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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative Spot - A Poem by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

Wind of Regret

Fading embers lay dormant
Till the wind of regret blows fervent
Wild emotions into flames burst
Merciless, unforgiving, unpleasant

Hidden memories light up clear
Days, weeks, months, an year 
They scream past in a frenzy
The good the bad and the ugly

Regret, regret , 
Might have been
Could have been
Should have been
Stop it, stop it!
Stop the wind of regret 
And the flames will disappear
Peace and calm will reappear

Monday, July 27, 2015

Creative Spot - "Yesterday Today and Tomorrow" by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorala

Speedy's rendition of a Nimal Mendis classic, "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" which was the first he wrote for his wife Ranjani Mendis who passed away on October 18th 2010. According to Speedy, Augustus Vinyagaratnam had translated the song into Sinhala - Nim Him Sewva. The English version sung by Desmond De Silva and the Sinhala version sung by Pandit Amaradeva. Both versions were featured in the film "Seetha Devi" by the late Manik Sandrasagra, acknowledging Nimal's original composition.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Bad old days of Psychological Vandalism

By Nihal D Amerasekera 

My first introduction to the Medical Faculty was on registration day. It started with virtual ‘road blocks’ by seniors to round up the freshers. This was the beginning of the rag to usher in the new recruits and introduce them to a new brand of nastiness, a tradition that has prevailed since the very beginning of the institution. This infamous ritual has become more outrageous with time.  This kind of harassment went on for a further fortnight after we joined.  What an introduction to a supposed sanctuary of like minded scholars!!  As I look back this behavior was accepted by many of the staff in the Faculty and it was even encouraged by some of them.  It is the responsibility of the Vice Chancellor to stamp out ragging unless he too condoned it. Ragging has caused the death of students at Peradeniya University. I hope it is not a part of the faculty calendar anymore. I admire the stance taken by Buddhadasa Bhodinayake who stood up to those bullies and took no part in this pointless ritual. We should move to a system available in most British universities where there is a freshers week. During this time there is an organized period of induction by the management and the senior students help the newcomers to settle in.  

Although I loved the study of anatomy, life in the Block was a nightmare. There was this need to learn the subject in such great detail which when we look back now was totally and utterly pointless. Thankfully Dr Leicester Jayawardene was reasonable. The rest persisted in making the weekly signatures a stressful ordeal. Some tutors even enjoyed the humiliation they caused the hapless students who sat in a circle. They were  surrounded by their peers waiting to grab any pearls of wisdom or to laugh at their mistakes. There was much giggling at the  sarcastic comments by the tutors. That was indeed the circle of death. Physiology and Biochemistry were taught and administered well.  The only time I flinched was when ‘Prick’ Perera jabbed my finger for a full blood count. Prof Koch, Prof Hoover  and  Carlo Fonseka helped to bring some sanity onto an otherwise manic two years. 

As we moved on to the 3rd and 4th years we gained confidence.  The 3rd year without examinations was a shelter from the turmoil and strife around me.  During our holidays Nalin Nanayakkara and I went on a motor cycle journey to the central hills on his impressive red Moto Guzzi. It was a most memorable journey that will remain with me forever. 

After the Block the  subjects we studied seem more relevant. Prof GH Cooray, Prof HVJ Fernando, Prof Kottegoda, Prof.  Chapman, Prof Abhayaratne and Prof Dissanayake were great teachers who treated the students as human beings. I admire them greatly and remember them with much affection. 

In the 3rd year we started clinical work with the stethoscopes round our necks. Whether we needed them or not it never left our collar. My first clinical appointment was with Dr Thanabalasunderam. He was a superb teacher and one of the best. He made us work hard and taught us well. His fine approach to clinical problems and their solutions has remained with me ever since. I am ever so grateful to the Visiting Physicians of the Ragama section of the GHC for teaching me medicine. Dr Wijenaike, Dr Medonza, Dr DJ Attygalle, Dr Ernie Peiris were excellent teachers. Despite their busy schedule of ward rounds, clinics and private practice they found time to teach us clinical methods. They took great trouble to find interesting patients with multiple  clinical problems. Their efforts bore fruit as many of their students went on to be Consultants in various fields of medicine with great distinction, both at home and abroad. 

