Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cyril Ernest, Cardiologist and Cricketer par excellence


Episode 1,  April 2016
Cyril Ernest, Cardiologist and Cricketer par excellence

It is my great pleasure to record this virtual interview with my pal Cyril and I thank him for his kind permission to post this on our own Blog, ColomboMedgrads1962 which as we all know is the brainchild of Lucky Abeyagunawardene.

Speedy: Good morning Cyril. 
Cyril: Good morning Speedy, or should it be Mahen?
Speedy: Don’t mind! I know that you are used to calling me Speedy. Cyril, most of us of course know that you entered Medical school in 1962after  doing a six-month course in chemistry at the University of Ceylon in Colombo. But coming from St Benedict’s, how is it that you were sent to Peradeniya and not Colombo?
Cyril: That remains a mystery but I was very happy at Peradeniya at the brand new Medical school there.
Speedy:  It is also on record that while at St. Benedict’s College you excelled in several sports – cricket, hockey, tennis, and track & field – representing your school in all these sports and also playing in combined-schools teams, and participating in public schools events and meets. Of course once you entered Medical School, your priorities must have changed. Tell us how you met these new challenges, i.e., pursuing a quite demanding study schedule with sports.
Cyril: Absolutely right Speedy. Once I entered the university, studies were my major concern, though I pursued my sporting career but confining myself to two sports – cricket and hockey. With my sporting prowess, I was able to get into the university cricket and hockey teams. Being in Peradeniya was a distinct disadvantage to combine sports with my studies, as all the sporting events were in Colombo. I was somehow able to manage to combine both pursuits, sports and studies, and keep up my grades, while being on the varsity teams for both.
Speedy: There were many talented cricketers in University at the time. Could you tell us a bit more about them?
Cyril: That is correct. When I entered medical school my classmates included contemporary cricketers Cecil Saveryimuthu, a fellow Bendictine teammate (pace bowler), SenarathJayatilleke, a dashing batsman from St. Anne’s College Kurunegala, and Kumar Gunawardena, a wicketkeeper/batsman, from St. Thomas’ College. Talented as they were as cricketers, they did not pursue playing cricket and decided to concentrate on their studies. My other school contemporaries, LareefIdroos (St. Thomas’ College), Harsha Samarajeewa (Royal College), and KiththaWimalaratna (Royal College) continued their pursuits in cricket. We were teammates in the University Cricket Eleven.
Speedy:That is an impressive list! I know that the University Cricket Team took part in the Sara Trophy Tournament. Tell us a bit more about those times.
Cyril: Yes Speedy. Looking back now, I often wonder how I did it!  Playing cricket on the Varsity A team, in the Sara Trophy Tournament, was very time-consuming and it did, to a certain extent, interfere with our academic pursuits. However, we persevered and we were regular members of the University Eleven. We were regular members of the Sara Trophy cricket team from 1961/62 to 1966/67.
Speedy: Could you give us some idea of the schedule in those days?
Cyril: During the cricket season, which was from March to August, we were involved in matches with our rival teams every weekend and having daily practices during the week. This was quite a tedious routine and we stuck to our tasks, helping the team to be a force to be reckoned with. Unlike the other participating teams in the tournament, Varsity had to contend with key players missing matches due to exams, as well as, leaving the team on graduation. Despite these hardships, we were an enthusiastic band of players and during our time, we reached the final playoff rounds every season between 1962 and 1967.
Speedy: What were the greatest achievements of the Team that gives you a lot of pride?
Cyril: 1962/63 was a great year, when we won the Sara Trophy championship, being national champions in cricket under the captaincy of Carlyle Perera – another medico. The next year too, we almost won the championship under Buddy Reid – another medico, losing by the slimmest of margins (0.04 points) to Bloomfield due to an unfortunate error in the field, a dropped catch. The university cricket team was rewarded for their national championship with an all-expense paid trip to Singapore and Malaysia in 1963. Here too, we excelled. Lareef, Harsha, Kiththa and myself, were preparing for our second MBBS exam, and foolishly we took our textbooks and skeleton to study on the tour. Which, of course, never materialized, being distracted by other goings-on.

Speedy: It is my recollection that there were a lot of Medicos in the Varsity Team in that era who Captained the Team. Could you please tell us a bit about them?
Cyril: Your recollection is good! I see that so far you have been spared from memory changes which some of us may experience in the future. The Varsity cricket team was captained in 1963/64 by Buddy Reid, followed by Mohanlal Fernando in 1964/65, LareefIdroos in 1965/66, and myself in 1966/67. In 1966, I captained the University of Ceylon cricket team on its’ tour to India for the inter-university cricket tourney in Bangalore.
Speedy: How did you fare in Bangalore?
Cyril:We had a very good team, but we were unable to advance beyond the second round, due to local conditions and most importantly, the biased umpiring decisions by the local umpires.
Speedy: That must have been tough to take.
Cyril: Yes it was and there were other unexpected problems too.Let me tell you an interesting story. I went on the Indian tour just three weeks before the third MBBS exam. I was in a panic on my return because of a lack of preparation for my exam. However, two of my classmates, whose names I shall not reveal, helped me out immensely by coaching me in bacteriology and forensic medicine. They were my life savers. Unfortunately, when the results of the exam were revealed, I had passed and they had failed in the very subjects they had helped me with.
Speedy: That seems so unfair, but that is life I suppose!
Cyril:  Yes indeed!
Speedy: Tell me Cyril, did you ever represent Sri lanka in cricket?
Cyril:LareefIdroos and I, from our class, were fortunate enough to have represented Ceylon in international cricket competitions.

