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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year Resolutions from Zita

New Year Resolutions

I sit with twenty eleven receding
And twenty twelve fast approaching
Thinking of resolutions to make
While the world is still awake
Ghosts of resolutions made last
In mock parade seem to march past
Best laid plans set like in gold
Alas they do often unfold
What does the word mean anyway?
So you google Resolutions and Hey!
There are 1005 smart  definitions
(some of which defy comprehension)
You go away in confusion muttering
Unmentionable words uttering
Then open dictionary on ‘Resolution’ entry
Says it means ‘loosen up gently
Relax and release’ and end
This ghastly meaningless annual trend
‘God helps those who help themselves’ it’s said
But the devil is in the detail, I’m afraid!




Happy New Year!

Wish you all a very Happy New Year. Hope to see you all at the 50th Anniversary Reunion on August 31st, September 1st and 2nd. More details will follow.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Report and Pictures - 2011 Prof. Kottegoda Oration

Dr Mahendra Gonsalkorale delivered the 14th S.R. Kottegoda Memorial Oration at the Auditorium of the SLAAS on the 24th of November, 2011. He was introduced by Dr Lalini Rajapaksa, Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the SLAAS. The title of the Oration was “Ethical Challenges in an Ageing Society”.

He commenced by reminding the audience of the unique talents of the late Prof Kottegoda who he described as a witty polymath with a love of life and passion for photography, a medical doctor, a physiologist, a researcher, a distinguished academic and an able administrator. He spoke of his contribution to developing Medical Ethics in Sri Lanka. Dr Gonsalkorale amused the audience by his first recollection of Prof Kottegoda as a third year medical student at the Physiology lecture theatre when he stood up from his stool to lecture and virtually disappeared from sight behind the desk. He said “It is then that I realised that he was not the tallest man I have come across. However what he lacked in physical stature, he made up with immense intellectual stature and charisma”. He went on to speak about Medical ethics in general but focused on the special problems and dilemmas doctors and Society as a whole face in dealing specifically with the elderly. In particular, he stressed the importance of recognising patient autonomy and justice. He spoke of the rapid growth in the world elderly population, especially that of the over 85s, in the next 30 years. Sri Lanka has one of the fastest ageing societies in the World, second only to the OECD countries, and the proportion of people over the age of 60 will increase from the current 10% to 25% of the population in 2030, to just over 4.5 million older people. He made special mention of the increase in people with dementia in the world. The numbers in 2001 was 25 million and this is projected to increase to a staggering 50 million in 2020. He spoke of the challenges arising from these changes in ensuring that elders get a fair deal in the face of rising health care costs and the temptation for aged based rationing, which in his view was both unethical and unjust as it assumes that the lives of younger people have more value than that of older people. He said, “The right to health care does not diminish with age. Older people have as much a right as younger people to have aspirations and goals and indeed, their best years may still be ahead, witness Nelson Mandela”. He touched on some myths pertaining to the elderly which has led to ageism and devaluation of older people and attempted to dispel them. He provided some evidence from the West that disability rates in the elderly have fallen in the last 10 - 15 years and is continuing to fall. He suggested that a positive approach to ageing with emphasis on health promotion starting at a young age designed to maintain health, a change in attitude towards retirement making older people more productive by finding roles for them in Society and making use of their wisdom and experience, investment in health education awareness and in recreational facilities for older people, would contribute to mitigating the considerable rise in projected health and social care expenditure. He concluded, “I hope I have been able to demonstrate that ethical principles which apply to people in general should be equally applied to older people. Ageism and age based rationing have no place in a civilised society. People should gain comfort from knowing that as they get older, they would not face the indignity of being discriminated against and being treated as second class citizens”.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our Medical School Days

Dear Friends,

I had this interesting e-mail from a UK doctor who was not in our batch. It was much later (after exchanging a few e-mails) that I discovered that I know him well, although he was a couple of years junior to us in medical school. Just goes to show that we have followers from outside the batch!


