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Monday, November 13, 2017

The Speedy Virtual Interview Series - Episode 4

Dr Suriyakanthie Amarasekera
Consultant Anaesthesiologist. Colombo, Sri Lanka

It gives me great pleasure to do the fourth Speedy interview. The last three interviews in order were Cyril Ernest, Zita Subasinghe Perera and Lucky Abeyagunawardena, all of whom have distinguished themselves in their chosen careers. My fourth subject is the charming and accomplished Suriyakanthie Amarasekera.

Speedy: Good morning Suri. Is it alright to call you Suri rather than Suriyakanthie?

Suri: Good morning Speedy.Of course it is fine to be addressed as Suri. In fact that is what I prefer to be called. “Suriyakanthie” is rather a mouthful!

Speedy: Well, that’s a good start! Suri let me commence by asking you to say a few words about you parents and family.

Suri:My parents were both teachers.In fact those of you who are Thomians probably would have been taught by my mother as she was on the tutorial staff at STC Mt Lavinia for over 20years. I am the 3rd in a family of 5 having an aiya,akka, malli, and nangi.

Speedy: It is quite clear that you grew up in a very supportive family environment. Could I ask you whether your choice to pursue a career in Medicine was influenced by them?

Suri:No not at all. In fact I wanted to be a teacher like my parents. When I was told that I had been selected to the science stream I was upset and I asked my Grade 8 Class Teacher Ms WimalaJayasekera whether I couldn’t continue to be in the Arts stream. She was very surprised and asked me why I didn’t want to do science as I was good in the subject. When I replied that I want to be a teacher like my parents, she said “so you can be a science teacher” The rest just followed.

Speedy: I am sure Readers would like to know something about your school days. I know that you are an Old girl of Methodist College. May be you have a few amusing anecdotes which you can share with us.

Suri:  Can you remember how we used to carry our school books in rectangular suit cases in those days? One day some of my friends got the bright idea of stacking them one on top of the other as high as we could reach and then pull out the bottom one! Everything tumbled down with a resounding crash while we screamed with laughter! After a repeating this a couple of times we got another crazy idea of pushing hard on the desks in the back row ( the hall had been arranged with desks and chairs in rows for the end of term test ) so that it hits the desk and chair in front and knocks it down causing a domino effect. We were making a big din and laughing when we suddenly spotted the tall figure of our very strict English Principal Miss Grace Robbins watching us from the doorway with stern disapproval, shocked at our unlady like behaviour. Not only were we punished being given detention and “Lines” we were told that we were not eligible to be considered for the coveted Gladys Loos Prize for Good Conduct!   

Suri: There is another memory I like to talk about, if I may.

Speedy: Of course Suri. Please go ahead.

Suri: Thanks Speedy. Our School had bi-annual fund raising Fairs. There were two during my time .They were called One Thousand and One Nights, and Thousand and Two Delights. I remember that our class was in charge of the Pet Stall one year. We were at a loss to find a name for our stall. Carol Aloysius (who is now a well-known Journalist) who was a class matecame up with the suggestion “Shoori’s Pet Stallmaking my name sound Arabian! Unfortunately after one day our teacher in charge thought “ Pashas’s Pet Stall” was more appropriate.

Speedy:OK Pasha! You did extremely well in Your A levels and was selected for Medicine at your first attempt and entered the Colombo Medical Faculty before your 18th birthday. In fact, you were the youngest in our Batch and it so happens by a curious coincidence that the person doing your interview was the second youngest and the youngest among boys!

Suri:  Actually Speedy I had got through my O levels in 1958 at the age of 14, and I was in the A Level 2nd Year Class in 1960. My application to sit for the A Level Exam in December 1960 was rejected by the University as the University regulations stipulated that you have to be 17 by the 1st of June the following year. (My birthday is on the 4th of July and I would have been only 16 years and 11 months on the 1st of June 1961) So I had to mark time for one year and sit for the exam in December1961. Believe me I was very upset.

Speedy: That is remarkable! Then what happened?

Suri: Well, my father knew Prof Hoover (remember him, our Biochemistry Prof?) and asked him if any concession could be made and could I be given permission to sit for the A Levels in December 1960? I still have the letter he wrote saying it cannot be allowed and that I am far too immature to face the stresses of University life! I fail to understand how he could come to that conclusion never having met me! Thank God I secured a direct entry to Medical School in the 1961 December Exam.

Speedy: OK you entered a bit later than you would have liked but you were still very young when you entered the Medical Faculty. Can you recall your emotions at the time? Were you anxious or scared in any way?

Suri:No not at all,I thought it very exciting. I found the subjects, particularly physiology, fascinating. Having boys as fellow students was ofcourse a new experience. Remember I entered from Methodist College (nick named Methodist Convent) and we were described as being like “Perera and Son’s”bread,untouched by human hands!

Speedy: Ha! Ha! I haven’t heard that before.

Suri: What? You must have Speedy!
Speedy:No, that is the truth, never heard that before! Fascinating!Let’s us now hear about your experience in the Faculty years, may be something about your Teachers, your colleagues. I am sure that would interest our Readers.