Speedy: That is a great achievement and we are very proud of both of you. Any other unforgettable cricketing memories?
Cyril: Well, there is something which I shall never forget. I was playing on the Rest Eleven against the Nationalised Services Eleven at the Colombo Oval in the Robert Senanayake trophy pentangular tournament in 1967, just one week before my finals. I was batting well and a Sylvester Diaz (pace bowler) bouncer did me in when I tried to hook him and had my nose shattered. I was taken to the emergency room, by taxi, with blood streaming, and had Dr.RienziePieris reset my displaced nasal bone fracture. You wouldn’t believe that I came back and batted again, scoring 48 runs – this was at a time when I was vying for a place on the Ceylon side. I went back to BLOEM with a thundering headache but recovered in time to take my final exam the next week, and managed to pass again.
Speedy: That is some story Cyril, speaks volumes for your courage and tenacity.
Cyril: Not really Speedy. When these things happen, you just get on with it as best as you can!
Speedy:Any other cricketing memories from those days you want to share with readers?
Cyril:During our days in medical school, we also played on the medical college team, in the annual Law/Medical game. Lareef, Harsha, Kiththa, EaswaraKanapathipillai, and I were teammates in 1966. Lareef captained the side. After graduating from medical school we went our separate ways and Lareef played for SSC, and I played for the NCC side and later for the Adastrians, when I joined the Air Force.
Speedy:  You left Sri Lanka and moved to California in February 1972.
Cyril: That is right, In February 1972 I migrated to the United States, Lareef having left in 1971. I joined Lareef in New York and we were together at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, where there were several other Sri Lankans doing internship and residency. In 1977, I moved to California, Lareef having moved there in 1976.
Speedy: Were you able to pursue your interest in Cricket?
Cyril: We both resumed our cricketing career in California, playing in the Southern California Cricket Association tournament. Our cricketing abilities were recognized by the USA Cricket selectors and we were both selected to play on the USA Cricket team in 1979 against Canada in Vancouver. Lareef did well, scoring 60 runs in the first innings and I got 4 wickets in the match. I was once again selected for the Associate Member World Cup tournament in 1982, representing the United States in Birmingham, England. I took an interest in the administrative aspects of USA cricket and was at one time manager of the USA team, and also chairman of selectors, despite the heavy schedule of being a Cardiologist. Lareef and I were members of the Hollywood Cricket Club and we went on many a tour to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa, England, South America, and the West Indies. Those were happy outings and we had the privilege of meeting and playing against many an old test cricketer.
Speedy: Cyril, that was a most enjoyable journey with you and I am sure all our readers will enjoy reading it as much as I did. Thanks you so much and I look forward to seeing you in March next year at our Reunion.
Cyril: Thank you Speedy for your interest and I do hope that these memoirs, recalled at your behest, is not misconstrued as if I am tooting my own horn. I am still working full time and hope to attend the reunion in Sri Lanka in March 2017.
Speedy: Rest assured Cyril, there is no danger of that at all and once again, thank you so much.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Tribute to the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital

An appreciative parent writes about the services provided by the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital when her son was warded there with Dengue Fever.

The writer's husband Johann Bandaranayake (a nephew of Sriani Basnayake) further says that the family was touched by the medical and personal care provided by the hospital and staff. They had thought of showing their appreciation through this article.

WAY TO GO Lady Ridgeway Hospital!!!

The first thing most parents of middle income families want to do when a child falls sick is to ensure that their child has the best of care, and with this noble intention will not think twice before scraping up their meagre savings to have their child admitted to a name recognised private hospital with all its creature comforts than consider the “much in the news” (for the wrong reasons) government hospital assuming that the former is better. 

In many ways their perception seems justified, there are no strict visiting hours so you can be with your child at any time, your sure of a bed not only for the child but also for yourself, you can demand certain amount of service, have access to state of the art medical facilities (the cost of which may send you to the grave sooner than expected) you may even be able to have the doctor changed if you feel so inclined, after all you are paying for it.  In contrast the perceptions of the state medical facilities are that you will never know when they are on strike, your child may not have a bed or even worse may have to share one with a child of a ‘less desirable’, the service is poor, long lines and waiting times, the place is smelly and not maintained, bathrooms – well that’s another story, no medicine, nurses and attendants couldn’t care less and doctors are marking time only to run off for their private practice.

But perceptions remain perceptions until you face reality.  However repulsive the initial thought might have been, when our son was diagnosed with dengue, there was no question in our minds on where we wanted to have him admitted.  It was going to be the Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH).  The reason was simple enough; they were the best and most experienced to efficiently manage the disease.  In fact, when things go wrong in other hospitals, children are transferred here, not only for better management but for better remedial management as well.

The choice was clear, now it was to brace ourselves for the typical state run delays, lethargy, disorder, abruptness and inefficiency on all counts.  At admission, though, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our son was attended to immediately by a doctor and subsequently by another doctor who took down every conceivable, relevant piece of information in the most pleasant and courteous manner.  This was a refreshing change from most privately channelled doctors, who are generally in a great hurry to dismiss you with very little interest in what the patient has to say.  

During the admission process there was another child being discharged.  With all the formalities being concluded for the discharge, something unthinkable happened, the doctor asked the little child for a kiss and the child responded enthusiastically.  It was so nice to see such bonding and love by a doctor (whom you would normally consider to be stoic and aloof) attending on the children in her care, what was striking about this incident was that it wasn’t an isolated event, it was true for most doctors attending to children in this ward, they spoke kindly and immediately built up a rapport with the kids.

During our son’s stay in Ward 1 at the LRH (perhaps the foremost ward in paediatrics in the country), we found not only the doctors but even the nurses to be ably attentive to the children’s needs.  Every child is constantly monitored; doctors check on the children at regular intervals.  If you are assertive enough to question, they care enough to explain. It was always obvious; the foremost concern was the child, his symptoms, his prognosis, his well-being.

