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|Author:||Guest [ Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:22 pm ]|
A short Story
‘Disonchinahamy will undoubtedly enter into medical history , I don’t think a case like this has ever been reported… The Case of Disonchinahmy , Reported from Sri Lanka’.
by Gunadasa Amarasekera
Translated by Ranjini Obeysekere
Kumar Jayawardene, surgeon- in charge of the cancer ward of the state Hospital, lifted his eyes from the microscope and stared impatiently at the glass jar in front of him. It was the tenth time he had done so. Tired of running his eye up and down through the lens of the microscope, Dr. Jaywardene turned away angrily and stared at the specimen in the glass jar as if to find some clue that had hitherto eluded him. He stared long and hard, realised that he would find no evidence there and then turned once more to the microscope. It was already four days since the patient’s death and he had not still arrived at a correct diagnosis. Did Disonchinahamy die of high blood pressure?. Was it ‘death due to unforeseen circumstances’? Whichever it was the doctor was not to blame for it. It was a ‘surgical misadventure’.
Jayawardene grabbed the glass jar and turned it up side down, shaking it as if he had a subconscious hunch that something he had not yet seen might suddenly appear there. Each time he turned the jar upside down Disonchinahamy’s upper jaw, which was in the formalin solution, swam up to the surface like a tortoise or some live animal. It would rise to the surface instantly as if to provide the answer he was looking for.
Bandusena, Dr. Jayawardene’s assistant, seated in the far corner of the room reading the Communist party newspaper, lifted his eyes from time to time to watch his boss’s actions. Disonchinahamy whom he had seen and talked to daily during these past two weeks, had now metamorphosed into an upper jaw floating in a glass jar. It aroused in Bandusena a host of questions and irreconcilable feelings; an irrational fury. As several bits of information relating to Disonchinahamy surfaced in his mind, his fury increased…. This was the woman who had sat huddled up in bed… who had suffered a meaningless death….the woman whom the nurses teased because she sat crying all day remembering her home…wasn’t it? Bandusena felt that there was somewhere, some one , not openly visible, perhaps hidden, but responsible for this death, this fate…the answer had to be somewhere…. These people called it a surgical misadventure and tried to get out of it but there had to be a cause…. What damn use was all the research these fellows ….did? They strained so hard and discovered what the disease was, the kind of tumour it was, but what good did it do? The hidden thing, the fundamental root cause did they find that?.... Disonchinahamy…or if not Magilin hamy…or some Soydahamy..their only function was to provide research material so that these fellows could write papers!.
Each time Bandusena remembered that he would probably be stuck here till this man finished his work, his anger increased. His organisation had its meeting at six- thirty that night. Who knew whether he would be able to get out of here before then?
It was after three in the afternoon, so there was a pervasive silence. There was not a sign of life or movement at this hour of the day in the ward across the corridor. There was not much activity either in the section which admitted patients. Only an occasional patient transferred from a distant hospital entered the Admission Office.
Jayawardene who spent the morning in the surgery, engaged in operations or examining patients, came to this room in the afternoon to do his research. If he had to spend even a few minutes in administrative chores, Jayewardene considered it an inordinate waste of precious time. As a result, Bandusena , who handles the letters and other business, had also to spend this period in here. It was Bandusena’s task, during this time, to read and explain to him the letters, which were mainly in Sinhalese, and to get his signature where necessary. The one administrative task Dr. Jayawardene performed was to sign the letters prepared and presented by the meticulously efficient Bandusena..
Thirty-five –year –old Jayawardene was a Fellow of two British surgical associations and a first- class specialist trained in tumour surgery. His father, too, was a well-known medical specialist who had been attached to the main Government Hospital over twenty years. Kumar obtained his first degree from the Colombo Medical School, left for England and continued to live there for ten years because of his interest and dedication to his field of specialisation and research. He had returned to years ago, and it was not entirely because of his mother’s entreaties.
To the question, he constantly asked himself as to what kind of mental attitude he had brought back with him on his return to Sri Lanka, Kumar could give only one answer: that there was within him a deep confusion over and above the sense of isolation. Kumar had known from the outset that, although he had been Senior Registrar at the Hammersmith Post-Graduate Institute for the past eight years, he would not be appointed to a specialist’s post for several more years because of his ‘black’ skin. But this fact had become mentally intolerable only quite suddenly. The feeling of being an outsider, a reject of society, which he had been aware of in little ways from the very beginning, began to surface and take a firm grip on his mind only in his fifth year abroad. After that it did not take long to for it to grow and spread and become transformed into a permanent mental attitude that would never leave him.
