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Friday, March 4, 2016

A memorable patient

By Sanath Lamabadusuriya

Towards the end of 1991 when I was in Galle, as Prof. Priyani Soysa was due to retire, her post was advertised by the University of Colombo. I applied for it and was called for the interview which was on a Thursday. The previous Tuesday when I was seeing patients at the Cooperative Hospital, a girl was brought to me by her mother complaining that she had fainted in school. Her name was Rebelika and she was a student of Sacred Heart Convent. When I examined her I could not detect any thing abnormal and reassured the mother and advised her to be sent to school the next day. The next day (Wednesday) I was due to travel to Colombo for the interview. That evening when I finished seeing patients at the Cooperative Hospital, as I was leaving my room, Rebelika was carried to my room by her mother. She had collapsed again and I could hardly feel her pulses! I advised her mother to rush her to Karapitiya Hospital and drove to Colombo. As I was extremely anxious about her, the first thing I did on reaching Colombo was to ring the Karapitiya Hospital and inquire about her.(There were no mobile phones at that time) Fortunately on arrival she had been resuscitated and admitted to the ICU. I was very much relieved to hear the good news, because I feared for her life.

The next morning (Thursday) I went for the interview and was offered the post (I was the only applicant again!). When I returned to Karapitiya on the following Monday and went to the ward Rebelika had been transferred back to the ward from the ICU. She was completely normal by then. I was told that the patient’s father, who is a “Kathru” (editor), had wanted to see me. However I never met him. I sent Rebelika to the Cardiology Unit in Colombo and had her evaluated. She probably had “Sick Sinus Syndrome” where an arrhythmia develops spontaneously, without any warning signs and reverts back on its own. It was not possible to have diagnosed that condition, the first time I saw Rebelika.

Few months later when I was seeing patients one evening at the Central Hospital, in Horton Place, Colombo, (after having assumed duties in Colombo) a young boy was brought to me by his father, who was fair, short and had a grey beard. He was covering one hand with the Time magazine. The father told me that he wanted his son evaluated by me because his sister has been treated by me at Karapitiya Hospital. When I asked for the sister’s name, the reply was “Rebelika”!

When I asked for the father’s name, he said he was Victor Ivan, the editor of Ravaya. He was disappointed to hear that I did not read his paper and he offered to post it to me. He told me that his father had been a teacher, and has had an excellent library at home. Victor Ivan was a self-taught man who had read a lot of books available to him at home. One of his hands had got blasted when he was making bombs at home during the 1971 JVP insurrection. His “Nom-de-Plume” was Podi Athula. I wondered what would have been the outcome if Rebelika had passed away on the way to Karapitiya. Anyway, “alls well that ends well”. Rebelika’s brother was perfectly normal.

(Sanath has obtained Mr. Victor Ivan's consent for this article to be published. Sanath is in fact writing his autobiography these days and will be including this piece in it)


  1. It is good to hear that Sanath is writing his autobiography. We look forward to its publication and no doubt, there will be many more real life stories of this kind.

  2. This is a simple story of one encounter during your long and distinguished career and one lesson for any doctor is that when he or she sees a patient it is someone with a history, a family, a job or career, possibly a politician, editor etc. Every person we see is a valuable individual not just a person sitting in our clinic who has a particular ailment.
    Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  3. Thanks Sanath for your posting of a snippet of your wide experience.
    As for the replies from Zita & Speedy, I fully endorse their sentiments.
    I wish you every success in your writing of your Autobiography, which, I am sure will dwell into your enormous experience in our noble Profession.... Good luck
    There was one issue in your posting that concerned me awe bit!!. I take it that the persons named in it are all fictitious names!!. Otherwise my concern is that there could be an issue of patient confidentiality!!

  4. Thank you Mahendra,Zita and Razaque for your comments. The names are NOT fictitious, As Victor Ivan is very well known locally as the editor of Ravaya, which is a popular paper and also the author of the book about Chandrika KB,
    I phoned him and e-mailed the posting to him and got his approval. I hope you all appreciated the irony of the name of his daughter "Rebelika "

  5. Thanks Sanath for sharing that story with us. I do remember Victor Ivan, and I have read the book he wrote about Chandrika. I am not surprised that he named his daughter "Rebelika"!
    Sriani B

  6. Sanath, Thank you for sharing this story. I wish you the very best in writing your autobiography. People who have gone through the process say that it is not always easy, because you have to sometimes relive some painful experiences. One also has to be extremely disciplined to complete the task. BTW, are you going to write about how you ended up under Senerath's dining table?!
    If Victor Ivan left out one syllable in his daughter's name she would be Rebeka (Rebecca) which is a beautiful, biblical name - just an interesting thought.