The surgeons who constantly deal with blood and guts had a macho image. Of the surgeons Dr Austin commanded and demanded respect. Once he was most annoyed I didn’t stand up when he walked passed me near the operating theatre. I really thought he would assault me as he raised me up by my shirt collar with my feet dangling in the air. Need I say more about such behaviour.  He was a good teacher. Dr Anthonis showed great kindness to his patients and taught his students well. Dr Niles had a volatile temper towards his patients but was kind to us all and was a fine tutor. His clinical classes were full of humor and always a good laugh. He had this great ability to see the funny side of day to day clinical problems. It was like being at a comedy show. Darrell Weinman, the neurosurgeon, was a superb teacher. He had a special room for his ward classes which was always full to capacity. He was a showman ‘par excellence’ and taught us the whole process from history taking to examination, diagnosis and treatment  with great aplomb. He was a kind man. I will not forget the concern he had for his patients. 

Our Clinical Professors were good clinicians. They were committed to make certain we learnt our trade well before being released on the general public. Some of their teaching methods were archaic and depended on creating an aura of fear. In the process they humiliated students and at times reduced them to tears. This was totally and utterly repulsive and unacceptable.  The total of 4 months I clerked with The Professors of Medicine and Obstetrics may have reduced my life span by a good 4 years. The insults were relentless and damaging.  There are many anecdotes and sordid stories  which I will not relate as so many years have now passed and those culpable are not alive to defend themselves.  Some say they would never have studied without this strict regime – now that is what I call “Bull Shit”. Prof Navaratne, was a notable exception. He was a kind person and never showed anger to his students. We were never terrorized or intimidated by him or his department.  Didn’t we study surgery to pass the exams?? 

All through the 5 years in medical school  there was this aura of fear that pervaded the corridors, wards and lecture theatres. Such an atmosphere of terror  was created by a small minority of teaching staff. It amounts to bullying and psychological vandalism. This should not be tolerated in any institution. I am reliably informed this still goes on in the faculty in Colombo.  It is sad this  culture of bullying is not abating despite the passage of years. This is the responsibility of the Dean of the faculty to stamp out unacceptable behavior by his/her staff. Bullying was not recognized as a problem in the Faculty during my time.  Those who were bullied had no one to turn to hence  were unable to speak of their ordeal. We felt nothing would be done about it even if we complained.  There was always the distinct possibility of victimisation. In their fields, both professors were extremely clever and able doctors. But they needed to be taught how to teach and influence students. Bullying in Universities is a recognised problem worldwide and it requires the Institution to take necessary action.  Mostly it is the hierarchical nature of the environment to blame. Both the staff and the students have to be educated how to prevent and how to bring it to the attention of the authorities. 

To me personally the stress that prevailed was unbearable and took its toll. Bullying destroys morale. I was at my wits end not knowing how to cope with this constant battering on a daily basis.  I seldom spoke about my inner feelings. It wasn’t something I could discuss with my friends or even my parents. The result was  anxiety, distress and the loss of confidence in my own ability which lasted all through my years in medical school. I was reticent while presenting cases in the ward and at examinations where I performed poorly. It was when I emigrated to the UK that I regained my confidence as my bosses treated me with kindness and respect. They appreciated my hard work. Thankfully I was able to have a rewarding career in Radiology. 

The nightmare that began as I started in the Block ended the day I passed the finals in June 1967. The relief was almost palpable. I still look back on those years with trepidation but harbor no grudges. I sincerely hope things would change for the better.  

I lament that in real life, unlike fairytales, stories do not always have happy endings. Thankfully, I have not been scarred for life for those traumatic five years in medical school.  We were all in it together. Some withstood the pressures much better than others. What stood me in good stead was the camaraderie that existed and the friendships that I made during those grueling years. So much time has passed that I can now maintain an emotional distance from the turmoil of the past.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Recollections of our Teachers from Faculty days – Part 2

By Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

In my previous instalment, I paused after Pathology. Why not parasitology and Forensic medicine?  You may ask. This series is not meant to be comprehensive and my apologies to my teachers who for whatever reason did not make as lasting an impact on me as others. However, in some cases this might be for favourable reasons and apologies may not be necessary. Moving on….