Suri: The most traumatic experience was of course the cadaver dissections. I remember sitting and staring at the cadaver with my body partner Zita reluctant to touch it till an anatomy demonstrator, I think it wasDr L A G Jayasekera, screamed at us to get started.I also rememberquite vividly the 3rd Abdo Signature by Prof S SPanditharatne that went on and on with seniors crowding around us making us even more jittery, and Dr Panditharatne taking a break to have a smoke while we waited nervously.
Physiology was fascinating though some of Prof Koch’s lectures went way above our heads. I clearly remember how Prof Carlo Fonseka began his lecture on Gastroenterology with a poem
“You can do without Sleep what is sleep but reclining,
You can do without Books what are books for but learning,
You can do without Love for what is love but pining,
But show me a man who can do without Dining!”
Then there was the unforgettable “Path Cooray” who made us sit according to the merit list at the 2nd MBBS (and not alphabetical order). He had this daunting habit of pointing to you during lectures and asking questions. I got quite fed up sitting under his nose as Number4 and was often pulled up for chatting to number 3, Swyrie. Then in contrast there was Prof H V J Fernando our Forensic Prof who segregated the sexes during lectures for some reason best known to him.

Speedy: What about Clinical teachers?

Suri: As you well know Speedy, we had some amazing clinical teachers.  I rememberDr Oliver R Medonzawho would imitate sounds of Heart murmurs in a way you never forget LubTushh…LubTushh  (Aortic Incompetence) rrrph dub…..rrrph dub ( Mitral Stenosis). 
We were lucky to have teachers like Dr George Ratnavale. I remember how he made Kunasingham walk with a stiff knee and then ask him to walk with a stiff knee and anda foot drop … demonstrating the circumduction of a hemiplegic walk.
Oh! And how can we forget our beloved Dean “Patchaya”, and his unique lectures “Takarang roofsare hot in sunny weather, noisy in rainy weather”,“scoring a bull’s eye while using a squatting plate!”
We had Surgeons who were legendary. Charming Dr P R Anthonis with his “I shay mish……..”. I had the privilege of anaesthetising for his operation lists while being a junior anaesthetist. He was unfailingly courteous always letting you know when he had to deviate from the planned procedure and actually asking if it’s OK to take longer!Dr Noel Bartholomeusz,a striking figure with a fresh orchid in his button hole every day. I remember taking up a dare to ask him the name of the Orchid one day. After an initial glare at me for being so cheeky, he realised it was a dare and was amused. Dr Clifford Misso with whom we did our first surgical appointment was so kind and had a good sense of humour. I remember when I scrubbed for him for the first time in Operating Theatre D, I was so shy that I stood as far away from him as I possibly could. He started whistling a tune. When I did not react he asked “do you recognize the tune?” When I said “Yes Sir,it’s come closer to me”. So why don’t you do it, he quipped!

Speedy: That was most interesting and entertaining. What about your Batch mates?

Suri:Talking of batch mates, our one and only Patas had one goal …. To get all the shy girls to dance! I remember him steering me across the dance floor in King George’s Hallmuttering “back side together side, forward side together side!” under his breath. J C was the one who taught us the Cha Cha, and Lareef hisown variation, the “Off Beat Cha Cha”. I could go on!

Speedy: Anything else we need to talk about as part of your student experience?

Suri: Thanks for giving me this opportunity Speedy. My experiences as a medical student would not be complete without some mention 0f the Student’s Christian Movement. We had a lot of fun - SCM Picnics, Fund Raiser Concerts, going carolling, parties, and Carol Services at Christmas. Patrick Fernando, who was in our senior batch and sadly no more, would play “Christians awake salute the happy morn” on his trumpet to wake up the people we used to visit in the early hours of the morning. We were treated very well by all, particularly some of our teachers who would offer “spiritual” refreshment to the boys.

Speedy: I can just visualise the happy faces, in high spirits!

Suri: You got it! The SCM gave me my first experience in engaging in Social Work. We used to visit the Wanathamulla slums every fortnight, distributing dry rations provided by the CNAPT.Though we were supposed to go in pairs I often found that I had to go alone, but I wasn’t scared because the slum dwellers treated us with respect. It was indeed a novel experience and we were expected to give advice and help to solve marital problems, child guidance, housing problems, livelihood support etc. The end of the year Picnic we organised for the children from the homes we visited was so enjoyable. I remember we took them to the Dehiwala Zoo one year and while watching the Elephant Dance one little girl crept on to my lap, hugged me and said “I wish you were my mother!” I will never forget how moved I was by her spontaneous love.  

Speedy: How wonderful and touching!

Suri:Yes it certainly was. Visiting a Home for the Aged run by the government in Borella was also another activity I engaged in. It was a rewarding experience to interact with these dear old people who had been virtually abandoned by their families.They looked forward to our visits and loved to sing and have a chat.

Speedy: Let us pick up the story from there. Where did you do your internship?

Suri:  My first 6 months was at DMH with Dr A M Mendis and then 6 months Medicine with Dr E V Pieris at GH Colombo. I decided to specialise inAnaesthesia because I found the total commitment to a patient needed in the Operating Theatre very satisfying and the quick responses that are needed very challenging.

Speedy: And then you went to the UK?

Suri: Yes, I resigned from Government Service and went to UK for Post Graduate studies in Anaesthesia in 1975. I got through my Part 1 in 1976 and the Final Fellowship in 1977. I was very fortunate to secure a Senior Registrar Post in Anaesthesia at Kings College Hospital London and was able to obtain my Certificate of Higher Professional Training by 1981.