The discipline maintained in the Ward in other aspects was also commendable.  Rules and regulations were adhered to in order to keep the place clean and free of food smells and litter.  The wards and even the toilets were constantly swept and mopped.  Toilet facilities though basic were clean and void of noxious smells putting to rest many an anxious hallucination of having to face the unthinkable after literally bottling up for as long as it was physically possible without exploding.  What a relief.  The entire ward was well organised even with the limited resources available.  It was heartening to note that people from all strata of society automatically adhered to what was expected of them.  

Our son’s platelet count gradually dropped.  However, it was comforting that the staff didn’t panic, nor did they take anything for granted.  As one of the Professor’s themselves said, “in 24 hours many things could happen with dengue”, so they simply took all precautions and strictly monitored the child. Our son was then transferred to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for even closer monitoring.  The HDU is on par with any ICU found in the best of the private hospitals, thanks to the philanthropy of Messer’s Arthur Senanayake and Hemaka Amarasuriya, who had it built and equipped in memory of the sons they lost to dengue.  Today so many children benefit from this generous donation underlined with love and concern for others.  Every hour our child was monitored by a doctor, from blood pressure to fever, with PCV counts taken every four hours, and platelet counts twice a day.

Whilst my son and I were at the HDU, a very sick boy was admitted late at night.  A nurse tried her level best to explain to a less literate mother the process of monitoring liquid intake and urine output, which appeared to be futile.  The nurse in exasperation finally volunteered to help out in the process. It was amazing to see the nurse willing to take on this added responsibility, on top of everything else that she had to do.  As if this wasn’t enough of a display of compassion, the nurse then went a step further to ask if the mother had had anything to eat that night and having found out that she hadn’t, went out of her way to find some food, despite it being way past hospital food distribution time.  I was both astounded and touched at not only this kind concern but wondering if I would ever witness such in a private hospital.

Seeing the many acts of care, concern and compassion in a state hospital was not only heart-warming, but also reassuring, that the state medical sector has so much to offer despite the political bungling of such services. One might argue that this was one ward, but the fact remains that if this one ward in one state hospital can serve people in this remarkable manner then why can’t all the others follow suit?  It is not impossible.  The example is already set.  The path is paved.

We also wish to encourage those who would not consider places such as LRH for their child’s well-being that this is perhaps the best place in the country to address your child’s needs (emphasis being the child), especially in the case of dengue.  Our heartfelt gratitude to all of you who work so hard with nothing more than a passion to serve the children in your care with no other expectation apart from experiencing the joy of seeing your patients healed and well.  Bravo and kudos to you!

Prasi Bandaranayake

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A glimpse of my schooldays

 By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

I wish to give the readers of this Blog a glimpse of my school life without making too much of a focus on the school itself as many of the readers were not from Wesley College. You may recognise the same emotions and the feelings of a certain time in our lives in a country that was at peace and we were smothered by the deep love and affection of our parents.

Well, doesn't time fly !!!! It was with a mixture of awe and pride that I passed through the gates of Wesley College for the first time in 1950. It seems like only yesterday that I was walking up the school driveway on that eventful first morning. The place was imposing to say the least. Those were glorious years I recall with pin sharp clarity. Now, here I am retired after an enormously satisfying 40 year career in Medicine. All those years have gone swiftly as the blink of an eye. There are a few advantages to getting old - still people tend to give you some respect. For us in the UK it is a free bus pass. The perks outnumber the downsides. But the main problem is that your body never allows you to forget the passage of years.

We had the iconic Welikada Prison just in front of our school. Built in 1841 in 98 acres it was a stark reminder of the big bad world outside. From the Biology corridor there was a lovely view of the front drive with a  steady stream of Morris Minor cabs, red Leyland buses and bullock carts. There was a rather lonely road just in front of the school gates leading away from Baseline road by the tall perimeter wall of the Prison. This went in the direction of Wanathamulla. Every morning the prisoners wearing white were taken along this narrow road by the Guards in Khaki shorts. Being so close to the prison for over a decade I had often let my mind wander about the life of those in jail. For many of us even now prison is almost an unknown place. Very few knew what happened behind the grim gates that swallowed the convicts. We imagined that its inhabitants were desperate people and dangerous criminals. In our minds the place was associated with isolation, humiliation and suffering which were all part of the punishment. Sometimes the sheer lack of privacy and at other times the loneliness of solitary confinement must be soul destroying. Time then is not a luxury but a burden to endure. A few had any contact with their families. I would hate to think of what food they received and the many who walked out how they faced the world again.

Much has changed in the world around us since those halcyon days. Good manners are on the decline. Many political leaders are cynical, careless and blinded to the realities of the outside world. To some there has been a moral decline. The digital revolution has taken over our lives.

When I was a kid, children had no rights at home and none at school. We were only to be seen and not heard. At Wesley, in my day, life was not a bed of roses. It was worst in the Primary school where there was an aura of fear that pervaded the classrooms and the corridors. Discipline was administered with an iron fist and the school rules were to be respected at all times and at any cost. This climate of fear eased as we moved into the middle school. In the sixth form we were treated as adults and given responsibilities as Prefects to uphold the rule of law and discipline. On looking back I cannot find fault with the manner in which discipline was administered and the school was run. Those who were in school with me have turned out to be useful and respected citizens of this world. The old boys form a cross section of society with its complement of saints, scholars and sinners. Whilst some became politicians, lawyers and doctors, a few may not have kept to the straight and narrow ending up in the iconic building in front.

I was at Wesley from 1950-62. They were very happy times indeed. Those who recognise me from the old days will note the changes due to the ravages of time. I owe so much to so many in the school, Students teachers and Principals. I have a myriad of memories of things that happened at school. They must have made a tremendous impression on my young mind. Some of these recollections are happy ones but a few are unpleasant, even painful. There were times I hated school. There was too much home work and too many rules and punishments. But somehow good times finally shone through.