Web master / Administrator
Colombo Medical Grads 1962 Blog

Dear Sir,
     I was in Colombo Medical School from 1965 to 1971, currently living in UK, just retired from an active medical career on reaching 65 years. I am curretly the President of Sri Lankan Medical and Dental Association in the UK, having served it in various capacities over the years.
   I am forwarding to you the poem written by me titled "Our Medical School Days" with explanatory notes for those who were not there in those days. This appeared in the souvenir issued for the annual dinner dance of SLMDA held on october 22nd at Radisson Edwardian Hotel, heathrow, London.
     I am sure your batchmates will appreciate this piece of work which has taken into account numerous slogans used by medical students of those days.

Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam

As his poem is of interest to all medics of our vintage, I am pleased to post it here (without the explanatory notes which you don't need).







Friday, November 4, 2011

S. R. Kottegoda Memorial Oration 2011

The Ethics Committee of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) is pleased to make the following announcement:

S. R. Kottegoda Memorial Oration 2011

Ethical Challenges in an Ageing Society


Dr Mahendra Gonsalkorale
Retired Consultant Physician in Geriatric Medicine,
Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Salford, Manchester, U.K.

at 17.00 h on Thursday, 24th November 2011

at the SLAAS Auditorium
120/10, Vidya Mawatha, Colombo 7

All are invited

Friday, October 14, 2011

Colombo Medical School Alumni Association (CoMSAA)

The final application form is now available. Please let me know if you are interested in joining. I will then e-mail it to you as an attachment.

Members who pay the membership fee before 31st December 2011, will become Founder Members of CoMSAA.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reflections on my retirement

By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

I recall most vividly the euphoria on being a doctor in 1967. I was completely overawed by the occasion. For my family this prestigious position was a dream come true. The excitement lasted several months until the rigours of a professional life of sleepless nights and busy days wore me down. I saw the long and tortuous road ahead of more examinations and the unrealistic expectations of a room at the top. Having reached there, now, my retirement looms large. The bell has rung for the final lap of my marathon of 40 years in medicine. I look forward to this well earned rest with the same excitement and euphoria as at the beginning of my career. The long years of toil has taken its toll.  Hopefully I have emerged more philosophical with an ability to live what’s left of my life without the driving ambition, greed and avarice of my youth.

I have delved deep into the archives of my mind to recall why and when I had chosen a career in medicine.  Those recollections were hidden at the bottom of a mass of countless memories. Only a small fraction of that thought process could be salvaged despite my valiant efforts. I was then fourteen and full of the joys of life. I just wanted a career with a stable job and a regular income. In those days this was synonymous with government service. I wish there was a more noble reason for my choice. Helping the suffering humanity and relieving pain was the inevitable fallout from my choice of career.

The first public hurdle was the GCE O- Levels and the requirement was 5 credits. Then came the University Entrance examination which was a game of chance. Just 300 were chosen from several thousand able candidates. My journey into the profession began in Medical College. I still feel deeply nostalgic for the bohemian lifestyle and pranks of my days as a medical student. There I was introduced for the first time to the drink of the Gods, a habit which was to last a lifetime. We seemed to have everything to live for despite the hard grind. During those gruelling years what impressed me most was the dedication and commitment of the Physicians and Surgeons of the General Hospital, Colombo. They taught us their craft unstintingly. Our apprenticeship was worth its weight in gold. We emerged confident and with a sound practical knowledge to face an uncertain future in a country in turmoil. Many couldn’t accept the status quo and left the island. I stayed on in the hope that good times would return.

My internship in Kurunegala gave me an insight into life away from the big city. The power cuts and the water shortages were a regular feature. I learnt to accept this with good grace knowing how much more the villagers suffered. I still feel deeply for the simple rural folk of the “Wanni” who had such implicit faith in my powers of healing. They often thought I had influence over life and death.  When I think of the individual patients and recall their anguish I wish that was true. The gods, nature weather, politics and disease were all heaped against these simple folk. Sadly  their only release from this enormous burden was death. Little has changed since the graphic description of  the hardship of village life by Leonard Woolfe in his “Village in the jungle” at the turn of the last century. This grim reality was accepted as the norm by politicians who could have done much more to improve their life. In Kurunegala, my life and career was at a standstill. I applied for a transfer to Colombo. After much heartache my wish was granted.

