While There’s Life, There’s Hope

by Emil van der Poorten

Having been castigated for being a prophet of doom and gloom insofar as the future of the Resplendent Isle is concerned, being subjected to recurring abuse accompanying the allegation that I am simply a “disgruntled victim of the great Hector Kobbekaduwa’s Land reform” etc. etc., it gives me a bit of satisfaction to document a ray of hope in the murk that is Sri Lanka today.

As someone who underwent the travails resulting from a Specialist’s “outsourcing” of what was allegedly a “less-than-surgical procedure” in a premier teaching hospital, no less, it gladdened my heart to hear that the milk of human kindness has not dried up in every medical institution in this country.

To cut to the chase, I had, drawn to my attention, the case of someone who had displayed the early symptoms of the current scourge of Sri Lanka – dengue fever. Consultation with a specialist physician resulted in warding at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) on the outskirts of Colombo.

This appears to be a more than pleasant surprise after the charnel house that passes for a Teaching Hospital and those who conduct its affairs in the hill capital.

Initial admission was into a ward packed to the rafters (almost literally!) with other dengue sufferers and resulted in periodic bed-sharing episodes. This sacrifice in comfort and privacy was unavoidable in the hospital’s effort to deal with a crisis situation with totally inadequate resources.

The cleanliness of the ward left little to be desired, the toilets and bathrooms were clean and the showers had water pressure that would have been the envy of most Colombo homes!

I’d like to believe that, even in a system that is so critically under-funded and where our so-called leaders don’t hesitate, at the drop of a hat, to take off for places such as Singapore and the United States at the first suspicion of serious illness, there are still some medical practitioners to whom the Hippocratic Oath is more important than money in the bank or the next world cruise funded by some multi-national drug giant.

As someone who was at death’s door for nearly a week thanks to the botching of what was supposed to be a “simple non-surgical procedure,” thanks to medical “outsourcing” and who on several mornings woke up in a bath of urine, thanks to the fact that the staff ignored requests to leave a urinal within reach of one whose thoracic cavity housed a stainless steel “heart repair kit” which wouldn’t brook anything resembling a twist of the upper body, it certainly gladdened this heart to see what appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel of death and despondency that is Sri Lankan medical treatment today.
I have gone to great lengths to document my own experience because it is in such direct contrast to what seem to be the conditions prevailing at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, operating under the additional stress of this country being in the throes of an unprecedented outbreak of a mosquito-borne disease the treatment of which is still very much in the exploratory/development phase.

The foregoing is meant to be but an acknowledgement of the fact that all is not lost in terms of humane conduct by skilled professionals, working under the most trying of conditions in this country. Conditions at the I.D.H. are not perfect. However, the contrast between similar institutions and this one should be patently obvious.

What else can be done to publicise and capitalise on this seemingly exceptional situation? Public acknowledgement such as this little piece needs to be replicated whenever one comes across medical practitioners and the administrators of medical institutions who are driven by concern for those in their care rather than how much each patient is capable of contributing to his/her bank account. There have to be stories out there similar to this and those aware of them need to place these acts of decency and concern for one’s fellows on the record. We must keep the flame of human kindness burning.

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