By Dr. Asoka Thenabadu – Mbbs, dch, mrcpch
Wednesday 9 am — I sat at my usual table at the SSC, eating my favourite breakfast of egg hoppers and chicken curry, which is excellent on the palate, but which creates havoc with my cholesterol and waist line! I had done my swim and read all the bad news about Sri Lanka in the papers. My mind flew back to Monday 9 am. A massive amount of ‘action’ had taken place during the previous 48 hours.
Monday 9 am. My phone rang stridently. ”Chubby has deteriorated and has been rushed to hospital by ambulance — hurry”. I rushed to Oasis Hospital where my brother Lalith Thenabadu, ‘chubby’, had received excellent care from Dr. Senerath Jayatillaka, the most senior oncologist and his team, for the past three years, for widespread cancer. Chubby was in his terminal stages with liver failure and was comatose. He had vowed earlier, “I wont go without a good fight.” So he did!
Falling ill in Sri Lanka is very bad news! Medical services are excellent in the state sector, but medicines, especially expensive anti-cancer drugs, are in short supply. Some wards are still in their post World War II splendour and unable to provide patients with the basic comforts they need. As an ex-government servant, Chubby had only a small pension. Therefore, we, as a family, decided unanimously and without discussion, to pay privately for Chubby’s treatment, each contributing according to his/her means. Our duty as a family and my duty as a doctor, was to give him as good a quality of life for as long as possible.
Love and generosity prolonged his life for almost three years. He had regular admissions to Oasis Hospital for chemotherapy, blood transfusions and other medical procedures. He enjoyed this extra lease of life to the full, watching all the cricket matches on TV late into the night, when less enthusiastic cricket fans like me, were sound asleep. He discussed the matches in great detail and with expertise the next day, with all those who visited him or when he went to the hospital. He kept on working to the last stages by visiting estates and advising the resident plantation staff. His interests in the welfare of Sri Lanka continued unabated and he was up to date with all the political developments. His interest and practise of Buddhism flourished and increased during his extended lease of life.
We all knew the outcome when he was admitted on Monday. However, Dr. Senerath Jayatillaka (an excellent doctor and my good friend from medical school days) rightly spoke to us as a family and indicated that the end was near. However, drips were set up (although most of the veins were sclerosed) and the whole family and the faithful family retainers set up a vigil by the bedside. I am sure he was glad to see and hear his loved ones through his comatose state as he smiled when he heard our voices or felt our loving touch. His last 12 hours showed us all how valuable strong family ties, solid Sri Lankan values and Buddhist customs were. Taped pirith was played and this brought a smile of contentment to Chubby’s face. The priests from the Mallikarama temple arrived to chant the three sutras. I believe that the pirith helped Chubby to pass to the next world peacefully.
The coma became deeper and deeper, the breathing more stertorous and more laboured and his eyes sightless. The pulse became slower and slower and the breathing, shallower. The immediate family and our faithful staff were around the sick bed to the last! Finally, the pulse oximeter showed no pulse or blood pressure. My brother Chubby, was no more!
His wish was that his body be taken to a funeral parlour and cremated as soon as possible. However, we, as a family, decided that we need to take him to his house which he built with his modest income; the home where his children grew up and to give him a proper farewell before his journey to kanatte. His request for a private funeral was half adhered to. The house soon became full of family and friends who came to pay their last respects.
Pansakula was conducted by the 97 year-old Rev. Weligama Gnanaratana, the chief priest of Mallikarama temple which my mother had supported from the time it was a one-roomed shack; now a prominent place of worship in Ratmalana. More people were gathered at kanatte. The pyre was lit and after a respectful period, we made our weary way back to Chubby’s home, as custom demanded. The tension was gone but the loss and grief remained.
The sadness of losing a brother and a parent will never go away.
That night I dropped off to a deep sleep and got up with a massive migraine as happens to me after a period of stress.
Wednesday 9 am — de ja vu. I had my morning swim at SSC and while eating my unhealthy diet of egg hoppers, reflected on the previous 48 hours; sad, depressing, distressing, hectic and harrowing, but with a sense of duty done – de ja vu.