In 1970 our economy was in serious distress. The country was seething with unrest . The tide of discontent reached its peak with the insurgency of 1971. After it was promptly and brutally crushed the dust settled slowly. The government imposed strict import restrictions. All foreign goods became too expensive. Only politicians and the very rich could afford such luxuries. There were restrictions on leaving the country like in the Soviet Republic. The intelligentsia made use of their political connections to go abroad which was then euphemistically called the brain drain. I was frustrated by the erosion of our freedom and was overwhelmed by a feeling of oppression. The country seemed to be heading into an abyss.

After the house jobs my career prospects became a part of the Health Department lottery. For seven years I had drifted from one job to another. In sheer desperation, finally, I decided to pack my bags to seek my fortune abroad.  The decision to leave my family, friends and country was not taken lightly. I still recall the sleepless nights  the agony and the anguish. This at times tore me apart. I wanted a different life from what I saw around me and was attracted to the bright lights and the sophistication of a life in London.  The day of my departure came too soon. I left for London in  June 1974.

In London  I struggled with the cold and looked for jobs. My Sri Lankan friends helped me overcome homesickness and maintain my sanity.  In those distant days racial discrimination was rife both in day to day life and also in the National Health Service. I learnt to accept these vagaries. I had to be twice as good as a local candidate to get a job and often even this wasn’t good enough. There were times when people curiously preferred to stand in the bus than sit next to me. Despite these setbacks I passed my examinations without delay and was fortunate enough to work in two of the most prestigious teaching hospitals in London for a period of five years. This is however more than what I could have ever achieved in my own country. As my finances improved. I developed expensive habits. Although guilt ridden, I ventured to buy myself a small car. After the manic driving in Sri Lanka I re-learnt to drive sensibly in England.

With the postgraduate exams completed I found my room at the top in a town 50 miles north of London. It is a leafy suburb created after the war to accommodate the spill over from the East end of London. The prevalent Cockney accent was a source of amusement having being brought up on the high-brow BBC pronunciation in Colonial Ceylon. They were a friendly bunch although rather stoic and rough, at times. I found a house in a peaceful village by a golf course which has been my home ever since. Here I have seen the summers come and go whilst serving the local community.

Working in the UK is a pleasure. Their work ethic is exemplary and I learnt enormously from their attitude to work and patients. They plan well for a crisis before it arises. Their dedication to duty and their commitment to patient care cannot be faulted. On my retirement it grieves me to leave an institution with such a fine work force. The hospital has grown in size and stature to become one of the best in the country. We have the most modern equipment and experts to provide good healthcare. It has been a privilege to be a part of this team.

In 1974 I joined the best Health Service in the world which was free at the point of use. Over the years the patient demands became greater. They wanted the best service in the world - free and were not willing to accept the inevitable medical errors. They were quick to resort to litigation for minor issues. The legal bills and the cost of such a service became too great for the government to finance. Then the cutbacks began to erode into patient care. At present the National Health Service is in crisis providing a substandard service. The doctors are disillusioned and leaving the country in their thousands. A brain drain yet again as I saw in my youth in Sri Lanka. The politicians are not prepared to inform the public they cannot afford a free health service. This they reckon would be political suicide. So the blame for this multifaceted problem lies on the Politicians for their lack of honesty and guts and the patients for expecting too much from a ‘free’ service.

I have now reached the end of a long journey. My most abiding memories are of patients who also became my friends. I would never forget the tremendous courage of those who had only a few days to live. Many showed remarkable bravery in this most difficult situation. Some had a strange premonition of when the end would come. These deep and conflicting emotions of my professional life has been both challenging and rewarding.