Was it not this attitude that was at the root of the ugly incident that had occurred? Was it not this intolerance which had become almost a mental and physical affliction, that made him catch by the throat the specialist who worked with him and lock him up in a room? Kumar recalled how the investigating committee had recommended he be brought before a psychiatric medical board. The decision to return to Sri Lanka was finally taken in the confusion after that incident. A few days after his return he was appointed Chief Surgeon, in –charge of the cancer ward at the Government Hospital.
Barely six months had passed before Kumar realised that his return to Sri Lanka had been an act of folly. The past three years in Sri Lanka, Kumar now realised, had been spent in a gigantic battle trying to break down and overcome this gradually growing conviction.
If a tumour with a new feature or some new aspect of the disease manifested itself, Kumar seized on it immediately and with great eagerness began his investigations. But how many of these research projects, begun with such enthusiasm, had he abandoned half way? How unhelpful this poisonous environment was to such research? The absence of a qualified specialist to examine the extent of growth and the ramifications of a tumour meant that he had to do the work of a pathologist too. Where could he obtain the books and journals necessary for such a task? Apart from books and journals , even the instruments necessary for such work could only be found with enormous effort.
More than all this, however, what Kumar could not cope with was the undecided state of his own mind . Six months had elapsed since his return to his native land before doubts arose as to whether he was not as much an outsider here as in England. As the doubt slowly turned into a conviction he realised that he could not have the peace of mind needed for research. When day-to-day existence in this environment was a hardship, how could he find such peace of mind?
At such moments Kumar felt that if he could at least , with effort, turn his mind on to some research project, he might overcome this sense of isolation and loneliness. It was for this reason that he pursued with such avidity some new tumour or some new manifestation of the disease.
He had resolved to write a paper about the tumour in Disonchinahamy’s upper jaw from the very first day that he saw it. For more than a year now he had not written any papers and was not this an excellent opportunity to make a contribution of considerable importance?
Kumar who had regularly contributed three or four papers a year to the British Surgical Association Journal , had, after his return to Sri Lanka , written only three papers. Two of the three were returned with the comment that they had not been well put together, One of the two had some criticisms by his former professor attached to it. One sentence stuck in his mind .’Your brain seems to be drowsy from the tropical sun. Do you fall a victim to that tropical disease?’
Kumar’s reply to that letter seemed an honest confession: ’Returning home was a big mistake. To be treated as an alien in the land of one’s birth is a terrible misfortune , is it not? I haven’t even the peace of mind necessary for ordinary life, let alone collecting research material for an article. I curse the past I have inherited, and my parents. Last month I quarrelled with my father (reputed to be a doctor, but a man I consider to have earned his living through crookery) and walked out of his enormous house, resolving never to set foot in it again…. Sometimes I feel like turning my hand to politics. I feel that only something like politics which binds a man body and soul for twenty four hours a day can save me from my present calamity not research like this’.
How pleased his professor would be to read this report on Disonchinahamy? Kumar could predict that he would write back immediately asking for all the details of the case. How rarely did one encounter the kind of tumour found on Disonchinahamy? Kumar remembered his professor mentioning that in all of medical literature there were only three accurate reports of this particular tumour which had long been a matter of serious controversy. If so, would not this be the fourth such accurate report? Yet, in preparing the report, how should he approach the matter? This was the big question, the major problem facing him from the moment he sat down to write his report. Should he consider it a ‘giant cell granuloma’, a giant cell tumour’ or a ‘giant cell sarcoma’? Was this a situation that contradicted the theory that giant cell tumours only occurred in long bones and not in jaw bones? It was not necessary to come to a final decision on this. Nobody expected that. but how good it would be if one could treat it in the report as a giant cell tumour, which all the available evidence seemed to indicate it was .Only then would this case number among the other three accurate reports in medical literature. The chief obstacle about arriving at such a decision , however. was the absence of an accurate case history. If he had been able to speak the Sinhalaese language well, might he not have been able to have questioned Disonchinahamy and somehow probe the evidence out of her?
Why had he stopped the Sinhalese lessons so soon in the first year after his return? Had he not given up his large house in Cinnamon Gardens and taken a flat in Borella just in order to learn more about the lives of the ordinary Sinhalaese people and the Sinhalese language?
