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Doctors in the News



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Doctors of medicine and would be medical doctors are featured much in print and electronic media these days with the SAITM issue discussed, opined on and even instigating countless road protests and university gates plastered with angry boards with slogans in red. The President will give the final ruling on the issue once the commission he appointed to study and report on the matter of the continuance or otherwise of the private medical college at Malabe advises him.


Hence the word ‘doctor’ has been ringing in one’s ear and of course penetrates to the mind. And then if one circumvents the present crisis, the mind will revive images of doctors one has consulted down the years. For the person ripe in years and surely has had medical problems off and on, the remembered line of doctors consulted will be long. In my case deeply blessed too. They really healed.


 


The GP treated all ills


Childhood memories are dotted with bouts of flu and indigestion; even a hard round weed flower smelled and lodging itself in the nostril, soon to be forgotten until Mother heard the loud breathing and marched me to our family doctors in Kandy. They were Drs Anthonisz and Winn, with the nurse in attendance, round and smartly starched in a white uniform – Miss McGill. These two were genuine ‘family doctors’ treating grandparents and grandchildren from common colds to heart trouble and even a brain hemorrhage. Grandfather would bring them Aluth Avuruddhu bags of rice from the maha season; this gift just second in importance to the cooked dané of aluth sahal to the Maligawa. We knew of only two specialists a couple of years later: Dr Somasunderam the physician and Dr Spittel the surgeon, both attached to the Kandy General Hospital.


 


Appearance of the specialists


Later, around the 1950s came Dr Ivor Obeysekera, MD, to Kandy, sending patients flocking to see him. A favourite of Mother’s as he addressed her as Amma and chatted to her. Just consulting him brought Mother’s high blood pressure healthily low! A couple of years later – 1960s - came gyn and ob specialist Dr Ariyaman Mendis, slim, young and mistaken by me the first time I went for a consultation as the office assistant! He came with ideas revolutionary to the likes of Mother. These conservatives believed a woman who had a baby had to be really confined to bed for ten days. Dr Mendis put you down and walking half a day after birthing and a cold bath 24 hours later. Mother was duly horrified. If you are seen walking around you will have the evil eye and evil tongue attacking you, so get back into bed the moment visitors appear. And no proper bath until you have the leaf baths. Cold water was taboo.


 


Child specialists


Next in demand by yours truly were child specialists. Dr Raffle who had his clinic in Wellawatte was such a concerned doctor and so kind too. A niece who came for a holiday with us got an attack of wheezing past midnight. Phoning Dr Raffle had him on our doorstep in just 20 minutes with nary a protest or frown. Rather was he all concern. The best of doctors for both children and adults was Dr Vimala Navaratnam. Her husband too was fine and many preferred to go to him, as the lady doctor had some unwritten rules but made known that had to be observed. You could not draw your chair up closer to her, and woe betide you if you allowed your cell phone to ring. She was however excellent and later, once the children were gone and I needed medical attention once in a while, she became a friend. Her drawer was loaded with toffees to give kids and they, so beguiled, were unaware when a needle was jabbed in their upper arms.


By far the best child specialist was Dr Stella de Silva. She dared label my husband an idiot when he said our son who was being treated by her for a wheeze was our only child and would remain so." You idiotic man! Four asthmatics are better than a single child, however healthy, in a family." I so believed her that I pass on this advice to younger couples. My son was ill during the 1971 insurgency when curfew declared at 3.00 p m was strictly enforced. We heard that a neuro-specialist who worked at Sulaiman’s Nursing Home in Maradana got late to leave the hospital. He was challenged and asked for name and designation. He muttered neurosurgeon and the army in front of him promptly lifted their guns, mishearing the word as ‘insurgent’. Or so the story went. A smart lady doctor used to wear miniskirts. She had a problem when challenged and asked to raise her arms. The soldier shouted ‘Both’ as one arm went down to hold her skirt from lifting too high.


Dr Stella as everyone referred to her, would sit on my son’s bed and comment on his drawings and even play a game with his toy soldiers. I would be clock watching and have my pulse racing as the hour hand was near three and the minute hand moving fast. Timidly I would say: doctor, the curfew. I have to get this child well and if he is distracted and happy all the better, was her calm reply. Then she would rush off.


Dr T.D.D. Perera treated both my mother and my kids. Once she was ill with cardiac asthma. He booked a room and ordered the ambulance for me to take her to Durdans. I did not inform my sisters. He went to Peradeniya on some private matter and went to Kandy, found one of my sister’s homes and told her about Mother and me managing things alone.


 


Present day


With the greater number of doctors and specialists for every part of the human body there is, inevitably, greater variety in attitudes and services given. The GMOA and the university students so violently protesting the medical faculty at SAITM and wanting a ban on private medical colleges profess they do it for the sole reason of preventing standards of medical services deteriorating. Inadequate clinical training facilities produce below par doctors, they say. With all the facilities available and free medical education in the eight campuses, there are many doctors who don’t care for their patients, their main concern being how much private practice they can squeeze in a day. This is true even in remote outstation hospitals.


Personally I have been fortunate in that all doctors consulted in my long life have been fine: patient, unhurried and truly competent. Some have been simply excellent. But I once had a doctor who seemed to resent my preferring to answer his queries in English and examined me roughly and also said I was fussing. This was in a government hospital. If I spoke to him in Sinhala he would have been annoyed imagining insult. There are many more like him, who, it has to be admitted, have chips on their shoulders. I am not being elitist in the slightest. My weekly help who is often in hospital clinics for medical care for her husband, herself and grandchildren, says that the older doctors are much better than the young ones. (GMOA take note!!).


It was only this last Saturday that I consulted a specialist to show him results of tests prescribed by him. If you see him within five days of paid-for consultation you can see him for free. I went to the nursing home where he was seeing patients at 1.00 p m with the fifth patient in his consultation room. He had 25 patients to see and then reports were looked at. I waited patiently for my turn which came at 5.30. Patiently? Yes, very much so. I was grateful he was charging only once and more importantly, he spent on average 10 minutes on each patient. He didn’t seem tired.


My question is: Won’t the students of the private medical college where they pay much for their education turn out to be like this marvelous doctor? That, people say, is the root cause of the protests against SAITM. Boils down to competitiveness later on in private practice!!!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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