Speedy: And then you returned to Sri Lanka?

Suri: Yes, and on my return to Sri Lanka in 1981 I re-joined Government Service and my first appointment was as Supernumerary Consultant Anaesthetist in the Colombo Group of Hospitals for 2 years and then 1 year as Consultant Anaesthetist at Base Hospital Panadura
I was selected as a Consultant Anaesthetist to Sri Jayawardanepura General HospitalKotte at its very inception in 1985, which post I held till my retirement in 2009.

Speedy: It is great to hear how well you served your Country as a Consultant Anaesthetist.

Suri: Thank you Speedy. I enjoyed my work and found it very satisfying.

Speedy: Could I ask you to comment on our Blog and how useful it has been? At the same time, could you say something about the Batch Reunions?

Suri: I must confess that I do not visit our Blog too often. Lucky keeps us updated on news so that I feel I am not missing much. However I feel that after this interview I will try to be a more regular visitor.

Speedy: I sincerely hope so Suri. The Blog which was created by our own Lucky and so lovingly managed by him couldn’t survive without our participation and I know that you have a lot to offer. Yes, please do visit it regularly. Now, let us move on to batch reunions.

Suri:The first ever batch reunion in Sri Lanka was organised by just a few of us, J C, Sura, Lucky and myself. We had to work hard to find contact details of those living in Sri Lanka and we were able to muster only about 18 batch mates. The reunion was held at the Holiday Inn Colombo in 1988.  Since then our reunions have grown and the success of these have been largely due to Swyrie’s efficiency and commitment ably supported by husband Bala. Getting the participation of our batch mates domiciled abroad took a lot of effort and planning but it has been well worth it. All the reunions have been enjoyable and it has been so heart-warming to catch upwith batch mates, some who we have not met in half a century.

Speedy: Now, I am aware that you got married to Mahendra Amarasekera in 1972. We would love to know how you met him. Was it love at first sight!


Suri: To be very honest we had each gone through a bad experience and were both rather disenchanted with romance. Our meeting was not at all romantic. We were formally introduced by one of Mahendra’s adopted uncles (who was a good friend of my father). The strange thing is that we found we had so much in common.  We love to sing, dance, we both had a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at ourselves, we love the theatre and we are both devout Christians. Would you believe it we found out that we were both ardent Pat Boone Fans too! The only thing we did not share was my love of reading. Mahendra only reads the Newspaper! So we “clicked” from the very start and I can truly say Mahendra is my Best Friend as well as my Husband.

Speedy:Aah! How lovely! You should write a book about couples “made for each other”! You have now been happily married for 45 years. Congratulations! You have not just your kids Manique and Sean, but grandchildren too.

Suri: Yes we are so blessed. Our daughter Maniquewho obtained an Honours Degree in IT from Manchester Metropolitan University and a MBA from University of Sri Jayawardanepura, has a 10 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. She has inherited Mahendra’s musical talent. She conducts the Old Girls’ Choir “MethoCantanti“ and writes music for them.
Most of you have met Sean. Rememberhow he entertained us at the 40th Anniversary Reunion at Kandalama? Though a doctor by profession, acting and singing remains his first love. He played the title role of Phantom of the Opera last year which ran to full houses at the Lionel Wendt.

Speedy: What a talented pair! Runs in the genes obviously.I know you too have musical talent and was a member of the Moratuwa Choral Society for over 18 years. Tell us something about it.

Suri.Yes, I shall tell you how that happened. When we returned to Sri Lanka in 1981 we were invited to join the Moratuwa Choral Society that had just been formed and was trained by Kala Suri LylieGodridge. We had practices every Sunday and we used to pick up Lylie who lived just shouting distance away from my home in Dehiwala and drive down to Moratuwa. We sang Spiritual Songs, Easter and Christmas Carols in Churches. We had several Secular Concerts at the Lionel Wendt, and performed on Sawa Sangeetha on TV, had several Radio Broadcasts.We have also performedin other venues in Colombo as well as Kandy, Negombo, andKurunegala. Our repertoire included music from Mozart, Handel and Bach to Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens, from Negro spirituals to old English favourites.We also sang perennial favouritesinhala folk songs likeTkiriTikiriTikiriliya, Suwanda Rosa Mal Nela, OluPipeela, DhannoBudunge set to exquisite 4 part harmony by Maestro Lylie. We even sang the National anthem with the chorus set to 4 part harmony which sounded great giving you goose bumps!

Speedy: Sorry to interrupt but I must say I really love songs sung in 4-part harmony. They sound so much deeper and resonant.

Suri: I agree. Our most enjoyable production was the “South Town Minstrels” when we sang and danced to Negro Spirituals and Plantation Songs, interspersed with jokes by the “Corner Man” Mahendra. We had our faces painted black; the girls wore colourful skirts and the boys in black and white striped jackets with colourful cumber bands, and straw boaters and canes. We had over 25 shows in and outside Colombo. Our Concerts were held to aid fund raising efforts for worthy causes I remember His Excellency President J R Jayawardena, (who normally has a dead pan face),being the Chief Guest at one show throw his head back and laugh out loud at Mahendra’s jokes. I remember Hon, LalithAthulathmudaliwas the Chief Guest at our fund raising effort for the Jaipoor Foot Fund . We also recorded a Cassette “A Decade of Singing” with Spiritual and Secular songs in 1991.

