitals. He never came across as a money grabbing doctor. He retired in 1972 but continued to see patients privately.
Mrs Attygalle passed away in 1989 and Dr DJ Attygalle in 1997. They had no children.

He was a devout Buddhist all his life and donated his house at 50, Castle Street to the YMBA.

I feel immensely proud to have been taught by such a great man whom I admire enormously. Despite all his achievements, those of us who were privileged to train under his guidance remember him mostly for his humanity.

Dr Ernest Victor Pieris
He was born in Badulla in 1926. His father was a doctor. After his education at Royal College Colombo he entered the Ceylon Medical College. There he qualified as a doctor with 1st Class Honours and distinctions in Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He proceeded to the UK and obtained  his MRCP degree. On his return he obtained his MD.  EVP was appointed Consultant Physician to the GHC in 1960.
EVP was a dedicated and meticulous physician. He was a kind, skillful and compassionate doctor and took great care of his patients. EVP was a popular physician in the private sector but he never neglected his duties  to his poorer patients at the GHC and his numerous teaching commitments.

Although soft spoken he was no pushover.  He had a tremendous sense of humour. He was well known for his acerbic and often amusing comments while on his teaching rounds and ward classes.

I did a 2 month appointment with him when I learnt much of my medicine. He had the skills to teach and also to make the students learn. EVP never suffered fools gladly. At his ward classes and appointments he saw to it that medical students learnt the bedside manners and the clinical methods. When he felt someone didn’t work hard enough he made sure they moved to the front and took an active part. I learnt much from him and feel immensely grateful. He gave some brilliant tutorials when we were in the final year. EVP maintained a healthy distance between himself and the students and made certain everyone knew his/her place all through his years of teaching. He was hard to please but appreciated good work.

He retired in 1972 and continued to see patients privately.
EVP was a good sportsman and he played Cricket and Rugby for Royal College. He captained the University Rugby Team.

He was married to a chest physician and had four daughters. EVP was a staunch Christian. Dr EV Pieris passed away in December 1991.

Dr. M. Oliver Robert Medonza
He was born in 1913 and had his education at St Benedict’s College Kotahena. He entered the Ceylon Medical College in 1934.  Dr Medonza completed his medical degree with First Class honours and distinctions in Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology. In 1952 he obtained his MRCP and also the MD. Soon after he was appointed Consultant Physician to the GHC. In 1972 he was appointed President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association. Dr Medonza retired in 1973.

He had a strong personality. I did a 2 month appointment with him as a medical student. My abiding memory of him is his wonderful bedside manner and his innate ability to speak to the patients in colloquial Sinhala and get to the bottom of the problem. MOR was a fine teacher and instilled in us the fine art of history taking and examination. He taught us to observe the patient and to elicit physical signs and interpret them accurately. He made it all look simple just like commonsense. He was always available to teach and to encourage, and never seemed harried or abrupt. It wasn’t often he was irritated by the students’ sheer ignorance but then it was all over very soon and he was back to his normal placid self. At the end of the 2 months he gave us a fine dinner at his house with plenty of  good food and drinks. On that eventful evening he was one of us and enjoyed like the rest of us.

MOR was a popular doctor and was a household name being in great demand in the private sector. He never neglected his duties to his patients at the GHC and his commitment to teaching.

In his student days he was a fine cricketer and a tennis player. Later on in life he played billiards and contract bridge in the company of a wide circle of friends which he clearly enjoyed.

He became a devout Buddhist and learnt Pali to translate the Dhammapada.
Dr Medonza passed away in June 1991.

Dr P.R.Anthonis

When I think of the surgeons that taught me the name that comes across in flashing neon lights, above everyone else, is Dr. PR Anthonis. He was not only a fine surgeon, excellent tutor, a fine raconteur, he was a phenomenon. PRA was a mentor to many. His ward classes were pure theatre and he knew the art of getting a message across to the students.  Although calm and placid he never tolerated nonsense.  He was firm when it was necessary. PRA was always courteous to his patients, his students and the nursing staff.  His natural curiosity led him to make fine observations. He tried his best to pass on this superb skill to his students.

The myriad of anecdotes which he related in his own inimitable style, still ring in my ears. He often had good, sound and practical advice about everything with a short personal story to go with it. Although he enjoyed a lucrative private practice even the poor patients worshipped him for his kind and generous ways. He elicited tremendous admiration and affection in the people he met.

He was born in 1911. After a brilliant school career at St Peter’s College Bambalapitiya he entered the Medical College in 1930. There he won the Gold Medal in Surgery amongst many other awards and scholarships. He passed the FRCS examination in 1945. On his return to Ceylon in 1947 was appointed Consultant Surgeon to the GHC where he rose far and fast.

