Before getting into medical school, I was frequently asked the question "Why do you want to be a doctor?" I responded by saying that there will come a time later in life where my accomplishments will define the legacy I leave to humanity... something that increases with importance as we age. Being a physician, one sees people in their most vulnerable time - when their health is failing. It embodies the qualities of a humanitarian, satisfies the curiosity of an intellectual, and leaves a unique legacy - quite different to any other profession I know. I suppose my grandfather, Dr. E.H. Mirando, implicitly understood many of these ideals and perhaps looked upon medicine the way I do though two generations separate us.
My purpose in writing this appreciation is not to enumerate his many accomplishments; rather to leave one with the sense of the man that he was and the generation from which he came. Early in his medical career long before he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians or President of the Ceylon Medical Association, he did field work in malaria control at a time when antibiotics weren’t as prevalent as they are today. Later he published one of the first articles on the effects of lead poisoning in children, which stemmed from his work in Panchikawatte.
Currently in the US, serum levels of lead are tested routinely in children and its importance cannot be overemphasized. After being a consultant in the Newborn Baby Unit in the Castle Street Maternity Hospital, he continued a dialogue with physicians in the US on the diagnosis and screening of phenylketonuria. After his work on phenylketonuria, he was invited by the prestigious National Institute of Health in the US to collaborate with physicians there. My grandfather’s work on lead poisoning and phenylketonuria was a manifestation of his intellectual curiosity in medicine but also it emphasizes the importance of disease prevention, an idea and edict that he lived by.
I can tell you that his accomplishments reflect his intellectual curiosity and zest for life rather than his will to succeed. My mother told me how he read until 2 or 3 in the morning every night, year after year. Like all physicians, most of his legacy lies within his patients and the idea that he helped them get through their life crises. However, his legacy also lies with the physicians that he taught through Colombo’s medical school. Though his mentorship was strict and his rounds were difficult, his students realized that he held them to a higher standard - a standard driven by the pursuit of knowledge and by the ideals of a humanitarian - and not by money. I remember my mother telling me that some of his patients were pro deo because they could not afford to come to the doctor.
As unassuming as he was sitting in his verandah, having a drink and listening to records - his nightly habit - I cannot help but think that this was a man who came from a generation of great invention, innovation, and political change. He had witnessed two World Wars, the rise and fall of communism, and the greatest advances in modern medicine. In fact, his accomplishments reflect his love-for his country and people as he helped bring some of the institutions of British and American medicine to Sri Lanka -aside from his children, perhaps that is his greatest legacy of all. And...
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back
ceaselessly into the past." - F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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