I leave the medical profession with a heavy heart but also happy to be free again. Now I can get on with my life without the time tables and onerous routines of a hospital doctor. Would I study medicine again if given a chance? – yes, indeed. Diagnosis and treatment are a  difficult but fascinating challenge. The physical, mental and emotional demands of the profession although exhausting has its rewards. Its camaraderie and team work makes the work attractive and motivating. People ask me how I would spend the rest of my life. This would indeed depend on maintaining good health and having sufficient funds. I wish to travel when I can carry my own luggage. China, Australasia and South America have been on my list for many years. Cricket has been my passion since childhood and now I would be free to watch it live at Lords or the Oval and also on television.  Listening to music, reading and going to the theatre would fill my days with pleasure. I would not work again for money. I have paid my dues to society!! The driving desire to earn money has left me now. We leave this world as we came – with nothing.

I have missed my family in Sri Lanka enormously and have paid a heavy price for my desire to live and work abroad. I wasn’t present for the births, weddings and deaths of those most dear to me. I am now a stranger to the new generation born during my absence. I feel a foreigner in the country of my birth as Sri Lanka has moved forward in leaps and bounds despite the destructive forces of a long ethnic conflict. Although I live happily in England I have left my heart in that beautiful island of my birth and the land of my fore-fathers.

I have lived a passionate and impetuous life. These are attributes that could lead to serious grief and there was. When I look back what stands out is the awesome force of destiny. There are countless examples of this unusual and unexpected phenomena in my eventful life.  I was one of the few in my batch at Medical College who did not want to leave Sri Lanka. Extraordinary circumstances in my life paved the way for this change of heart. Then I always wanted to be a physician but by a strange turn of events I was directed towards Radiology. This was a godsend and I have never looked back. I am appreciative of the luck and the privilege. Thankfully destiny has smiled on me and good fortune has been on my side most of the way.

This closes the chapter on my professional life. Hopefully the new phase would be sedate and a peaceful. As always destiny would have the last word.

I must pay tribute to my parents. They have been my inspiration always. I compliment most warmly my dear wife who had to endure and share the pain  and hardship of my demanding  professional life.

May God Bless them all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Revisit your old haunts

(My grateful thanks to Prof. Rohan Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, for giving me permission to take these photographs).

For a slide show, click on the link below.

To see pictures with explanatory captions, scroll down (Sanath, please let me know if there are errors in the captioning. Captions can be edited).

View of the main building from the National Hospital entrance.  

Let's begin with the place where our late Dean Prof. Abhayaratne used to stand and survey the surroundings as a daily routine.

Prof. Rajasuriya never used the stairs. He patiently waited for the lift/elevator.

Old canteen is now a part of the new Common Room.

Another section of the Common Room with the same old billiards table that we used!

New canteen in the old vacant space near the side entrance to the common room, clock tower and cycle shed. 

                                 The separate side entrance to the common room, now "permanently" closed.

                             The seat in the Dean's office that one of our own (Sanath Lama) occupied not long ago.
Portraits of past Deans adorn the walls of this office to which we had very limited access as students.   

 This gentleman holding the door is Sisira who was assigned by Prof. Rohan Jayasekara to accompany me round the complex. The Ladies' Common Room of yesteryear (opposite the Dean's Office) now houses the Dean's supportive staff.

 We didn't have them those days! This "Computer Room" is opposite the section that University Medical Officer Dr. Alles occupied in the sixties.

 Department of Community Medicine (called Public Health during our time)

 Entrance to the library

The library looks the same even after half a century.

We are now on the top floor. We spent many hours in this lecture theatre.

The clinical departments

The Pathology Block which also housed the Departments of Bacteriology, Parasitology, Forensic Medicine

New building that has come up in this quadrangle.

The quadrangle serves as a car park

The Pathology Block from another angle

Entrance to the Physiology Block

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as it is now called

Francis Road where the JMO's Office is situated

Entrance to the Anatomy Block

The corridor leading to the dissecting rooms. Photographs on the walls on either side have been temporarily removed because of ongoing renovations.

Dissecting room. Immovable porcelain slabs have given way to movable trolleys

Another view of the dissecting room


A meeting room in the Old Anatomy Block (fully renovated)


A tutorial room. I was told that this is where freshly brought bodies were embalmed in pre-renovation days.