It amazes me still how the school managed to balance the demands of high academic standards with the time demands of extra activities like sports, art, music and drama. We enjoyed much of it and for this we have to thank the skill of the teachers and the Principal.

We owe a great debt to our schoolmasters. One measure of a school is the way teachers and students interact. We remember with much gratitude the interest they took in our development and welfare. The teachers at school, what great characters some of them were! I hope they still are. My memory of them extend to their physical features, their anger, smile and even the smell. Some had tempers that would terrify even the boldest. What distinguished them all, large or small in stature was their apparent venerability. Even now after 60+ years it gives me a shock and a pang to read of the death of an old master. The teachers seem permanent and the majority stayed on until retirement. Although their salaries were probably just adequate, they had a loyalty to the school, and did not use a teaching post as an ambitious transient stepping stone to a bigger and a better paid teaching job elsewhere, as many young teachers do now. I often feel that many of our older teachers, some of them though eccentric, may turn in their graves at the disloyalty and opportunism of our modern teachers. For them, the joy of knowing of the success of their students was payment enough.

They were human. In one way or another difficult, egotistical, strong minded and demanding. They loved the school and their profession. They made good friends. I wouldn't want them as enemies. Having said this I have the greatest respect for many of them. I still feel guilty to this day for not going round the school from the primary school upwards to say goodbye to every teacher many of whom I never saw again.

The image I carry with me of the school is still the view of Wesley College I saw on my first day in January 1950. I was mesmerised by the elegant sweep of the majestic buildings. Now as I reflect it is impossible to forget its history and the sacrifice of those Methodist Missionaries who founded the school. The family of 1200 students and teachers have made me what I am today. Growing up in such surroundings was a privilege. What I learnt on and off the classrooms has helped me in my long and tortuous journey through life. Despite its ups and downs the school remains, at least in my thoughts, as one of the finest in the country.

In this fractured and troubled world, what we seek more than anything is a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are part of a community of like-minded souls. Despite this it is ironic how many of the rising generation of students after having received a fine education leave the school never to set foot on those hallowed grounds ever again. It amazes me that even those old boys who live in Sri Lanka and some of them living in Colombo have never been to the school premises as past students. In the endless whirr of 24/7 life of the 21st Century it is perhaps easy to forget our formative years. Some must have good reasons to do so. I am sure they can find in some corner of their hearts forgiveness and to realise no institution is perfect.

Meeting school friends brings great joy. When past students come together they move into recollection mode recalling those beautiful, quirky moments of their youth. There is never a dull moment. Voices will be imitated, mannerism mimicked, idiosyncrasies enhanced and long since dormant episodes of school life will suddenly spring to mind bringing hilarity, affection or even sadness. As the wine and conversation flows we get transported back many decades. There will be a glow and a shared warm feeling of times past. The last to leave often provide a lusty rendition of the old school song.

Saying goodbye to Wesley which was my home for over a decade was one of the hardest things I have had to do. I still think about it. Late at night and at quiet moments in the day, those memories make me proud of being part of that institution. Sometimes this deep sense of longing can be overwhelming. The friends I made have remained friends for life even though I never saw many of them again. We lived our lives in the Wesley Village in Karlsruhe Gardens. It is impossible to recreate that life again.

The bee-like buzzing of a thousand schoolboys that was ever present throughout my stay at school, went silent as I stepped on to Baseline Road for the last time in April 1962. And of course, I had left behind a part of myself at Wesley that was my home for so many years. Life was never the same ever again. As the sunset on my schooldays there was a new dawn of a career in medicine.

But I shall forever cherish my time at Wesley.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Creative Spot by Kumar Gunawardane

Kumar had written this three years ago while on a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand. It's about Lake Wakatipu.

I walk the winding rutted path,
By Lake Wakatipu,
The air is heavy scented with pine,
A gentle wind ruffles the emerald water,
Brooding woods hug the shore.
A clearing appears,
I sit on a wobbly rock,
Distant mountains loom,
Brushed with powdery snow,
Clustered tree tops speckled golden yellow,
Like streaks on a maiden's hair.
Time stands still,
I wish you were here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Medical Negligence

By Sanath Lamabadusuriya

Recently there had been articles in the "Sunday Island" and daily "Island" newspapers by Carlo Fonseka and Susirith Mendis regarding this topic. I wish to relate a personal experience.

In the late seventies when I was on sabbatical leave, I started a locum consultancy at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, Lincolnshire. On the very first night, as the hospital lay workers were on strike, no food was available in the hospital canteen. An SHO very kindly invited me to their place for dinner. While having dinner, the SHO's bleep went off and he went to see a patient. He returned about 30 minutes later and continued with his dinner. He did not tell me what the call was about. Later around midnight, I was woken up by the SHO who wanted me to see a patient in the ward. It was an infant aged about 6 months who was having continuous seizures. This was the patient he had seen while we were having dinner. He told me that as he suspected meningitis, he had performed a lumbar puncture and given intrathecal Penicillin. When I inquired about the dose, I was shocked to hear that he had given 80,000 units intrathecally!  Fortunately for him, he had not made an entry in the notes about the dose. I told him straight away that it was a neurotoxic dose and asked him not to divulge anything to anyone. The patient had continuous seizures and died in the early hours of the morning. The CSF report was normal. A pathological post mortem was performed by the hospital pathologist and the probable cause of death was given as viral meningitis/encephalitis (obviously he was not aware about the intrathecal penicillin). If I had reported the matter, there would have been an inquiry and probably the SHO would have been struck off the GMC register.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Creative Spot by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale

I celebrate life

Based on a poem by Magdalena Podobinska and played on Yamaha Tyros 5 by Mahendra. The music was composed by Mahendra and uses in-built facilities of the incomparable Tyros 5.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My life as a boarder at Wesley College

By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

In his epic “The Tale of two cities” Charles Dickens inadvertently summarised my life in the boarding in his own distinctive style.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way .....
Charles Dickens - 

Memories of school are ever present. Certainly, dwelling on happier former days is synonymous with getting older.