After an illustrious career in the Health Service Dr Anthonis retired in 1971. He worked in the private sector well into his 80’s.

He was a devout Buddhist and passed away at the age of 99. His kindness, generosity and good humour are fond memories for us all. Many will remember him for being such an eloquent speaker and fluent writer. He was such a presence during our years his voice must swirl in the ether in the wards and corridors of the General Hospital Colombo.


  1. Thanks for that lucid and emotive recollection of four brilliant teachers/doctors who shaped our development as doctors in that relatively innocent, wide eyed and receptive phase when we were so susceptible to the influence of those whom we admired with a wish to one day, emulate them. We were so fortunate to be guided and taught by a host of wonderful Consultants. You have spoken about 4 of them but we have as a Group in this Blog recalled several others including Dr Wijenaike, Dr Thanabalasunderam, Dr Oliver Pieris, Dr Rienzie Pieris, Dr (later Prof) Viswalingam, ENT Rasanayakam... the list goes on and on! The best way we can repay them is to follow the example they set.

    If I were to be so churlish as to point out one weakness, it was the lack of any emphasis on communicating with patients and relatives and the importance of doing so. But this is hardly their fault as it was almost a generational thing and even in the UK in the 1960s, I doubt whether it took place. As I matured as a doctor, this aspect became more and more important to me and I am so pleased on the emphasis given to this aspect in current medical training.

    Thanks again for a wonderful account. I couldn't help but notice that out of the 4 you chose, 3 were also accomplished Sportsmen. Do you think that it contributed to "rounding them up"?

  2. A fine account of some of our finest teachers.

  3. Rohini and Mahen
    Thanks for your comments. I too had to learn my patient communicating skills on the job in England. When we were students emphasis was on other aspects of Medicine. Like everything else those skills evolved over the years. I wonder how it is now in SL

  4. I wrote this appreciation because I never had the courage or the foresight to say thank you to any of my teachers. It was not a thing that anyone did at the time. While in England I was older and wiser and recall the thank you and the handshake after every job and period of training. My final medical job at the GHC was with US Jayawickrema, a fine clinician and a wonderfully kind and generous human being. I did say thank you to him but have never met him since. Finally what matters is our inner feeling of gratitude to our teachers from school to university and beyond.

  5. I truly appreciated and enjoyed reading this article you have written in such beautiful and appropriate language and courtesy to some of our most valued teachers, specialists and great characters of those golden years of our medical education. We have been singularly lucky to have had the chance to hear them and be trained by them. Thanks, Nihal, for bringing back some wonderful memories of our student years through your tribute to these great teachers.

  6. Thank you Zita for your kind comments. It is amazing how we remember only the good times.

  7. Thank you ND for the medical profiles. I worked with PRA during the second half of my internship and came to know him very well. I kept in touch with right to the very end and in his 90s used to visit him with a basket of fruit on his birthday. Few years before his demise, I visited him with one of my colleagues, Manouri Senanayake(MPS), who was writing a book and was in need of more information. In his study whenever MPS mentioned what she wanted to know. PRA directed me to go to a particular book cupboard, fetch a book and turn to a particular page. Then he read out the relevant information. He did so quite a few times and MPS left his study truly amazed and fully satisfied. I contributed an appreciation about PRA to the press after his demise and if Lucky permits ,I could reproduce it on our blog spot.

  8. Sanath
    Thank you for those memories. I got to know him during the tutorials and ward classes in the magical years as a student. He was a remarkable teacher.

  9. I remember reading in local newspapers Sanath Lama's Appreciation of PRA. I would be happy to publish it in this Forum especially for the benefit of those who don't read Sri Lankan newspapers. Please do send it Sanath.

    Let me also take this opportunity to remind you all that this is your own blog. Anything (within reasonable limits of course, and reaching a certain literary standard set by the blog administrator)) that you send will be posted, provided there are no copyright infringements and the subject is not politically sensitive or too sensitive or controversial.

  10. Thank you Nihal for this lovely appreciation of four of some of many the excellent teachers who taught us clinical skills; how to take a proper history, how to palpate, auscultate, percuss etc. Does anyone do that nowadays? Of the four, I only had the pleasure of doing a clinical rotation with EVP. I still remember one of the first patients that I saw on that ward, a patient with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was also a member of the group that had the distinction of being "fired" by EVP! Perhaps we were the only ones that experienced such a fate. We actually managed to ruffle his feathers by not being ready with our histories in the morning. Some of the other members of this distinguished group were Lakshman Jayasinghe, Swyrie, Padmini Gunawardene, Sunna de Silva, Maheswaran and perhaps Ganesh. He said something to the effect of "Leave and don't come back!"
    I don't remember clearly, but I think we apologized and managed to get ourselves reinstated.