Jayewardene pushed the microscope aside , pulled the four case reports that were lying on the table towards him and began reading them again." Come here Bandusena… the diagnosis in this case is now completely up to you… First tell me again the full story the woman gave on that last occasion’.
‘What’s the use of a diagnosis, sir, after the patient is dead?’ Bandusena spluttered, putting aside the newspaper and walking up to him. giving vent to thoughts that had long been festering inside him. Bandusena had been encouraged to treat his boss, Jayawardene, as a friend, by Jayewardene himself. Bandusena recalled how he had even objected to being addressed as ‘sir’.
‘The death of one person does not after all mean the death of medical science. Our responsibility s to science as well as to the patient. one does not encounter a valuable case like this in a hundred years. If we can unravel this case it will be a great service to the entire field….What exactly did the woman say the other night? How many days did she say her face remained blue after being bruised? Each time we asked her a question she would cry. How could we get answers? I tried so hard so hard to win her confidence but failed. Why do you think that was?"
"What confidence can you expect from that poor destitute sir? The have no idea what is going to happen to them. They are driven like cattle from hospital to hospital and finally die in some corner ….Perhaps she died of sheer terror when she was brought to the hospital. All she could say was’ yes’ and ‘no’ to anything asked’.
‘That’s a fine thing to say! Why , how considerately we treat our patients here!"
‘What good is it that you treat them with consideration? Your kindness is like a drop in the ocean. What use is that?...The woman said her face remained blue for around two weeks".
‘That’s the point I can’t accept. She said her face turned blue as a result of her little boy’s hand striking her. There’s no way a face can turn blue after being hit by a child’s hand. ‘Jayawardene turned to Bandusena and pressed his right hand to his left cheek. ‘There’s no fat layer here. It’s just bone. Only if the bone breaks does a blood clot form. But this bone won’t break if a child‘s hand strike sit. That’s the story the woman told us. I asked you to make friends with her and get the real story. The bone could break only if it was hit with a ridged implement’.
‘I asked her several times when I was writing up her diet chart. But that’s all she kept repeating. The moment I tried prying and asking questions about her home she would begin weeping’.
‘If only her relatives had come we might have found out’.
‘How can they come, sir? They live twenty-three miles away from even the town of Kurunegala. With six children, if they were to come to Colombo for a visit they would probably have to mortgage their house. they may not even own a house to mortgage. I understood from her talk that they lived on a leased out piece of hena land’.
‘If in fact the tumour resulted from such a blow then it is undoubtedly a giant cell tumour, not an osteo-sarcoma. There is one theory that giant cell tumours are caused by a serious blow that results in a blood clot. This would be excellent evidence to prove that line of thinking… But not one of these fellows give a full report of the case. Reading the case reports on Disonchinahamy one gets the feeling that the four reports refer to four different persons. Just read the address given here in the four reports’.
Jayewardene took up the first case report- made by the apothecary at the village hospital at Weuda – and handed it to Bandusena. "Isn’t the address on this different from the other ones? I find it puzzling.’
Bandusena gazed a while at both medical reports.
‘They are both the same. The second one merely states how letters are to be addressed:’ To Ukku Banda,c/o Hitchi Mahattaya at the store by the bridge, 32nd Block, Flower Tree Junction, Weudatenne….’The first one doesn’t have a postal address, otherwise they are the same’.
‘But the first one doesn’t record the fact of any injury to the face.’ No history of trauma….the face scraped against a wall and was bruised’. Then the Kurunegala Hospital record states that a branch of firewood hit her face and that it was swollen for two or three days. It was only here , to us, that she brought up the story that the child’s hand struck her….I can’t understand it. Besides , it’s amazing that for one-and-a half months , until she was sent here , they did not even perform a biopsy on her. I feel like reporting the whole bunch of them to the Medical Department’.
‘What will you achieve by reporting them?"
‘Why? Do you think it will have no effect? This kind of shoddy work is a disgrace to the profession. In England they would be expelled from the medical profession…Check how many days she spent in the Weudatenne hospital. ‘He handed the charts to Bandusena.
‘Eight days at Weudatenne’.
‘I suppose one can understand why he kept her for eight days digging needles into her. He was only an apothecary and knew no better. But how many days did she spend at Karawanella’
‘There she was kept ten days’.
‘How many days at the Kurunegala hospital?"