Prof Rajasuriya brings mixed emotions. He was undoubtedly a phenomenon in his own time, but I never took to him as I thought his teaching methods were archaic and based on fear. In my view, he did not treat us as adults which were so much of a contrast when compared to his Senior Lecture, Oliver Pieris who was not only an able Physician but a great teacher who treated us as mature adults. Some of my colleagues however, still thank Prof Rajasuriya with a lot of emotion and gratitude because “if not for his disciplinary methods, I would not have got through my finals”. As the saying goes, “it takes all kinds”.

Prof Navaratne’s lectures stand out in my memory. He would stand near a window peering outside while lecturing to us in his monotonous, heavy didactic style. What emerged from his oral orifice were gems which had to be carefully collected in the form of written notes and kept in safe keeping for later digestion. In the post- lunch lecture, it was not unusual to see some of my colleagues in the front row catching up with their sleep but thankfully, nobody snored and Nava didn’t seem to mind. Nava was yet another with thick black rimmed specs, the favoured style of the time. He was a striking figure as he was small, slightly hunched, narrow and furrowed frontal area with bushy eyebrows and most of his face gently moving forwards towards the apex of his facial contour, his nose. He often wore a “bush shirt” with a sort of built-in belt made of the same material as the garment.

Prof Ranasinghe of Obs &Gynae fame was an anachronism even in his time. Not for him to stimulate his students to enquire and research the subject. All that was required was to commit all his notes to memory to be regurgitated at the exams. Futhermore, the regurgitation had to be in the right order. “There are 5 causes of post partum haemorrhage, and they are a) xx, b)yy c)zz…” and so on and when a student is asked for the causes of post partum haemorrhage the answer had to be the 5 he gave us, and you know whether you got them in the right order because his fingers would fold in the right order, for example, if the student gave “z” as the first cause, and “z” is the third in HIS list, his middle finger would fold. If the student gives 4 causes (say the first 4), he would point his little finger at him and ask “what is this” – and the answer is NOT “Sir, that is your little finger”. But he was always smartly dressed and his enunciation was clear. Scoring high marks was eminently possible. As to his clinical skills, well, that was a mystery.

Senior Lecturer Dr Viswanathan (later Prof) was a total contrast. In the time allotted to him he would ask us not to take down any notes but just listen to him and at the end of the class, you are free to make notes. He said that useful information can get through the skull, be understood and stored in the brain during an attention span of not more than 20 mins. He always summarised the key points in his lecture at the end. We did not realised it at the time, but he had clearly studied not just Obs & Gynae, but teaching and learning theory. His lectures were clear and succinct – a good teacher.

In Paediatrics, I vaguely recall Prof CC d Silva. His presence was noted mostly by his absence. He seemed to be away most of the time and was typical of some Academics who are “rarely seen or heard in their own territories”. When he spoke, we wondered whether he was an European, such was his accent. He also had this habit which some have of tailing away his voice towards the end of a sentence. He would for example say, “When you consider diarrhoea in infants, we must never forget important cause such as  Aaaaa…………”. As the last words were almost whispered and gobbled, we were left in the dark. We were also very aware of his reputation and International stature.

Having said all this, I am sure all of you agree with me that on the whole, we were well served by our Teachers and that we owe them a deep debt of gratitude.

I shall return in due course with my recollections of our Clinical Teachers.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Visit to an Old Friend

We arrived in New York on 2 July for a brief holiday in the US. My old friend Indra (Anandasabapathy) met us at JFK and we spent three most enjoyable days at his beautiful home in Staten Island. Indra's wife Rani as usual, spared no pains to graciously host us. Our daughter Dilushi too drove up from Virginia to join us there. We left for Virginia Beach, VA on 5 July and are now enjoying our stay with Dilushi.

We will be returning to Sri Lanka on 31 July after visits to Greenville and Columbia in South Carolina (to see old friends) and to Columbus, Georgia where Mangala's sister is residing.

These two pictures were taken by Rani who is an accomplished photographer apart from her numerous other talents.