Speedy: I want to now devote some time to your many Professional accomplishments. The list is long and we are truly proud of you. President of the College of Anaesthesiiologists of Sri Lanka in 1996 ,1997, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) in 2006, Member of the Editorial Council of the Indian Journal of Anaesthesiology and many more. You have a host of Publications in Medical Journals and delivered many keynote lectures.
What was your driving force and how difficult was it for you to combine your career with being a mother and wife? What are your views on how women can be encouraged to contribute to the Community as Professionals on equal terms with men?

Suri: My driving force in my career has been my love for my career as an anaesthetist.  I truly enjoy my work. The privilege I have to care and comfort my patients who are either undergoing surgery or battling life threatening illnesses in the Intensive Care Unit has been truly rewarding. Of course there have been instances of sadness and helplessness when all my best efforts seem to make no difference to the outcome, but I have learned to accept the bad with the good and not feel frustrated.
Combining a full time career with that of a mother was certainly challenging. But I believe that it is the quality of time you spend with your children that is important. I always tried to get involved and supported whole heartedly all the activities of my children, whether it was helping my daughter to obtain her “Wings” as a Brownie Guide, or helping her to get the House corner decorated for the Sports Meet when she was a House Captain, or running around getting stage props for Drama productions for my son and helping with costumes, or training him for Oratory Competitions.
May I take this chance to state that I truly felt very humbled when they elected me to the position of the President SLMA in 2006 only the 6th woman to hold this high office and the 2nd Anaesthetist in 119 years.
What I consider to be my greatest achievement is to be able to raise funds to set up a Scholarship for Children who lost one or both parents in the Tsunami Disaster of Dec 2004. US $ 50,000 was received from the Confederation of Medical Associations of Asia and Oceana(CMAAO) and a joint scholarship was set up. This is an ongoing project. Of the original 24 children several have completed their educational and vocational training activities and are gainfully employed in various fields, e.g., 3 D Graphic Design engineers, Diploma holding Beauticians, Motor Mechanics, Back loader operators etc. There in one in the Kelaniya University following a Degree course in Management & IT, and another following accountancy Diploma run by the institute of Accountants Sri Lanka. The rest are still in school.

Speedy:These are significant achievements and you should be justifiably proud of them. Is there anything innovative you did in your own specialist field?

Suri: I can mention two things that I am proud of. The first is what I did jointly with the late Prof RandunneCorea (who was in the first Peradeniya batch). We launched the Programme for Corrective Surgery for Scoliosis. Up to that time no corrective surgery was done in Sri Lanka. Patients were treated by putting them in plaster jackets in the hope of halting the progress of the deformity.
The first corrective Scoliosis Surgery in Sri Lanka was performed in 1990 at the Sri Jayewardanepura General Hospital.
I remember the patient very well, a pretty 15 year old girl from Wellawatta who had this disfiguring Thoraco-Lumbar curvature. The Surgery required Induced Hypotension  with blood pressures maintained around 70 mm Hg This makes it mandatory that the Blood Pressure is monitored directly with an arterial line and a Direct Arterial Monitor. Unfortunately we did not have these and I had to improvise using a 3 way tap connected to a radial arterial line, a pressurised Heparin Saline and the 3rd limb connected to an Aneroid Gauge (You know the circular gauge you get in some BP apparatus). It worked very well with the needle of the gauge flickering at the mean arterial pressure which is what we are interested in.

I presented a paper on 20 patients at the College of Surgeons Annual Sessions in 1992, and to my surprise and delight was awarded the S E Seneviratne Award for the best Free Paper, much to the consternation of the Surgeons who took a decision that no paper can be presented by a non-member of the College of Surgeons!
As Prof.Randunna was practising in Saudi Arabia we could only do the procedures only when he was home on vacation. It took a long time to add up the numbers, but up to 1997 we did over 100 patients. We were able to get the necessary monitors as the years went by and my job became much less stressful. This was also presented at the SACA congress in Pakistan in 1997.

Speedy: And the second thing Suri? 

Suri: I had the privilege of training and setting up the first ever Cardiac Arrest Team in S L in 1985 perhaps the only one of its kind even today. I can also mention a second innovation. I had the privilege of introducing Caudal Epidurals to the practice of Paediatric Anaesthesia in 1987. I remember presenting a series of 100 patients at the centenary SLMA sessions. I was bombarded with questions. Is it safe? Is it cost effective? Is it practical in terms of time taken considering how heavy our op lists were? Dr GaminiKarunaratne who was my Paediatric Surgeon and the President of SLMA at the time who was chairing the Sessions Interrupted and said "I can only say that since Dr Amarasekera started doing these blocks she has created a problem in my ward!" I thought Ettu Brute! Then much to my relief, he went on to say “my post op patients used to be heavily sedated those days but now they are all running around the ward and demanding food!” That was the end of the arguments I got a spontaneous round of applause, and Paediatric Caudal Blocks have come to stay.

Speedy: I love happy endings! I can well understand your satisfaction in setting up such ground-breaking services in Sri Lanka.

Speedy: Apart from your work as a Doctor, you have been a regular contributor to the local Newspapers and your articles are known for the excellent style in which they are written. How did you develop this talent? Did you ever contribute as an Editor at school?

