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White as a ghost

Photo Credit Ryan Miguel Capili


I was posted in 1977 as a Medical Officer to the District Hospital in Avissawella. I set out with uncertainty and apprehension as this was the first time outside of Colombo for me. Avissawella seemed so far away, though it really wasn’t. I reached Avissawella in the evening and went to the D.M.O.'s residence to find that there was no room in the bachelors quarters for me. I was to go to a room in the administrative wing - sometimes used by the pharmacist on call. As I lay on a hospital bed in this room I could hear the din from “Admissions” which was downstairs immediately below me. I couldn’t sleep with the noise and the worrisome thoughts in my head about my survival in the coming days. Fortunately, one of the seniors Dr.Chitra Weerasinghe rescued me from the miserable room I was in. She introduced me to the lone male doctor in the quarters, Dr. Pathiraja, who agreed to share his room with me. I slept on a mattress on the floor and eventually upgraded to the bed when Dr. Pathiraja left several months later.

The old part of the hospital housing long stay patients, the OBGYN and paediatric wards was three quarters of a mile away from the main building. To get there one had to walk towards the town braving traffic, especially CTB buses and lorries, that came careening around spewing smoke and fumes. One had to step off the road onto the grass and thick brush alongside in order to avoid harming yourself. There were no street lights either.

When on call at night for the pediatric or obstetric wards, I had to run the gauntlet with a torch in hand, trying to avoid snakes who frequented the area. I dreaded this walk, because of my desperate attempts to avoid being bitten by snakes (plenty of them) on the one hand and trying to avoid being run over by buses on the other. During my first month there, I was summoned in the night to the paediatric ward and was scanning the ground intently whilst walking as it was very dark with no moonlight. Suddenly, there was a rustling noise near me and I looked up, to see a “ghostly” figure in white. I gasped when the figure smiled at me! Then I realized that it was the hospital matron and not a holman (ghost) on a nightly stroll! She was a portly bespectacled spinster who lived around there. I had no idea what she was doing there but it was probably a post dinner stroll. After seeing my patient, I beat a hasty retreat to the quarters to calm my jangled nerves.

I was still a bit shaken up the next day and recounted it to my colleagues who had a hearty laugh. One of them, Dr.Mahima Mallawarachchi, was so tickled, that she wrote a poem about this. Here is a shortened version of it –

"Second on call: A tribute to Dr.Sivakumar"

It was about six thirty,

To a patient I was called into ward number three,

Seeing her when I decided to depart,

One by one, the others did start!

Headache, backache, earache said they,

A lengthening queue headed my way,

The nurse, amused, just watched the fun,

When cursing myself, I saw them one by one.

A repeat performance in ward number four,

With varying ailments from head to toe,

I had to see till evening late,

When I proceeded to old hospital to continue my fate.

At the pediatric ward, will I be in luck's way?

The fair chubby nurse was not on duty today

With a rising tachycardia I tried to get done

Oh! the stress, I could not but frown!

Mothers with kids in multitude I did see

Charging from various directions at ME!

Chest pain, chest pain, I was in a fix

It was Josephine's ma in word number six!

Swinging my steth I had nothing else to do

But to proceed to ward six with the chubby one too

The patient asleep, not a groan, no pain

I had lost some calories just in vain

In bold big letters my findings I did write

She was built like a wrestler, so how could I fight?

So cancel a high protein diet did I

Proceeded to ward five which was situated high

Oh Doc! Its on the wrong ticket you've treated the chest pain

Handing the correct one, she grinned in vain!

I was frothing, I was foaming but what could I do?

Oh God upon heaven, please help me will you?

When I reached the quarters what was the time?

Yes I worked to rule from six thirty to way past nine!"

The above poem caused many chuckles in the doctors quarters and in my home!

A Sivakumar

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