"Old" Anatomy lecture theatre undergoing renovation. This is where we had Prof. M.J. Waas' lectures

This is where the Formalin well (used to preserve cadavers) was located

The "New" Anatomy lecture theatre has been demolished. It had been hurriedly constructed to accommodate the "Three Hundred Batch" in 1960.

Another view of the same site

Same site with buildings on Maradana Road in the distance. Note the concrete piling for planned construction of a new multi-storey building

Narrow roadway leading to the quadrangle car park from the Francis Road entrance

Rear view of the Physiology Block from Norris Canal Road

Norris Canal Road that runs close to the Anatomy Block

Sunday, October 2, 2011

SLMA Dinner Dance

The Dinner Dance of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) which used to be a much looked forward to annual event in the recent past, has been revived after a lapse of four years. It has been made possible by the present SLMA Council under the able leadership of its President.

Date: Friday 9th December, 2011

Venue: Crystal Ballroom, Taj Samudra Hotel.

Tickets priced at Rs. 4000.00 per head will be made available at the SLMA office very soon. There will be plenty of raffle draws and prizes including air tickets and hampers!

This message goes out particularly to members of our batch who are based in Sri Lanka. This being an entertaining social event where you meet old friends, please make it a point to attend irrespective of whether you indulge in this past time or not. There is one other reason why you should try to make it - SLMA President this year is our own Sanath Lama.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Await! A Nostalgic Virtual Tour of Familiar Surroundings

How many of you have visited the Colombo Medical Faculty since you left it for the last time in 1967? Well, I did. Or rather, I do from time to time. Please visit this blog for a nostalgic virtual tour of your old haunts - the Common Rooms, Old Anatomy Block, Physiology (and Biochemistry) Block, Francis Road, Pathology Block, the entrance to the main Administrative Block (where our beloved Dean used to stand often with his tuneless whistling), the quadrangle where a new building has now come up etc.

For starters, Carey College Junction, Bloemfontein Hostel on Norris Canal Road and the Women's Hostel at De Saram Place - temporary homes to some of you. I already have these pictures. But I will have to do a "photo shoot" for the others. Please see earlier posting for a picture of the main entrance to the General Hospital.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lost in a Dream

By Mahendra Gonsalkorala

The sky changes from cheerful blue to gloomy grey.
The scene lit up by a blinding flash.
The view brightens and oscillates.
A deafening clap of thunder.
A powerful rumble grows and recedes.
The heavens open,
the rain pours down in sheets.

The silence is broken
with the noise of pelting rain on leaves.
Dry leaves become wet,
wet leaves lost in puddles of water,
puddles of water become lakes.
The blowing wind howls mercilessly
pushing aside sheets of rain
casting helpless leaves in the air.

She was walking,
now she runs.
Her long hair dancing
as they fall on her graceful shoulders.
The rain wets her hair
curls now tamed to wet ribbons.
Water runs down her face
as she rushes through the rain.

Her head bobs and weaves
avoiding looming branches.
Her shapely legs move gracefully
as she runs through the forest.
Her dress become soaked
snugly encasing her form
tantalisingly revealing,
the voluptuous curves of her body.

She stops in her tracks
as a figure looms in front of her.
Tall and handsome,
wet and soaked like her.
She runs into his arms.
He holds her to his bosom,
a soothing embrace.
She feels safe.

With a gasp she wakes up.
He is still there in bed
all curled up beside her,
sleeping like a lamb.
She draws him close.
I haven't lost him,
with a relieved sigh
she is asleep again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review - From Hikkaduwa to the Carolinas

Memoirs of a Reluctant Expatriate 

“Memory is the treasure-house of the mind”. - Thomas Fuller
Someone famously but anonymously said this:

“The glory of summer is best appreciated, when one is shivering in winter’s cold.”

Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene’s Memoirs, seem to derive directly from an identical situation. The main title of his book is “From Hikkaduwa to the Carolinas”. He adds an elucidatory second title: “Memoirs of a Reluctant Expatriate.”