‘They kept her for twenty-two days and didn’t even think of doing a biopsy.1 will not let this pass. I intend reporting every one of them. They are a disgrace to the medical profession. All they did for one –and-a half-months was to drive this woman from one hospital to another. I will report the lot of them’.
‘I know what will happen the moment you report them. That wretched apothecary will be the only one who will be hit by it. Do you imagine. sir, that the surgeon at Kurunegala will be held to blame? That they will dare to take action against Dr. Gunasinghe? Dr. Gunasinghe is married to the health Minister’s niece. The Department knows all about his private practice. I was once attached to the Superintendent of Health Services there, so I know. Dr. Gunasinghe never visited the Channel office to examine patients. He was only at the hospital in the mornings. He refuses to look at a patient in the ward if the patient had not consulted him privately in his home and paid his fee…Do you think the Department does not know all that?... If you report him , sir, it will still not change anything. That poor fellow, the apothecary, will be made the scapegoat and bear the brunt of it. …Look, has Dr. Gunasinghe signed this chart at all? He can’t even have looked at the poor woman. It’s no good reporting him. sir. If our government ever comes to power what we’ll do is to line them all up by the nearest wall and shoot the rascals. If one wants to put these things, right sir, one must completely change the system. Bandages or plaster won’t do. One must disregard these disgraceful libels on socialism, the kind these fellows indulge in, and change the whole system from the roots’.
‘Do you mean to say that when your new socialist society comes into being these things won’t occur? Whatever system comes into being, it is still worked by human beings… Have you heard Kant’s saying that nothing straight can be made out of this crooked timber of humanity? Whatever system comes into existence I don’t think things will change much. Is there a different system in England? It’s the same as this. It’s the same kind of democracy, so it’s not really the fault of the system, it’s the fault of those who work the system’.
Bandusena knew that the frequent political discussions that took place between him and his boss ended inevitably at this point. If he let it go any further he might thoughtlessly come out with certain unnecessary remarks. Bandusena decided therefore that it was better to turn the conversation back on to other lines .
‘Disonchinahamy’s clothes and other belongings are still in the ward. I reminded you yesterday too, sir, to send the. We should have sent them off the same day to the Medical Superintendent’s office…Now it is very late’.
‘You should look after such matters. Don’t bother me about it’.
‘If you don’t give the order, sir, the sister won’t release them in spite of ten reminders. I’ll write a note and send it right now through Ameradasa. Would you sign it?"
Bandusena went to his room, fetched a piece of paper and proceeded to write a note. Meanwhile Jaywardene continued to compare the medical reports. Bandusena, who had entered the clerical service of the Health Department through the Sinhala medium had become Dr. Jayewardene’s assistant not merely because of his growing regard and liking that had developed between them. There were several other reasons for this friendship. Without Bandusena’s help the task of interacting not only with the staff directly under him but also with the patients would undoubtedly have become a serious problem. Dr. Jayewardene needed Bandusena’s help even to give an order to an attendant working under him. Bandusena noticed that he addressed even an attendant standing in front of him, without looking him in the face. If seven or r eight people happened to raise their voices and talk at the same time, he would become alarmed and mentally quite disturbed. If he ever had to approach such a group Bandusena had to be
be close to him.
The nickname’ Bashful maiden’ given to Dr .Jayewardene by some new attendants seemed very appropriate. Was this bashfulness due to the fact that until quite recently he had not moved around with Sinhalese people? Whatever the reason ,Bandusena, who had worked in several hospitals and knew the ways of doctors well, found in Dr. Jayewardene a kind of medical man he had not yet encountered. Was it possible that among the tribe of doctors, who were basically heartless murderers and swollen headed profiteers , someone like Dr. Jayewardene could still exist? How could he , who could barely speak Sinahalee, have such a deep concern and care for these poor patients? Bandusena had never known Jayewardene to shout at a patient, or even to raise his voice at them .Was it because he had spent several years studying and working in England that he had developed these fine qualities? Or was it an inherent respect for human beings? Apart from his respect for humanity, why should he treat a Grade III clerk like himself as a friend? Sometimes his very friendliness embarrassed Bandusena , who was not used to such treatment from his superiors. Why had such a kind and good man remained unmarried for so long? Bandusena had not succeeded in finding an answer to this question which bothered him constantly. Did he dislike Sinhalese women? Or had he remained unmarried because of a thwarted love affair with a white woman? The phrases he would occasionally slip-‘I think all men, except me, are happy’-perhaps implied something of this sort. Bandusena recalled how each time he tried to follow this inquiry and peep into Jayewardene’s mind to unravel the puzzle of his inner being, it always stopped short at this point.