I joined the boarding in 1952. There was peace in our country although the dark storm clouds of discontent were gathering in the horizon. My father was in Government Service and had to move from town to town every 3 years, what was then euphemistically described as "transfers". In their wisdom my parents decided to send me to the hostel, at great cost to themselves. It was to give me a stable life and teach me the social skills and discipline. I achieved their goals only to lose them in the rough and tumble of University life. By the time I left, however, the famous Old Wesley College smoothness had rubbed off. My social skills blossomed to everyone’s surprise!!

We were lucky kids; we spent a happy childhood living in Karlshrue Gardens. It was long before the advent of political correctness and health and safety. Climbing trees and creeping fences became second nature to us. Memories of life in the boarding can fill a book. I will only select a few that stand out and I can recall with clarity. I was lucky to belong to a generation inspired contemporaneously by great teachers and principals. They gave us lofty ideas, great inspiration, self respect, firm discipline and anchorage. It was a sublime experience.

Overnight we had gone from the luxury of home life to almost total captivity. The first day at the boarding was full of tears specially when wishing the misty eyed parents good-bye. For many families, if childhood has a final moment, this is it. As the car doors close parents and children go their separate ways. Time passes swiftly.  We then emerge from school as adults.

I was ten years old. Nothing could have prepared me adequately for this trauma. It was the large frame of Mrs. Hindle, the Matron, who welcomed us. The first night is the stuff of myth. The early weeks were tricky. The loneliness and bewilderment was overpowering at times. There were times I wanted to run away to my aunt in Dematagoda. All our worldly possessions were crammed into a large metal trunk and the clothes had our name tags. In the first term they all called me "new boy", a strict reminder of the pecking order. In the beginning we all had to endure an arduous time. In such 'incarceration' some behaved well, others less so. We saw the best and worst of human nature. Humour was invaluable in the darker moments. As a group the boarders were self reliant, resourceful and developed amazing skills of leadership and survival.
The Matron was the Queen of the boarding. She was a fair skinned woman with a big bosom, called Mrs. Ruth Hindle. She lived in a room by the Junior Dorm with her son Waldo who was my age. Mrs. Hindle ruled supreme in the Junior section and occasionally would call out- WHO DID THIS? But She was a kindly lady and looked after us well.

There is no place like the boarding to get to know the fellow students. There are people you meet and then spend rest of the years avoiding them. There are others you meet on a corridor and then become friends for the rest of your life. The Saints, sinners and the scholars reveal themselves in the fullness of time. There is no better preparation for the life outside.

Our lives were controlled by the the large golden bell rung by "Tarzan" who certainly looked liked the real thing. In the boarding we were confined to the school boundary. Life began at 6am with the bell. Wash and ablutions were done in the communal bathrooms where Kolynos chlorophyll toothpaste and purple Lifebuoy soap comes to mind instantly. Chlorophyll was said to remove the odour from the mouth. Interestingly, some years late I recall seeing in the DR Lawrence Pharmacology:
The goat that stinks on yonder hill. Grazed all day on chlorophyll
There was a large concrete tub full of water where some brave lads had an early morning bath. We had PE at 5.45 am taken by a monitor (usually a masochist) for about 10 minutes. Study time called Prep started at 6.45 finishing at 7.35 when we all assembled in the dining room for breakfast. Bread jam and tea was served sometimes hoppers like flying saucers and string hoppers hard enough to kill a man. These were served with mouth watering seeni sambol packed with a stick of dynamite.

The school started at 8.15am. From 4 -6pm all boarders were expected to indulge in sports which most of us enjoyed. Study time called ‘Prep’ was done in 2 prep rooms on either side of the common room. We had our own desks securely padlocked. Many of those padlocks were called "Master" made in Milwaukee USA. The desks had broad sloping tops that opened. We kept our books pens and pencils in those and also a few of our priceless possessions.

There was a hostel master or a prefect on "guard" to make sure there was no chit chat during prep. It was a serious business and no nonsense was tolerated. After doing our homework we prepared for tests and examinations. Reading story books was strictly forbidden. I have received the regulation slap from teachers for breaking the rules at prep.
Dinner was served at 8pm and prep started again at 8.30 until 9.15. We retired to bed at 9.30pm when it was "lights out".

The barber came every Wednesday, being a half day. Cutting was done in the open air in front of the primary block. I often feared that flying crows will provide the Brylcreem. We wrote our names in the barber's book and that was the "batting order". We had to be motionless during the procedure to avoid the ears getting cut.

The clothes washing was done by a "dhoby" who visited the hostel once a fortnight in his bullock cart. He was called "mynah" as his long hair was knotted at the back. We had a "dhoby" book and this was filled in duplicate and a copy was placed in the bundle of dirty clothes.

Needless to say there was no television, no computers, and no mobile phones. We made our own entertainment and amused ourselves. Indoor games like carrom and table tennis were popular too. These were played in the Common Room which had a Rediffusion set to listen to BBC News, Elvis Presley or Bill Haley.

The soft ball cricket matches were keenly contested and took place in the "small park” which was a patch of gravel behind the school. It was a virtual dust bowl. Trips and falls resulted in numerous grazes and contusions. All these running repairs were done by Mrs. Hindle with iodine and spirits sending us skipping in pain. We wore tennis shoes for games. As we never bothered to keep our feet clean constant usage created "toe jam" (An offensive paste of dirt and sweat). We all had our heads full of lice or dandruff and faces full of pimples giving us a Dickensian look.

On Sundays there was no salvation for the Christians. The non-Christians had it easy. The rest had to walk to the Maradana Methodist church in the morning for Sunday school and in the evening for Evensong. It was a long trudge on narrow roads with trams, cyclists and motorists whizzing past our toes. Certainly the path to heaven wasn't easy! We all hated the journey and wished we were non-Christians.

