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DateLine Wednesday, 17 October 2007

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Henry Jayasena Column

I get ready for the operation

The story of a cancer patient - Part 4

"Don't worry, your man will get married even without you. He will go on his honeymoon too. Get someone else to witness. Your son or some such person. But don't delay this."

There should be some gravity, some urgency here that I did not know. Otherwise would the doctor be so insistent? Refusing to delay the operation even by a day? This MUST be a CANCER. My mind was bringing up all kinds of images. Will they remove a whole part of my stomach? Would it be a cancer that has spread its tentacles all over?

Good God! Isn't it in such circumstances that they fix a bag on you?

I was breaking out in a sweat. I called the doctor again.

"Doctor, please forgive me for being a nuisance. I just remembered something."

"What's that?" I hesitated.

"What's your problem now?" The man was still patient.

"Doctor, Isn't it possible that you might you might fix a bag on me? My God sir, if that's going to happen I am going to back out. I cannot I'd rather suffer whatever comes.

The doctor laughed. Not annoyed, but rather tolerantly.

"Don't worry man," he said. "Ninety eight percent we can be sure that a colostomy will not be necessary. Fortunately your tumor happens to be fairly up in the colon. We should be able to remove it and fix you up again at the correct point."

"God help me" I murmured.

"You will receive God's help. A lot of it. Don't worry."

The good doctor hung up on that note.

I have to enter the hospital on the 11th. No, not on the 13th. It seems some tests have to be done. Heart, kidney, liver and many other organs. In other words they want to make sure that I am fit enough to undergo surgery.


Amidst all these things my mind was coming up with all kinds of conclusions. Although I would brush them off like brushing something off your body with your hands, they would come up again and again like a caterpillar that crawls out in the night and eats up all the buds and tender leaves of a plant.

"I am not so strong". So it is quite possible that they'll decide against surgery. Or, if it is done it could be the end of me."

How am I to quell my mind now? Firstly, I should not be afraid. Death is nothing to be scared of. We all have to face it someday. I will face this ordeal without fear. I have already written a last will.

This house, whatever little savings I have, my books, my old car. All this will go to my wife and son. Actually there is nothing I would be loathe to leave behind.

I have done my duties well and accomplished most of the things I have to do. My wife will have an adequate income and a roof over her head. My only child is married.

They are both well employed and have a little house of their own, which I built for them. And they have this little son, adorable little tot Ah, yes lovely little Randir. My two-year-old grandson. Now when is his "first lesson" ceremony? Ah, yes. The 26th of September. Ah.. that's a day I would like to be around!

"You fool!" Another part of the mind taunts me. "You fool! How many millions in this world would have undergone this kind of surgery? And how many millions would have been cured? You idiot! Stop being a pessimist! In any case you are a bit of a softie, aren't you? Get rid of this kind of foolishness. At least in your old age!


Ah, yes. Old age. That's a truth. I am an old man now. Well past sixty, nearing seventy. So what does it matter. Even if. It must be close upon midnight now. On the 14th of March, 1999. Most of the hullabaloo in the bus stand below is over. But it is not totally quiet. A bus is being reversed.

Rrrrr....Raaaaaaight.....Raaaaaaaight......Raaaaaight!......Hooooo....Hoooou...Hoooooove! Stop! Somebody is thumping the bus. Must be the conductor.

The Kalubowila main bus stand is right below our ward number 23. It is one big din from morning till midnight. Our ward 23 is a fine little ward. I have befriended most of the patients by now. Some have come here from far away. There is a man from Matara, as always. A bank employee. He is to undergo an operation similar to mine. He is always smiling.

There is a man at the other end of the ward who has lost a leg. There is another patient from Kegalle. His operation is over and he is to leave in a day or two, after the sutures are removed. He is about my age or very close to it.

I am awake after a short sleep. The whole of today I have been on purgatives. No food at all. And not even water after 10 p.m. It seems there should be not even water in the stomach when you are taken up for the operation. I have permission to wet my lips with water if they feel dry.

Medical reports

There is no fear in my mind now. I have been able to overcome all that. I am pleased about it. All my medical reports are supposed to be okay. Early tomorrow morning Dr. Dayasiri will take me for surgery. There will be Dr. Mohan Silva to assist him.

There will also be trainee doctors and perhaps a host of nurses and attendants in the operating theatre.

It's early morning on the 15th. I have bathed, shaved and generally preened myself for the event. I wear a white sarong and a white shirt. Hospital procedure. Manel and Sudaraka had come early in the morning to wish me luck. They must be somewhere near the operating theatre downstairs.

I have been put on a stretcher and am being wheeled away along endless corridors and covered pathways. I am on my back and all I can see are white ceilings, roof beams and cobweb covered old style tiles - Sinhala ulu. Sinhala ulu? How come in this new hospital? Not that it is all that new but it cannot have old style Sinhala ulu.

I know a lot about this hospital. My mind goes back to the nineteen fifties, the time I was a clerk in the Public Works Department. I was in the Contracts branch of the department and I was in charge of all the building construction files pertaining to the Western Province.

This hospital was one such file. In fact there were a number of files on this hospital. Some had been closed down for being too bulky and continued in a new file. There were other related files for subsequent improvements and extensions etc. Thus CBD/168 [Colombo building No.168] would have sub files such as CBD/168 A,B,C, etc.

The contractors were S.P. Muttaiah & Sons. They came to our office regularly in connection with their contractual work. For extensions of time, for approval of payments and so on. They asked for extensions of time, time and again and came to meet the relevant engineers.

They would drop in at our Contracts branch too, to meet Mr. Periyathamby, the Head of the branch. Then they would come over to our tables and make requests.

"Please expedite this". This is urgent. We are running out of time." And then they would say things like, "Please give a good recommendation to our application for extension of time."

The one who came to see me often a fat young man - could have been a son of Mr. Muttiah, or may be a relative or one of their senior employees.

In those days the P.W.D. Public Works Department was famous for two things. One was its overseer system. Practically all the main roads were under road overseers. Most of these overseers came from Jaffna. [to be continued]

Thought of the week

Is there a copyright law functioning in this country? I am aware that there is an act called the Intellectual Property Act. I think this was first mooted by the late Lalith Athulathmudali and has undergone several amendments subsequently.

All I am asking is whether the law under the Act is functioning properly. Apparently it is not at least at State level. It is totally ignored at least by the Ministry of Education.

I have referred to this lapse earlier too but not very strongly. This time I want to make a strong case for myself and others in the same position. This appeal is particularly to the Minister of Education. In the school texts that are currently in use excerpts of our writings have been used extensively.

There is a whole scene "The Vel Paalame Scene" from Hunuwataye Kathawa reproduced in the Sinhala text for grade 9. Similarly excerpts from other authors both living and dead are reproduced. But no royalty payments are paid to us for such reproduction.

Not even a "by your leave" permission is obtained. Similarly parts of my plays Kuveni and Tavat Udesanak have been reproduced. Not a single cent has been paid to me or to anybody else as royalty.

I consider this grossly unfair. The compiler of the book is paid. And millions are paid to the printers. Transportation and distribution are paid for. Why ignore the very source of the intellectual material reproduced in the texts? It can be argued that the books are distributed free.

In that case the compilers too should be doing a free service. And the printers too as a service to the nation. Why single out only the writers, who are not 'rich' men and women by any means.

I appeal to the good Minister of Education to redress this situation at least now. I HAVE written to the Ministry about this even during the time of Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku.

Not even a hum have I received in reply. I do hope someone will read out this little piece to the present Minister Susil Premjayanth, well known as a fair and just person, for his serious consideration.

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