On one such occasion Bandusena recalled telling his own history to his boss in order to encourage him to a disclosure.
‘Sir, if you feel like that, how should I feel? I’m the eldest in my family. The burden of the entire family rests on my shoulders….My father has been disabled over a year now…I have four younger sisters. You talk like that, sir, because you have no idea of the sufferings of the poor in this country’.
‘Happiness and sorrow are not things one can measure like that, friend, It is not a simple question that your socialist solution can answer’.
That was the answer that he usually gave. Every time he closed a conversation with that kind of remark, Bandusena realised that however closely he associated with his boss, there was always a certain distance, a great gap between them.
Bandusena began filling up the form for the Medical Superintendent, intending to send it off first thing next morning together with the bundle of clothes.. He heard Dr. Jayewardene read out aloud a sentence or two of the medical reports he was studying. Watching the intelligent face with its long hair and sharp nose, engaged in deep thought, brought pleasure to Bandusena. He did not realize that Ameradasa had walked into the room until he saw the bundle of clothes in front of him. He untied the bundle in order to examine it and list the items in the form.
As he opened the bundle and saw the dirty sari wrapped in newspaper Bandusena felt a sharp pang of pain wring his heart. The torn border at the edge had been knotted together in two or three places. Bandusena, gazing at the rag of a sari now taken out of its newspaper wrapping, felt a sharp pain as well as a certain kind of panic or fear. The figure of Disonchinahamy, dressed in that sari and seated on the bed, appeared again in his mind’s eye. Had she not sat, just like that, all day in the ward? Seeing him come to endorse her diet chart she would curl herself humbly at the foot of the bed in a pleading manner. At such times was it because of the ugliness of her face and protruding left eye that she would look down and hide her face? Was it so as not to show the effluent constantly draining out of her left nostril? Bandusena remembered how her voice would suddenly break and she would collapse in the midst of answering questions even on matters of diet.
Together with the old sari was a battered blouse, two silver bangles wrapped in a piece of paper and a sealed envelope. On it was the address he had read out a while ago. It was written in pencil. Bandusean felt a strong desire to read the contents of this un-posted letter,. He opened it carefully in such a way tat it could be resealed. He read the short letter written in pencil and furtively wiped his eyes with his finger tips. He hurriedly pushed the letter back into its envelope as he felt his eyes begin to dampen again. Stepping out into the corridor, Bandusena paced up and down until the rush of emotion evoked by the letter had subsided. He felt a little ashamed of himself. Returning to the room he saw Dr. Jayewardene still studying the reports and reading out aloud certain sections of them.
‘Age thirty-eight…forty- two… forty…Age of youngest child…three…That’s correctly recorded in all three. Eighteen years old at marriage….Bandusena, here, see if you can make sense of this…The descriptions given in these records are all different from each other. Only the apothecary out of the lot of them has even attempted to get a good case history. Read this again and see how correct my notes are’.
Bandusena began reading the record of the apothecary. He was interrupted from time to time by Dr. Jayewardene who stopped to include facts he had forgotten in his report.
‘Name: Ilindu kankanamage Disonchinahamy…Age thirty-eight….Employment:Daily paid labourer…eldest died. Present eldest child, female, age thirteen years….Youngest child, age three years…General health: satisfactory Face and hands and feet show a certain pallor. Endemic malnutrition suspected. An year ago because of excessive fatigue and panting stopped weeding on the upper section of the hill. No serious illness prior to this
Bandusena, startled, stopped reading the medial record. He heard a great wailing noise from the direction of the ward.What could be the cause of this weeping and wailing coming from that direction at this time of day?. Dr. Jayewardene too, strained his ears to listen.
Bandusena went out of the room to I He saw Amaradasa coming with a man dressed in a sarong and shirt, who was holding his head in his hands and weeping loudly. The man suddenly flung himself , sprawling, beside the open door, and like one who had lost all consciousness of the world around him, held his head and wept even more loudly than before. ‘Aney…good sir, I can’t bear this any longer. Aney Buddha- like good sir…who would have thought this possible…not even in my wildest dreams…Good sir, why didn’t you tell me….I can’t bear it…’
Dr. Jayewardene had much difficulty in disengaging himself from the grasp of the man who sprawled on the floor embracing his feet.