It is perhaps this forced religion that made me drift away from Christianity. On the Sabbath Christians were not allowed to play any sports. We tried hard to reconcile the strictures of our faith with our youthful exuberance and love of cricket.The Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese and Burghers formed one large brotherhood which we carried to the wider world in later years. Most boarders had nicknames depending on their infirmities, habits and names. There were two blind students who were greatly liked by us all. One of them , Cornelius, was an excellent pianist and the other was William. I met William many years later when he was in charge of a School for the Blind in Seeduwa. He didn't recognise my voice but recalled my name and the connections instantly. He spoke most warmly of the good times.

It would be fair to say I enjoyed the mealtimes more than the meals. As I recall the hostel food was appalling and we were eternally hungry. The boarding added lifelong glamour to dhal, string hoppers and lunumiris. Wijemanne's Tuck shop was our only hope for sustenance and was the centre of our lives. Wijemanne in later years became the person in charge of the Medical College Canteen after “Uncle” left. Without the Tuck Shop there would have been little to live for. But it had a drawback - it cost money, something which we never had enough. Trips from folks at home brought food and extra cash but never enough. There were times when I was flat broke.

Friday was the day we got our pocket money. Often the rupee we got was used to pay our debts to Wijemanne, the achcharu ladies or the Toffee man. When the money ran out some ate bread with Marmite, Bovril or Horlicks. There were others who used their ingenuity to make "invisible" hooks to pluck papaws from the neighbours. The large Tamarind tree provided a sour mouthful when the hunger was dire.

The small park was surrounded by "andara" trees which had green pods with the seeds covered by some edible white stuff. We just ate that too. Being cheap, tasty and filling a "thosai feed" was the ultimate luxury we dreamed of. Raman the gardener brought the stuff from Purasanda Café next door. I vaguely recall the boarders going on strike because of the poor quality of food in the hostel.

I joined the boarding as a child and left as an adult. In that process I noticed my voice go husky and the hairs appearing in my body. The Mount Mary girls whom I have ignored for many years became attractive and even sensuous. I went to Church and Sunday school  to see the girls and speak to them. It was a phase that remained well into our teens and beyond.

End of term exams were a serious business and a many of us worked extra to get good grades. We helped each other to achieve our goals. On the last day of school the leavers said their goodbyes and those who had the courage made a short speech after dinner. Let the truth be told, life in the boarding was never a bed of roses. The years between the ages of 10 and 13 were the worst. As we became more senior life was tolerable. Often I felt the teachers could have been a bit more kind to the boys who were far from home and at the mercy of those in charge. In those days values were different and the belief was that the boys had to be toughened up in preparation for the rigors of life ahead. Perhaps there is some truth in that too.

I think we had a premonition of the mass dispersal that would take place as we finished schooling. Many of us maintained autograph books, little rectangular books of about a hundred pages where we got our close friends to write a short note. The contents varied from canny limericks to Shakespeare. At the end of our stay in the hostel it became a vast collection of memories which I guarded with my life only to be a casualty of time and lack of space in later years.

I was an only child and relished the “friends on tap” atmosphere at school. Despite the hustle and bustle of life and the regimentation we had time to put our arms round our pals and share in their joys and sorrows. We shared our secrets and exchanged stories about our parents, brothers and sisters. There was a certain closeness which was rarely seen in friendships later on in life. We talked about our dreams and aspirations for the future and assumed we will always be friends. It fills my heart with sadness to think many of us will never meet again. It is a horrible reminder of your own mortality when you read or hear of the death of boarders who played, laughed, sang and fought with us all those years ago. For me they will always remain fifteen, healthy and smiling. It is hard to believe they will not be playing those elegant cover drives ever again. Boarding school was a happy and rewarding environment.

In1958 my father moved to Colombo and it was time to leave the boarding. I left with mixed feelings. Sad to leave my friends with whom I shared six long years but glad to regain my independence and some good food of my own choice. I maintained strong links with the hostel and with my numerous friends in the boarding until I left school in 1962.

I often look back to the days in the boarding. The sands of time have moved on as I have progressed from youth to middle age and beyond. After many years, I visited the hostel in 1998 and walked the long corridors once again. The nostalgia was overwhelming but the magic of the place had gone without the friends who made it so special. Sixty plus years on Wesley continues to make immense contributions to education but the Boarding has been scaled down. A sign of the times.

I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed such an excellent education.

Ah ! those were the days. How time has flown.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What makes us really human?

Sent by Zita Perera Subasinghe

What makes us really human?

As the years pass by I have experienced a range of human emotions. Having shared them with family and friends, and with my patients and their families in my professional life as a doctor, it seems natural for me to reflect on the question I have posed above. I have also been influenced by World events in my life time which have moved me to tears of joy as well as tears of sorrow.  Acts of incredible human kindness against huge odds as well as acts of inhumanity beyond imagination have had a deep effect on me and the way I think.

I have asked a few of our batch mates and other friends their views on this subject.

Some made contributions, which I incorporated into the text. I hope we can have a good discussion on this.