Ten thousand miles away from the land of his birth, memories from ‘good old Sri Lanka’, kept on flooding his soul. The present volume, represents an expanded version of those fond home-thoughts. His professional sojourn in the distant carolinas, provided him with the proper perspective to adore and esteem the allure and the appeal of the place he always calls home. Recollections gushed forth, from the depth of his being. There was no need to recourse to notes. What remained to be done, was to impose book-form, upon the contents.
Briefly, that is the process that ensured the genesis of this book.
Dr. Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

The pages are crowded with memories of persons and places. He narrates the evolution of certain places in the spirit and the style of a dedicated historian. One could feel a sense of affection coming through those descriptions.

The author hails from Hikkaduwa - a township in the South of Sri Lanka. It is quite a noteworthy “hail”, because Hikkaduwa is replete with a rich lore, centring upon great scholars, affluent families and many who achieved national stature.
Dr. Abeyagunawardene, traces the ramifications of his own family. He, quite modestly, considers himself a residual legatee of the vast achievements of those earlier stalwarts of Hikkaduwa, who shone at various levels of life.

Personally I cherish the author’s narration of the history of the area that is well-known as Manning Town, where, according to the author, he lived a good part of his childhood. Since I am currently resident at Manning Town flats, the author’s detailed descriptions of that area, with a touching sense of intimacy, fascinated me no end. The author’s in-depth recounting of the phases of evolution of Manning Town, is eloquent testimony to his impassioned attachment to his childhood haunts. The key to his close involvement with the life at Manning Town, is his memory of the house numbers, in many instances.

As you continue to progress through his memoirs, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by his phenomenal dexterity to recall the details of the places he had known, while growing up. Recounting his schooling phase, the author takes the reader to his days at Ananda College. His undiminishing loyalty to Ananda is enshrined in his resounding statement: “I found that greatness in a school does not depend on the locality. My Alma mater, would have flourished anywhere on earth as an outstanding seat of learning!”

We meet the author next, as an Assistant Science Teacher, at Talatuoya Central College. It is there he experienced the thrill of earning his first salary. As a dutiful son, he bought a twenty-four-Rupee silk saree for his mother and a fourteen Rupee Hentley Executive shirt for his father, using his first pay.

There were only the minor preliminary steps, towards the entry into a wider world of massive challenges and trying ups and downs.

The latter half of the Memoirs, is, in effect, a chronicle of his main professional career, as a Doctor of Medicine. It records the story of his professional postings both here and abroad. The total “Memoirs”, speak of a gentle, humane practitioner of medicine, deeply engrossed in the way of life of people. The large number of personalities, mentioned by name in this book, makes it a unique work. It is, veritably a “Who’s Who” of people, who flourished in various fields of like, during the decades, this work focuses upon.
For all you know, your name too is likely to figure here, in some context.

The calm restrained style of writing, makes the book eminently readable. Although the work traces the progress of a professional practitioner of medicine, the major and minor events, that the author has had to wade through, make it, strangely enough, as absorbing as a work of fiction. The cliche, that fact is stranger than fiction may be apt here. There is, for instance, the episode in which the author is caught up in a plane crash. This real-life tragedy and the miraculous escape of the author, unscathed, but for a swollen ankle, add a dramatic depth to the whole narration.

Professional travels, took the author to various parts of the world. His narration of these tours, gives the work the feel of a “travelogue’ as well.

The total impression given by the ‘Memoirs’, is that the reader has been given the opportunity to meet a cultured professional, who has an intense love of his mother country and a marked ardour for serene domesticity. In his concluding segment, we come upon the author as a voyager who has reached a calm haven, after tumultuous travails. He nursed the dream, that the day he and his wife will live in retirement, in Sri Lanka. He reinforces this resolve by saying that “my homeland attracted me like a magnet”.

The work comes in an elegant hand-cover version. And, all the author’s experiences are available to the reader at Rs.750. This is indeed a memorable Memoir.
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