Suri : I think what little skill I have in creative writing has been due to my Mother’s influence. She would often delight us with personalised verses to mark our Birthdays and Wedding Anniversaries. I remember how she wrote a song and made our kids practice in secret and give us a wonderful surprise at our 13th Wedding Anniversary (CopperWedding) Party.

Speedy: Finally Suri, I know that you are devout Christian and you have always gained strength from your religious beliefs. How big a part did your Faith play in your life?

Suri: I can honestly say that I am what I am today because of the Guidance, Strength and Inspiration I get from my Lord and Saviour Jesus who loves me unconditionally.
I have claimed the promise in the Holy Bible Isaiah Chapter 40vs 31- Many of you may be familiar with it because it was quoted in the film “Chariots of Fire”
“They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint“. I had the privilege of stating this on my induction as President SLMA in 2006.

Speedy: And finally Suri, how would you like to describe yourself as a woman, a doctor, a wife and a mother? Can you quote something inspirational for us to conclude this interview?

Suri:  I think that I can describe myself as a woman, a doctor and a mother who is content and has a deep inner Peace and Joy not because I have had a trouble free life, as I have had my share of disappointments and heartbreak, challenges and life threatening illnesses, but through it all I have had the presence of my Friend and Saviour Jesus who is my never failing source of strength and inspiration.
You ask me for a Quote and I can do no better than quote Mother Theresa’s words which have helped me throughout my life.

The Final Analysis
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred - Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people accuse you of having selfish ulterior motives – Be kind anyway
If you are successful you will win some false friends and true enemies –Succeed anyway                      
If you are honest and frank people may cheat you – be Honest and Frank anyway
What you spend years in building someone could destroy overnight – Build anyway
If you find serenity and happiness they may be jealous – be Happy anyway
The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow – do Good anyway
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough – Give the world the best you have anyway
You see in the Final Analysis it is between you and God it was never between you and them anyway”                       

Speedy: Suri, it has been an immense pleasure to journey through your life and I wish to thank you for agreeing to feature in the Speedy Interview.

Suri: Thank You. It has been a pleasure and privilege.


  1. Speedy & Suri this is a very interesting and entertaining
    interview . I do not remember that Prof. Cooray made us sit according to merit from the 2nd MB.
    Suri , you did very well & rightfully be very proud of what you have achieved. It is not easy being a physician, a mother and be involved in other activities too.


    1. Dear Indra I an surprised that you cannot remember being pushed back from the front row from your 2nd MB days for Path lectures . If I remember right Russel was No1 Wickramasekeran No 2 Swyrie No 3 and myself No 4 . Believe me I would have much rather sat some where in the middle. Thank you for your Kind commemts. Sorry my response is so terribly late My computer had problems and I was unable to respond using my phone. Suri

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed producing this interview and I do hope that readers will be fascinated by her story. Just a reminder that by mouse clicking on each photo, you can see a larger and clearer image. Clicking on the x symbol top Right will get you back to the narrative.

  3. I must confess that I read through the long interview only after I had posted it. I only glanced through the draft not to make any changes, but to make sure that the formatting was okay with the photographs in place. Such is the confidence I have in Speedy who has been my right hand man right from the very inception of this blog.

    I had the feeling that the Interviewer had enjoyed the long virtual interview as much as the Interviewee. I am not implying that Speedy had not enjoyed interviewing Suri's three predecessors. But this is just a thought.

    When we first started doing dissections in the Anatomy Block, Suri and I worked on the same cadaver during the first term.
    But quite frankly, I got to know a lot about Suri only after reading this. As Indra says, it is a tremendous achievement in doing what she has done as a busy physician, mother and all her sundry activities. I personally know of her involvements in church activities and the SLMA.

    As a friend, I shall never forget what she did and how supportive she was when my wife Mangala had to go through major surgery at Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital in the nineties. Although she was not on duty that day, she was in the operating theatre, calling me regularly to keep me informed of the progress made by the surgeon Dr. Yoheswaran. I was too nervous to be in the theatre myself and was biding my time in the Hospital Director's room.

    Long before I got to know Suri in Medical School, I had known her brother JED Karunaratne who was a colleague of mine working at the same table, when we both worked as Casual Clerks in the EPF Dept. of the Central Bank. JED himself was an undergraduate from the Peradeniya University and I had just completed my 6 months course at the Science Faculty. I think JED later joined the permanent staff of the Central Bank after graduation.

    There is one more anecdote from Med School that I wish to relate here. When we had our 2nd MB trip to the Gampaha Botanical Gardens in 1962, I had my first drink of arrack for the first time in my life. Suri must have noticed my strange behaviour thereafter. At the inevitable "post mortem" on the trip the following Monday, Suri was to remark "I never expected Lucky to behave like that"! I wonder whether she remembers that.

    As mentioned in the interview, Suri and I were associated in organising our first ever Batch Reunion at the Holiday Inn. Then when we were organising our 50th Anniversary Reunion at Jetwing Blue in Negombo, Suri who was a member of the organising committee, was of immense help to me. Even at the last minute, she spoke to a few reluctant colleagues on the phone personally and persuaded them to join. This boosted the number of attendees to a round 50, an apt figure for our 50th anniversary celebrations.