     1.  Imagination: Man can perceive images and thoughts in his mind. Composing music, writing poetry, making a blank canvas come alive with portraits and landscapes are a great tribute to human imagination.
     2.Idealism: Man can attach himself to exalted ideas not necessarily of material value or personal gain. Sometimes these can be self-sacrificing ideas to help others less fortunate.  
     3.   Invention: This is man’s ability to create new items, stories out of basic ideas available or even not immediately so, in order that the resulting story or idea is new, interesting and useful to the rest of the world. Man seems to have a fundamental need for stories.
     4.   Forgiveness: When he is wronged against, man has the ability to make allowances, empathise and forgive the offender with no thought of material gain. This quality is not an inherent one of man but it may have more to do with religious teachings.
     5. Sacrifice: This is man’s ability to give up something, place or idea he values in order to profit another being, project or organisation. He does it in the interests of being resourceful. This is not often found in the animal kingdom. Human history is dotted with instances of human sacrifice e.g. the contribution of soldiers in wartime to protect us with no thought of personal loss.
     6.Weakness: Not all qualities of man are positive. He can be unable to achieve a goal through weakness and lack of strength of mind and body.
     7.Tendency to lean towards evil: Man may have full knowledge and awareness of the possible outcome but he may still lean towards what’s evil through attachment to pleasure. Man is taught in childhood to be just, thoughtful and truthful but he can have tendency to just disregard this.
     8.  Self-control: This is the ability to curb one’s desires even to give up what one likes in the interests of higher aspiration. This is an acquired trait as a result of parental upbringing, religious teaching, and man’s own experience that one must have boundaries.
     9.   Productivity and destructivity: It is clear from history that man has both these characteristics greatly developed. Think of Ancient Egypt and Rome and the development in India. In the same way, think of wars, wanton damage for no reason and man’s rebellion against himself for no rhyme or reason. Man has built the world and at the same time wants to destroy the planet. He wants to clear forests, pollute waterways and cause Global warming.
     10.Death is common to all living things and man has not been able to overcome the occurrence of the natural law with all his intelligence and cleverness. He still succumbs to the final demise. He has managed to prolong life to some extent but he has not succeeded in improving the quality of life especially to stop dementia, which makes the person not aware of even his existence. So man seems to be bound to obey the natural law.
Deaths of others in his family are stark reminders of man’s own mortality. Religions provide explanation in some ways, but no one has come back to tell man what is on the other side.
     11. Envy, Jealousy and Rivalry. Envy is definitely negative. Discontent about another’s good fortune can only be good if it spurs the person to do better. Jealousy of another is even a further degree of envy and is a negative emotion and can make the person do unfair things.Jealousy is ‘normal’ and ‘tolerable’ when say; one hears one’s neighbour won the lottery. But it should be momentary and not followed by any detrimental action. 
     12.  Rivalry: There is healthy rivalry in sport and games in general but it is negative if it is, trying to outdo others for the sake of getting the upper hand. Rivalry in sport is a healthy way of getting rid of human frustrations and channelling the boundless energy of young people into productive ways. If not for competitive sport there is likely to be more anger, fights and wars in the world. So bring on Cricket, bring on football, bring on Olympics! 
     13. Propensity to Gossip.This could be a negative way of describing a person. But it could be made positive by sharing what is good about the person. But one could say something negative if it is say, to warn the listener about the person. E.g. ‘Don’t tell her anything as she is likely to repeat it to others’. But we do find that talking about others is a pastime, which is neither good nor bad, but it’s what humans do when they get together socially.

Then there is the Big Question of “What is Consciousness?” This in itself is a huge topic of great interest to Philosophers, Neuroscientists, Religious Leaders and Great Thinkers such as one of the greatest scientists and thinkers who ever lived, Albert Einstein who said:

 “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” “The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”

Finally to be Human is to belong to the race of Homo sapiens which inhabited Planet Earth for possibly 200,000 years or more and who has a characteristic number of chromosome pairs, which determine his features. He is the resulting offspring of the union of a male and female gamete.

Is that all that we are?
Do tell us what you think!

This picture complements Einstein’s thoughts about our place in the Universe. It was taken by the Voyager Satellite and shows our beautiful Blue planet and the surface of the moon. The Earth itself is so tiny in this vast Cosmos and us?....

Finally, a thought about other “lesser” animals. Have they got a ‘consciousness’? Can they imagine? Do they have self-control? Are they capable of love? How is their social behaviour different to that of humans? What made Man alone evolve to be such a complex being compared to all other animals?

                              Who says animals have no feelings?

Do tell us what you think and let us have a lively discussion.

From: Zita with the help of Nihal (ND), Mahendra (Speedy) and a few others.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We have a Blog with a "New Look"

I am pleased to announce that we now have a Blog which has a "New Look". The new features enable visitors to navigate more easily by using the horizontal row of tabs at the top beginning with "Home" (click on this from anywhere to get back on the main  Home page) Next to the Home Page on the horizontal bar with the row of tabs is "Latest News" (click on this for latest news which will appear on another page, but you can always get back as the Home tab is still there). These two tabs are followed by "Important links" (this gives a series of websites and if you move your mouse pointer over it and left click, it will open a new page on your browser taking you to that website. Please note that our blog site remains open while you "play around". The new web appears on another page in your browser, irrespective of whether it is Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox or whatever you are using.

I wish to acknowledge here, the valuable advice and guidance given by Mahendra (Speedy) Gonsalkorale.
He has been and continues to be, a tower of strength to me in maintaining this blog.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

My Story Part 2 By Prof. Channa Ratnatunga

If you are experiencing these symptoms, check them out

In “My Story Part II” Prof. Channa Ratnatunga who recovered from a severe stroke writes about pre-stroke symptoms that he had experienced but ignored
View(s): 123

