“The words were like thunderbolts”, Professor Susirith Mendis

I found a copy in a bookshop but didn’t have time to read it until a few days before I left Colombo when I opened it for the first time. I continued reading it on the plane and every evening after I arrived here. It has been a kind of a revelation! It is not only the best ‘Physician’s Tale’ that I have ever had the good fortune to read, but it resonated my own thoughts in so many pages!

Very early in the book (2nd para of page 29 to be exact) the words were like thunderbolts. They were exactly the kind of feelings I underwent when my wife was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and died of it three years later in February 2011… Then again from page 216-223 the whole episode 63 about Mrs. Newton seemed to me too familiar to be mere coincidence! Mrs. Newton was 56 years old and was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. My wife was 57 and had secondaries in the lymph nodes, lungs and liver just like Mrs. Newton. Those feelings Prof. Nevski went through and more, continue to consume me even now.

The other series of thunderbolts came soon after, on pages 44-45. I couldn’t help but identify myself with Abraham. The thoughts therein reminded me so vividly of the ‘battles’ (some won, some lost) I have had with authorities as a young lecturer, reaping the consequences and paying the price of being overlooked for a good postgraduate scholarship  and watching it being awarded to a less deserving junior; feeling weary, frustrated and hopeless in my feeble attempts to change the status quo and disturb the ‘comfort zones’ of the implacably complacent academic colleagues; as a Marxist, once upon a time, dreaming the impossible dreams of revolution and justice for the weak, the down-trodden and the poor; violating dress codes (I was one of the few medical students who wore sandals to clinical classes and got chased out from their wards by impeccably dressed consultants) and refusing to wear ties to work as the Vice-Chancellor of my university for 6 years (2007-2013); using my lectures in physiology to exhort students to develop values and ethics of professional conduct in consonance with expected standards of doctors and not be swayed or enticed by the lure of ‘filthy lucre’ that has engulfed a large proportion of the medical professionals; Like Abraham, I have always tried to live ethically in my professional and private life; but then questioning myself as to whether I live up to, at all times, by what I believe in and what I ‘preach’. Or as Marina Bell says, am I “Faking It” sometimes?!

So many words, phrases and sentences in so many pages throughout the book keep ringing in my ears. I am overwhelmed…

Prof. Susirith Mendis                                                                                                                                   Senior Professor of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna, Galle, Sri Lanka         Former Vice-Chancellor (2007-2013) and former Dean, Faculty of Medicine (1996-2005), University of Ruhuna.                                                                                                                                         Currently on sabbatical leave and contract with Gulf Medical University, Ajman, U.A.E., aDirector, Centre for Medical Education & Continuing Professional Development and Director, Centre for Continuing Education & Community Outreach

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