    1. Thanks Lucky for your kind words. I do not remember remarking on you behavior at the batch picnic. But I accept it if you say so. I had heard about you from my Brother J E D Karunaratne even before I entered Medical College I remember him tellimg me that you are a decent chap ! Aiya got injured in the Central Bank Bomb blast in 1996 but thank God not critically though he had a narrow escape . Glass shrapnel had been driven into his axilla virtually sitting on his brachial artery a few mm deeper and he would habe bled to death. It took us 3 hours to stitch his face and axillary wounds , but thank God they all healed with no complications and minimal scarring
      I was very glad to be in a position to help regarding Mangala's Thyroidectomy. Actually she was on my list with Yoga. that day. Yoga was very reluctant to do it and was considering postponing the surgery as he was concerned about the retrosternal extension. I told him that Panna Gunaratne the Cardiothoracic Surgeon is actually in the Theater and can be called if any assistance was required. Fortunately I managed to make Yoga change his mind and the surgery was done as scheduled sparing you both of the mental stress of having to wait for another day . I was so glad tht every thing went well.
      Thanks Lucky for the great job you are doing keeping us updated . The Blog is your creation and it is a great way of keeping in touch.

  4. Thanks Lucky for those kind words and interesting memories concerning Suri. The news of your induction to the World of alcohol is new to me! As you know, I was not a committed member of the Alcohol club but was aware that others were aware of this fact at the Final Year trip. I witnessed poor VPH being given a choice of either swallowing the stuff or dying of aspiration pneumonia as he was pinned against a wall with his nostrils closed and a bottle of arrack held to his mouth on his upturned head, and quite sensiby, he decided it was far too early to die and swallowed the stuff with the now well known result of the colony count from a nearby ant hill about 30 mins later! I was playing the piano accordion to accompany the high spirited (in every way) dancers and when they came to me with the bottle, I grabbed it willingly, said cheers and pretended to drink it, but I didn't! They lost interest in me after that. I remember Suri of course as one of several "good looking girls" as we used to call them! I only got to know of her musical and other talents after doing this interview. Being somewhat Agnostic, the confidence and courage she derived from her Faith, made deep impression on me. It was all very fascinating.

  5. Suri, It is lovely to see how successfully you’ve juggled all your roles to achieve so much - a great model for all women.-
    Congratulations ! and thank you.
    Mahen, thank you for bringing this great interview to us .

    1. Dear Rohini Thank you for your kind words. I am so sorry that we have lost touch with each other. I do hope you can join us for the next reunion. I knew you were an expert in the Performing Arts I have this vivid memory of you performing a graceful Manipuri Dance with Mihiri Pieris at an SCM fund raising concert at King George's Hall. I was un aware of your talent in the Creative Arts as shown in your beautiful poems to the Blog. Well Done ! Take care Suri

  6. I read through the interview with immense interest.Even though,I did not know her family back ground, I remember,Suri,passed all the exams with second class in her pocket and she was high in the order of merit in the final hurdle.
    I am very proud to be in a batch with a bunch of more Academics and Consultants in various Specialities:some are retired and some are still active.
    Instead of embarking on a more popular Speciality,her devotion to Anaesthesia,is certainly admirable.She is role model for the current days female doctors.
    I wish her good health in years to come.
    I,must thank Speedy for his untiring work,which certainly wake up our vivid memories of fast events.


    1. Thanks Sumathi. Looking back when you are climbing a mountain can be a good thing, or a bad thing. It is a relief to see all the ground you have covered and all what you have been through and could give you the strength to carry on climbing. It could also be a negative influence as you will live through periods in your life you would rather forget. My view is to be realistic and concentrate on the task in hand but derive some comfort at your accomplishments and also from the "downs" in your life which you have overcome and be aware that they are all now in the past. In the same way, I get a lot of pleasure and strength looking back at my Medical days in the Faculty and thinking of all the lovely people I knew and then rejoicing at their successes too This is the driving principle of my Speedy Interview series. Participants are free to choose what they want to talk about but my interest is to travel their journey and experience what they went through and share it with others.

    2. Dear Sumathi
      Thanks for your compliments. But you have got my academic record wrong I only got an ordinary pass at the 3 MBBS . However I was lucky in the Finals to get a Distinction in OBG and was placed 6th on the combined merit list. In fact I seriously considered taking up OBG as a career and when I confided in my boss A M Mendis he took me under his wing and coached me. I was able to do an LSCS in 30 minutes skin to skin and perform simple laparotomies by the end of the internship ! ( under supervision of course) But I changed my mind when I realised that I would never have a private life if I practice Obstetrics ( I remember promising patients that I would be there when they went into labour and this resulted in my working irrespective of whether I was on call or not ) As you know I specialised in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care and I have no regrets.
      Wish you all the very best Suri

  7. Thank you, Speedy for your phylosphical analysis of facts of life.I had my regrets about my failure to achieve what Dr.P R Wicramanayake,used to tell at ward rounds.Always aim at a Second class at the Finals, otherwise,future is bleak.Some of our colleagues have well without a Second class at the Finals.No one can turn the clock back.


  8. Thank you ,Speedy for your phylosphical analysis of facts of life.I happy that blogs will continue to appear.Certainly our higher centres will continue to function for a very long time.


