Pushpa, The Nightingale!

By Ashanthi Warunasuriya

Travelling from village to village and separately teaching school children and the Tri forces about first aid, this lady is kept on her feet and is very busy. However, we managed to get in touch with her between her busy schedule in order to find out a little about her as a person, her life and family.

Her parents are from the South of the country, but after marriage they had moved to settle down in Colombo. Her mother was a housewife while her father was an Ayurveda physician (Veda Mahattaya). This lovely family consisted of one boy and three girls and given the background of her parents, the family was religious and disciplined and she too grew up in this environment. Her brother was a civil engineer while one sister was a deputy principal and her second sister is a senior nurse. Today the children in this family are all civil engineers and doctors. This clearly shows their upbringing and all these children have grown up to become productive citizens of this country.

We are talking of none other than Sri Lanka’s own nightingale Pushpa Ramyani Soysa of the Accident Service of the Colombo National hospital. Her service to the health sector of this country, especially in terms of patient care, has been exceptional. She has also been recognised internationally for her services.

She received her education at the Mount Lavinia Girls High School arts stream and was a good sportswoman and an exceptional student. Having taken part in everything in school, she was considered a multi-talented student. From her childhood, following in the footsteps of her mother, Pushpa is also a vegetarian and refrains from consuming artificial drinks as well. Her goal in life is to maintain good health and be a model of good health.

Although Pushpa’s father was an Ayurvedic physician, he had no intention of having Pushpa follow in his footsteps, but her mother on the other hand always wanted her to become a doctor. “After my A/Ls, my sister had put in an application for nursing even without my knowledge and she practically dragged me for the interview. On my first ward round, I saw a completely burnt person and seeing all that red raw flesh exposed, I just fainted. I came home that day and I cried and cried and refused to do nursing. However, my mother and sister convinced me to continue and after that I automatically fell into groove and picked up. It was at the time of my passing out as a nurse that I really began to like the profession.” Those were her first experiences as a nurse.

We asked her if she did not want to continue in her father’s footsteps. Pushpa became somewhat silent at this point and there was a reason for her silence. The reason was the death of her father. Her father’s elder brother had passed away after a heart attack and at the funeral her father had also got a heart attack and was admitted to hospital. Following this, her father’s younger brother too had got a heart attack and was also hospitalised. This was the extent to which their brotherly bond went.


She remembers the day her father passed away. “It was raining heavily that night and there was severe thunder as well. I woke up around 2am and started preparing a soup for my father and went to the hospital around 6am. But by that time my father had passed away at around 4 am. My father’s younger brother too had passed away at about the same time. The funerals of my father and two uncles too took place on the same day. It was from that day on that I became completely committed towards the care of patients,” she said.


Having received high marks at her nursing exams, she was assigned to the Colombo National Hospital and from that day to date she has been serving at the National Hospital. From that time she has been instrumental in initiating various organisations within the Colombo National Hospital and has served in almost every unit of the hospital gathering vast experience in her field.


However, her career in the accident ward commences with a Finland project. On March 15, 1991 her superiors had identified her talents and appointed her to the position of triage nurse after a training stint. The responsibility of this post is the categorisation of patients. Pushpa was Sri Lanka’s first triage nurse and she constantly came in touch with the public. Having received raining in Japan and Singapore, Pushpa eventually was promoted as a trainer of nurses.


“I did not shine in this post but I nourished the post,” she said. Since then she has been involved in disaster management, patient care, methods of treatment and created organisations for accident victims. In fact she has done a great service to the nursing profession and taken it to great heights like never seen before.


“I have done my best for my profession and my family as they are my life’s priority. A house need not be a palace to become a home, but cleanliness is the most important and it has to be a pleasant environment for the family.”


She manages her home and work efficiently and in a balanced manner. She has also been instrumental in bringing in around Rs. 4 million worth of improvements to the accident ward. Her desire is to make the accident ward more like a home and she is currently in the process of making that happen. She has also donated wheel chairs to paralysed patients so that they could live without being a burden on anyone. She lives her life in the service of others according to the principals of Buddhism. She believes in being of service to society and living in a manner that would not burden others.


When asked how she faced any obstacles on the way she said, “Well if it was someone else they would have given up on life. Some people don’t like to see others prosper or do well. However, no matter what the obstacles are, when we get into our uniform we must tend to the sick. It is almost like meditation. It must be done religiously as others’ lives depend on us. Hence no matter what I have to face, I do my duty to the best of my ability. I am not sad about others trying to obstruct my path. I will even bend my head to even an enemy if he needs my help. The merit I have gathered by caring for the ill is enough for me and my family to live peacefully,” she said.


Pushpa’s only brother was lost during the Tsunami which brought great sorrow to her life. Today, people look at a single woman with a squint eye, and Pushpa too has had to face fair share of criticism as she is unmarried and single.


“I earn for my living and I am someone who does not like to lend or borrow money. I spend but at the same time I also save. If you have a good heart, nothing will go wrong. As a woman I feel we must be independent and not depend on others. My brother had children and they are good productive children to this country. As for me I don’t care if I die tomorrow. I have made all the arrangements so that no one will have to bear any burden because of me. I have earned well, lived and saved. I am not in debt to anyone.”


Although there was much we wanted to discuss with her about her life, we respect her privacy and only report on the fact that she is happy. “I have lived well and I will die peacefully. But I guess I have not gained enough merit to attain enlightenment. However if I win a lottery, I would buy a big land, make little cottages and collect all parents who have been abandoned on the streets and take care of them,” she added.


Pushapa may not have enough money in hand to make that dream a reality, but what matters most is that kind and compassionate thought. This caring lady lives a life befitting her nickname ‘nightingale’.


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