‘It’s Disonchinahamy’s husband. He has only just received the telegram and here he is….Only the first telegram we sent him reached him, not the second one.’ Amaradasa whispered in Bandusena’s ear.
The man sprawled at the door held his head with his hands and wailed like an animal. Bandusena and Dr. Jyawardene looked at each other r, not knowing what to do. Bandusena shouted at the crowd following him down the corridor, and told them to leave. He took the man sprawled on the floor by the hand and spoke to him, trying to lead him into the room. The man flung Bandusena’s hands aside, weeping and wailing with an upturned face like that of a toothless buffalo, unable to control himself.
‘Let him be till the hysterical spell passes’, said Dr. Jayewardene .moving a little away and whispering in Bandusena’s ear. Till then he had stood stock still, not knowing how to handle the situation.
Bandusena had been told to shut the door each time he came into the doctor’s office, and yet why had he still not got used to this habit? This kind of intrusion was the price one paid for not doing so. Would this man stick around the room for the next two or three hours?
‘Alas…good sir…where am I to go? With five young ones on my hands where on earth can I go …? If I could only end my life here , now…It would be all over then…kind sir…this was all my fault.. It happened because of me…I saw the little one crying of hunger and couldn’t bear it…I threw the plate I had in my hand at her. That was what caused it to swell up…sir…kind sir…what am I to do’
Bandusena took him firmly by the hand and forced him to a corner of the room in order to explain to him al that had happened and to try and console the man. But the man lay down again on the floor beside the chair that was placed for him, banged his head against it and continued to weep and wail.
‘Alas good sir…. if only I could have given her just one spoonful of medicine…if I could have done some little act of caring for her in her sickness…When I arrived at the Karawanella hospital they said she had been sent to Kurunegala. when I went to Kurnegala they said she had been sent here…Kind sir, I pawned our rice ration books to make this journey….’
Instead of listening to Bandusena struggling to explain the position, the man continued with his own lamentation.
‘Sir…How I am to take her away….?What else can I do but stand here and watch you do what you wish with her…?I pawned our rice ration books to make the journey’. When he was not speaking he would just clasp his head in both hands and wail. ’Kind sir,what can I do with my five children?"
In the midst of all this weeping, wailing and lamenting, Bandusena tried to make certain facts clear to him and finally got him to go with him and Amaradasa to the hospital mortuary to see the body of Disonchinahamy. After walking a little distance in the direction of the mortuary Bandusena asked Amaradasa to stay with the man, and he came back to the office himself , knowing that he could not bear to look at such a searing scene.
On his return he was amazed to see Dr. Jayewardene once again absorbed in his microscope and back at work as if nothing has happened He was not even aware of Bandusena’s return. Bandusena sat down in his chair trying to recall what had happened., like a man awakening from a terrible dream and desperately trying to regain his wits. Dr. Jayewardene engaged in his work and silent for a long while, finally spoke:
‘What do you think of my guess? Dead right, wasn’t it?’ Jayewardene asked turning to Bandusena.
‘What are you talking about sir,?"Bandusena replied, completely at sea.
‘Didn’t you hear him? That man said the initial injury that caused the wound was a result of him hitting her with a plate.
‘Is that so… ?I can’t remember him saying that…"
‘That is what is meant by saying that a doctor’s ears and eyes are different from those of ordinary people. If that woman had given us just that little bit of information we could have come to a definite diagnosis right away. This is a giant cell tumour. Why did the woman lie, instead of speaking the truth from the very beginning? ’.
‘That’s natural. They may be poor. But they are people with a sense of dignity. Village folk are like that…It’s only women from these towns who go complaining to the police and in the law courts that their husbands have hit them. Women in the village may be poor but they would consider that uncivilized’.
‘What is civilized or uncivilized here?" Jayewardene spoke with a half-smile.’ Is it civilized to throw a plate at one’s wife? It seems to me anyway , from the way he gets into fits of temper and his excessive emotionalism, that the man is more like an animal in his reactions and instincts. Anyway .I shall probably never in my life find a case-history quite like this. This is a report that will make medical history.’
Dr Jayewardene abruptly stopped speaking and ran towards the microscope, suddenly recalling something. He should be able to find confirmation for it in the slide. How true it is that the eyes see only what the mind has already seen. How had he failed to observe till now this characteristic, so clearly visible in all the slides? Dr. Jayewardene began tapping the table with his finger tips in his satisfaction.