  9. First of all I like to say 'Thank you, Speedy and Lucky for 'instituting' this Speedy Interview feature into our Blog. This particular 'episode' provides a fantastic 'life story in bottle' as it were. Having read my friend, batch mate and 'anatomy- block body partner' Suri's life story in this Speedy Interview, I have renewed my admiration of Suri, an exemplary doctor, mother, wife, innovator, performer, friend and truly a pride to, if not The pride of, Batch 1962. It is so reassuring, encouraging and massively inspirational to read all she has accomplished in almost the same life time that we have lead. I knew a lot about Suri in the past 56 years but this your Speedy Interview caps it all. Well done, Suri, my dear friend. I would just say 'You are a Star! And you deserve a 1962 Medgrads batch cup if there is such a prize. I look forward to seeing some of your writing and other talents on the Blog. All the best to you! from Zita

  10. Thanks Zita. I also had an email from Manel Wijesundera (Ratnavibushana) saying that

    "Your interview on Suri was very good as you are able to frame questions to reveal a story.

    You should take to the media as an anchor to conduct one of those one to one interactions with celebrities & politicians".

    Most flattering and thanks Manel!

    1. I can say, 'hear hear!' to Manel for that. I too observed how well Mahendra adapts questions to suit the person and the situation being discussed and how well he fine tunes his questions to get the best and most relevant answer. Well done. Now let's hope that other batch mates lend themselves to the Speedy Machine to extract the best out of them! Zita

  11. Mahendra
    I enjoyed reading your fine discussion and feel proud as a batch colleague of What Suri has achieved.
    As for Sumathipala’s comments and regrets it is a Sri Lankan hang up to relive the grades and awards at university. I certainly don’t see it in the UK except in jest in conversations. What is important in life is what we all have achieved after we qualified. The kindness and care to our patients the friendship to our colleagues the love to our family together with our carriage of our social professional and civic responsibilities. The grades are just a part of history like the rag to be forgotten to be interred with our bones. It has no relevance in this present climate and stage of our lives. Remember 50 -plus years have gone since those days.

    1. Words of wisdom! Agree totally. If you ot good grades of course you can be proud of it but it does not follow that if you didn't, you are somehow lacking. It is what you have done afterwards that matter. Sumathi, your are good doctor and a family man, pat yourself on the back!

    2. I do see the points Nihal is making and do agree that what you achieve afterwards is as important or even more imp than the grades during your undergrad days, but when our batch mates talk of their grades I am happy too as that is going to prove an encouragement to those that come after us, to realise that it is good to aim high. I know that a lot of our junior doctors read these pages and our batch achievements will be an example to all. Zita

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  13. Thank you Speedy.One has to accept the realities of life.
    How the achievements at various stages of University life carries a long way.I am not trying to teach grand mothers of some our colleagues, how to suck eggs.
    Being an Academic,and a Consultant in SriLanka &Uk,you know much better than some of us, when it comes to selection of both Junior and Senior posts,in the Health service.
    Oxbridge Graduates are always favoured.Then,comes Edinburgh,Glasgow,Manchester etc.
    I am not aggrieved by my good friend,ND's comment.I am contended in life.I have done 10 years good work in Srilanka and 30 odd years in UK.

    I hope my short statement is not going to be boring for our readers.


  14. All through the faculty years you were a kind and courteous guy and am sure you carried it through to your professional life. Be proud of what you have achieved as a respected GP in Birmingham. A place close to my heart as my son lives and works there. The PRW comment was for the last century. My comment was to help you to forget the trivia and concentrate on the good things you have done since. We must meet when I come to Birmingham.

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  16. Sumathi may be interested in this. Presently, Sanath Lama is helping the government in setting up the Medical Faculty in Sabaragamuwa.

    1. This is news to me, Lucky! And isn't that just great to know that our batch mates like Suri and Sanath have gone far out of the normal path to help set up courses and now a medical faculty! Zita

    2. Thank you Lucky.I read about intended Medical School, in a previous blog.I am sure the Faculty is going to be in Ratnapura.The, under privileged children with high IQ,certainly will have a chance to exhibit their colours.Only a handful entered the Medical Faculties.Late Prof K Dharmadasa was a product of Sivali,and there was a Psychiatrist,named M A S.Rajakaruna.ENT Surgeon Samaratunge was in Sivali until he passed his SSC.He entered Medical Faculty from Ananda.Lokubandara and Chandrasiri were not
      from Sivali.
      Best luck to Lama and Suri in there endeavour to educate the children of Sabaragamuwa(Deviyange Rata)
      Hope! rich gem merchants will donate money for the project.


  17. Sumathi
    I am so pleased you have joined the bloggers community and wish you will remain a regular with us. Your wonderful and thoughtful comments bring a 3rd dimension to our discussions. We don’t have to agree all the time. It is our differences that make us unique and interesting. You must try and join us at the reunions in London. We will have another when Lama comes around to see his clan next summer. Mahendra and Pramilla are wonderful organisers of events such as this. Meanwhile take care and keep in touch. The kindness that you generate by your generosity and courtesy is the 1st class which many try to emulate and very few succeed.