Following the unexpected good response both nationally and internationally to “My Story” ( Sunday Times Plus –January 3, 2016 ) I thought it would be a good opportunity to write about some features of my experience with pre-stroke symptoms which like any busy person I ignored with catastrophic consequences. They are often associated with a future stroke and need to be taken very seriously. Further it would hopefully keep the interest up regarding the need for public awareness about current advances in the treatment of strokes.
The brain is supplied blood and hence oxygen through four arteries: two of them in front and two behind. My stroke occurred by a block in the place where the two behind joined each other on the brain stem. It is the more uncommon of the two types of strokes. The more common of the strokes is found with a block in one of the two arteries in front.
For about a year before my stroke I found while reading, two images of the letters- especially in the night when I was tired after a hard day’s work. Eye surgeons found no defect in my eyes except the usual refractive errors that had been corrected by my spectacles. Since it did not impinge on my work I decided to ignore it thinking it was due to ocular myasthenia which my mother is supposed to have had in the last few years of her life. About two years previously, after delivering a lecture I got into my car and all of a sudden I had a sensation of myself and my car seeming to ‘float’. As it passed off within seconds I ignored the event. When it happened again, about a week before my stroke, while driving, I stopped the car and the sensation passed off in seconds. As it happened for the second time, I should have been more concerned, but attributed it to my anti- hypertensive medications, and thought they were over-acting.
Then, when my wife pointed out to me that she had noticed that I had a squint, which appeared and disappeared while at the dinner table, I refuted the fact because I had no gross double vision, nor had I been told of a squint by my friends or patients. These were all premonitory symptoms of the impending catastrophe and I am writing about it because others should be wary of such symptoms. Like most people, even I with a medical background felt that such things won’t happen to me, but it did! Such premonitory symptoms are called TIA’s (Transient Ischaemic Attacks) and are very common with impending strokes.
When the front two arteries to the brain are the source, the more common kind- such TIA’s have a different set of features. They are more recognizable in that they may present as a transient weakness in the use of the upper limb, lower limb, side of the face or a transient difficulty with speech. You must be seen by a neurologist, and that too pronto! They will check your heart by an echo cardiogram for pieces of clot that could be shot off with its contraction, scan the arteries going to your brain or some may so desire even to do a CT scan of your brain. That you can prevent a stroke is now technically well within the scope of modern medicine.
In more so-called advanced countries, media coverage, both electronic and print, is good on such matters. The electronic media coverage will customarily use prime time slots , as this message to the public is so vital. For it is a warning of a very preventable illness. It would help people to go to the correct place. Strokes can be prevented if a person’s TIA’s are diagnosed for what they are. There is time, in a sense, brief though it may be. It is possible to stop or reverse the progression, if such warnings are heeded. Please go to a neurologist if you have some unusual symptoms like what I have described.
Up until recently much of what was done for strokes caused by an arterial block was by and large, rehabilitation. No wonder it went over to the management of Ayurvedic Physcians. I noticed that only a very few stroke patients attended the gym that I attend. They had gone on to the traditional medical care, who use innovative techniques, oils of assorted varieties with massage and are effective to some extent.
My message to the public, I can’t emphasize enough, is that it is important to realize that the western world has now made the “ quantum jump “ in the care of acute strokes. That they have successfully treated acute strokes by using medication to dissolve the block, failing which, they take the block out by a special catheter passed up from the upper thigh, which is guided deftly to the brain by the  Interventional Radiologist, and the block is extracted. It is a commonplace procedure now in the technologically advanced countries, yielding dramatic results. If the patient goes within four to six hours, he or she may even literally walk out of the hospital the next day!
In my case there was a delay of more than 24 hours because we did not know of the facility and also due to various other medical and logistic issues. I am writing this article so that people will know what to do. Luckily even though it was late in my case, the result of the procedure were good. I am quite independent now and able to write about it to you. I have taken it upon myself, sort of morally obliged to inform the public of this great advance in care. To reiterate- go as soon as you can. It is definitely available at the Central Hospital Colombo, where mine was done. Go as quickly as you can as it will save some brain cells and the patient will get a better result.
I know it will take time for people to abandon the traditional ideas of “ hopelessness and inevitability” but I hope that if I, like Al Gore on climate change , write and talk about it often enough, it will enter the “ psyche”  of my fellow citizens.
The catheters that are used to take the clot out are expensive. The imaging equipment I gather too is very expensive. How can we initiate a programme like this for all those who get strokes? A main hospital with the facilities can have feeder hospitals where a 24/7 service will triage all those who come as “strokes”. As strokes, can also be, though less commonly, due to bleeding into the brain, or very rarely be due to a brain tumour, it should be quickly assessed by a competent doctor, who can decide to transfer from the feeder hospital to the main hospital where it can be attended to can then attend to it.Stroke care needs acute intervention. There would be a need for cath labs (like what is used in cardiology ) but they should be dedicated for strokes, manned by Interventional Radiologists, 24/7. Sounds a tall order as far as commitment of the Radiologists is concerned, unless we train a number of them. This will allow us to mount the service in a limited fashion at first, in a big city or two at least. That we must offer this service, eventually to all those affected by a stroke is a must. In my book it is inevitable, now that it has been shown to be a very effective mode of care. How we can offer it to all who need it, whether they are able to afford it or not is the challenge.
I gather the intervention can be done if the medication induced clot dissolution fails. So advanced are the facilities in developed countries that after delivery of the clot dissolution medication directly to the site through the catheter passed up to it, imaging shows immediately whether dissolution is successful or not. Because time is of the essence, if the clot does not dissolve, they go ahead with the retrieval procedure using the same catheter. I am writing about what cutting edge facilities are available abroad, just so that you realize that they believe it is cost effective to do so. A Neurologist in Australia informs me that they are planning to mount a service, next year to provide an ambulance with CT scan facilities and trained staff to reach the patient, so that time which is so valuable on these occasions is not lost .
We in Sri Lanka must mount such a service, no doubt at a lower key at present. If there is a good ambulance service, an adequate and committed critical mass of interventional Radiologists, and an organisation to provide the catheters to those who really can’t afford it, we are on the correct track. The organisation like the ‘Heart to Heart Foundation’ which provides catheters and coronary stents, for needy heart patients funded by philanthrophic businessmen and other donors like banks, in Sri Lanka, can be a blueprint for a similar organisation to fund retriever catheters for stroke intervention. Some Neurologists should play a proactive leadership role. I am sure there will be many, like yours truly willing to help.