‘Disonchinahamy will undoubtedly enter into medical history , I don’t think a case like this has ever been reported… The Case of Disonchinahmy , Reported from Sri Lanka’.
‘What good will it do that destitute ,sir, whose corpse cannot even be taken home for a decent burial, that she is entered in the annals of medical history?" asked Bandusena, unable any longer to control the impatience seething inside him.
‘Those are not my problems’.
‘They may not be your problems. sir, but they are vital questions…All these questions have just one answer. Until we get that answer, whatever anyone does will be no good’ .Bandusena spoke in a voice more shrill than before’.
‘Even if you get your answers I don’t think these tings will improve…Problems such as these don’t have such short and simple answers’.
‘Short or long, sir, there is only one answer. You don’t have these problems, sir, so you don’t see the need for answers to them. But destitutes like us need answers… If you can understand Sinhalese , sir, you had better read the letter the poor woman wrote just before she died. Here let me read it for you since you probably can’t;’ When I came here from Kurunegala Hospital I implored the nurse to send you a telegram. Did you get it.. ? I am now in Colombo Hospital, ward 33. We were brought here in an ambulance. I wait anxiously for you to come. I have given my consent to the operation because it is necessary to get this cured as soon as possible. and get back home… If I die you will have to bring up the little ones. I keep remembering our little one’s face. Does he still ask, when is mother coming home? When I think of him my heart is about to burst. If I die look after my little ones. Mr. Hitchi has still to pay is for two bunches of bananas. Ask Mr. Hitchi to lend you what money you need for traveling. I have still to get three days’ wages for weeding. Don’t be upset. The operation is tomorrow. They look after me well. The doctors constantly see to me. May the Buddha’s’ protection be with you and the children. Bandusena read the closing sentences of the letter in a breaking voice. Dr. Jayewardene said nothing, but he, too, sensed the turmoil in Bandusena. Bandusena’s eyes were wet with tears. Why was he so moved by the contents of that letter?
Dr. Jayewardene’s silence increased rather than decreased Bandusena’s agitation and turmoil.’ It’s a good thing for you sir, that you don’t understand the Sinhalese language….You are just like our present socialist leaders who can’t speak it. Is it surprising that they can’t see our sufferings?’
‘Still, my friend, how can you find simple solutions to these problems?"
‘Simple or not ,these are wrongs that this world cannot bear for much longer. That’s all I know…These are wrongs that the world will not bear for much longer.’
Bandusena walked towards his table, glancing with seething anger and repulsion at Dr. Jayewardene who was back again with his eye glued to the microscope. He wanted to fling the damned microscope and all that damned research material out of the window. Destitutes come and fall at the feet of these men like flies or mosquitoes and die…their research…that was all that mattered. ..He too was like all that other lot… the same philosophy was ingrained in him…The only difference was that he disguised it…"
Bandusena who was seated stood up suddenly. ’Sir, when you finish, lock the door and leave the key with the watcher. I have all the other keys with me’. ‘he said, walking out of the room.
Deep in thought, Dr. Jayewardene seemed not to have heard him. Stepping out on to the road Bandusena did not wait for a bus but continued to walk, his mind distorted with emotion that would not allow him to stand still. As he walked, he stared in front of him and muttered to himself like a madman.
Two weeks later Dr. Jayewardene walked into the dissecting room of the medical school with an enthusiasm that had been building up in his mind all through the previous night. Before that enthusiasm faded or died he resolved firmly to garner the few remaining facts necessary for writing up his case. As a result of the overpowering sense of despair and ennui that had suddenly come over him last week, he had thrown the first draft of his article aside, and now found it only after a great deal of searching.
If he was to complete his piece of research he had to dissect and examine several more parts of Disonchinahamy’s body amidst the collection of bodies flung on the stone slabs of the dissecting room. He finally located it by examining the tags hung around the necks of the bodies. He found Disonchinahmay’s right arm cut off from the body. A medical student was fondly handling it, searching among the muscles for a certain cluster of nerves. Three other students, standing at the other end , poked around in her head and face. Dr. Jayewardene needed only parts of the liver and spleen. Seeing that particular part of the body untouched he was quite content.
Disonchinahamy first appeared in Gunadasa Amarasekere’s collection of short stories - "Ektamen Polowata" in 1972.
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