  18. ND,
    Your comments are very encouraging;you are one of the pillars of the blog community.
    My happy days in Medical Faculty,appear in my dreams and in daily life.
    I was living in Ketawalamulla and later at a house in Campbell Place,not far away from your Alma mater,Wessley College.
    I have seen Batuwitage brother on the roads in Punchiborella,when they were attending Wesley.There were a Carder family,my neighbours at Ketawalamulla,who were pupils at Wesley.Senior,Carder was in our junior batch I gathered that he migrated to US after qualification.
    I got a place at Bloemfontein, in the third year and made friends with a lot on seniors&juniors.
    My intership at Ratnapura General was another exiting chapter.There were 12 Interns in the group,nine were from our group.(Indra,Desmond,JG,Lucien,Mahesan,Sidath VPH,Colla and myself)Later,Harsha,Chitta,Sriyani F(nee Dias)Piyaseeli,Douglas,Kitta Jaima joined us(They were the August&December batches)Sidat,Kiththa,Colla and Jaima are no longer with us.
    I do not know much about your group at Kurunegala.
    JG&Ranjith Dambawinna visited me while I was living in Moseley,and Cyril Earnest visited with his beautiful wife,to my present house.BL also came to join us.I still have the photo taken on that occasion.
    Let me informed about the oncoming events.I cannot guarantee hundred percent attendance.


  19. ND,
    I forgot to mention that Roshinara was amoung group who came after the first nine of us.
    I also forgot to mention Lucien's name among the group who had passed away.
    I was lucky enough to meet him,when he was working as a Surgeon at Kalubowila,.He was kind enough to see my sister-in-law as an out-patient.


  20. Sumathi
    There were several of the Batuvitage clan at Wesley. Azad Cader was in our junior batch and sadly died last year. His brother is an accountant in NZ. Now retired. You do have vivid memories of the time at Ratnapura. Internship was a carefree time after the gruelling Faculty years. Do write your memories of medical school/Ratnapura. That will be a best seller.

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  23. Azad married a doctor from the USA who was from the Philippines. He changed his name from Azad Mohammed Cader to Azad Michael Cader and didn’t communicate with friends for many years. As you know he was a quiet peaceful guy. He died of a prolonged neurological disorder and was well looked after until the end. My father knew his father well

  24. ND,
    I am sorry to hear about the prolonged ill health.What I gathered from his younger brother was that he completely ignored his own family,back at home.
    I fully agree with you;he was a charming and well-mannered
    Looking forward for fascinating stories about our compatriots.


  25. Sumathi
    I remember Mr Cader had a Green Ford Prefect which he drove to school bringing the children. Hilmi was in my parallel class and was a bright student. He did Arts in peradeniya and became a accountant in NZ. Iqbal Cader is the youngest who lives in London. I am in contact with him too. That had s family reunion in LonDon but I was invited as a friend but couldn’t make it. Shows the awesome force of destiny in our lives

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  28. FROM ZITA (having a spot of bother posting, and I am doing on her behalf as the famous Anonymous.

    I just had to come back again after reading this fantastic discussion following Speedy’s grand and well received effort to interview one of our prize members, Suri. I learnt so much by the points put forward by Sumathi, Nihal, Lucky and Rohini. It’s amazing that one dialogue can bring us much yet unknown news and interesting snippets. Thanks all! Our blog is alive now! And all because of chat between two people followed by many others putting in their tuppence worth, as it were. Let’s have more of this! - Zita"

  29. I added another achievement of Suri today which she forgot to mention at the first interview. It is about her scoliosis surgery project. In her own words,"Prof Randunne Corea (who was in the first Peradeniya batch). We launched the Programme for Corrective Surgery for Scoliosis. Up to that time no corrective surgery was done in Sri Lanka. Patients were treated by putting them in plaster jackets in the hope of halting the progress of the deformity".
    This was certainly worthy of inclusion and our Blog admin Lucky obliged. Thank you Lucky.

  30. Lucky, it would be of great interest to know of other innovative projects, service developments in Sri Lanka, where anyone in our Batch would have been responsible for. Any ideas?

  31. I can think of one such venture. The following extract from my Memoirs sums it up. It is from the chapter on Our Class of 1962.

    "N. Visveshwara who is a Neonatologist in Fresno, California, is credited with the invention of an innovative catheter that relates to cardiac output and matching of ventilation/perfusion in newborns. He has also designed a pediatric ventilator and donated one through his Rotary Club to the Neonatal Unit of Sri Lanka's Castle Street Hospital for Women".

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  33. That was an amazing Interview. I am Greatly Honored and Blessed to have Suriyakanthie as a very dear friend, batch mate and colleague. She is an unique creation of the Almighty God. A Total woman with a Brilliant mind, a genuine personality and with Multiple talents. She has used every ounce of her gifts and endowments to better the lives and the lot of all those who had the good fortune to come in contact with her.
    Speedy , did such a marvelous job of that interview. He skilfully brought out all the goodness and greatness in her and neatly laid it out for us and for posterity. Thank you Speedy for a good job extremely well done.
    Suri ,I have tons of Fond Memories of you, through medical school, during internship , in England and visiting with you and Mahen and the kids in Sri lanka.

    1. Dear Suji Here I am responding to you over 6 month later. I have not been visiting the blog very frequently and though I had every intention to do so after the Virtual interview my computer played up and I was unable to give responses using my phone cos of the small screen. I have sorted my problems and so glad I can write a response. You overwhelm me with your compliments I do not deserve them at all . I too consider myself very blessed to have you for a friend and I am so glad our friendship has stood the test of time. May God Bless you Love Suri