This is an unsolicited review of a wonderful book of 510 pages written by a Consultant Pediatrician who neatly weaves a web of very valuable and educative episodes of his life in a very simple and straight forward language style. Though I have not met him I happened to speak to him briefly telling him that I had known his uncle, his father’s younger brother, Rev. Fr. Noel Perera , Principal of the lower school and Prefect of boarders at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo. Fr. Noel was an excellent preacher both in Sinhala and English. Those language talents had passed down to his nephew who says that he learnt to speak English a little late in his boyhood.
This accounts for his justifiable outburst of eloquence that stunned a cussed and arrogant Visa Officer of the British High Commission, who had the stupid audacity to ask him, then a Member of the Royal College of Physicians London, whether he could speak English. Like his reverend uncle who was talented in music as well (as he used to conduct the boarders choir in the absence Fr. Ignatius Perera, the incumbent choir master) the author has been heir to the uncle’s musical abilities. The book narrates many instances of his singing skill and as a grand finale it ends with the words “And now the end is near……” gleaned from the song My Way.
This autobiography is so enthralling that I started to maintain an alphabetical Index to enable me to go back to the many cases of educative value health wise. I had read a few autobiographies of Surgeons and Physicians both local and foreign as well as many medical novels of Frank Slaughter and Richard Gordon. But they did not convey information or knowledge of any health value and benefit to laymen.
The good doctor has begun his school education at De Mazenod College, Kandana and ended it at St. Peter’s College, Colombo. In the latter school, according to him, his behavior has not been edifying as he had been rather fun loving, as most school boys are, more than studious being up to mischievous pranks and even perilous pranks with iodine crystals which caused minor explosions (to the sound of cheena patas in low key) in the classroom to the horror of the retired teacher taking the class who had innocently trod on the iodine crystals.
Somehow he managed to enter the Colombo Medical School at the first shy rounding off his medical education with a second class. He pays homage to some of the senior consultants with whom he associated like Prof. CC de Silva, Prof. Rajasuriya and Dr. Earnie Pieris, a well known Physician. The latter had successfully treated his mother who was in a diabetic coma during his boyhood even refusing to accept his father’s offer of a fee. His mother would always spiritually prime him before an examination with a prayer and a holy picture of a Catholic saint inserted into his shirt pocket. There are many other senior Consultants and colleagues to whom he pays tributes for their dedicated service. Special mention could be made of Prof. Wilfred Perera who had performed surgery successfully on his doctor wife and also accompanied him in song and perhaps in wine at the many convivial fellowship dinners held in local hotels. I was nostalgically reminded of the nights in the Badulla hospital quarters where I accompanied on the piano accordion the singing of Prof. Wilfred Perera. Badulla was the first provincial city where he was posted as a Consultant. Thereafter he has served in Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Colombo South and Lady Ridgeway Hospitals as Consultant in Pediatrics.
Dr.BJC Perera cites cases and causes of his successes and failures in the tough post graduate examinations he had to face in order to reach the status of Consultant. His period of employment in hospitals in the UK gives reports of cases he successfully diagnosed and treated. His stint there had earned him praise from the British Consultants he worked with so much so he was accepted for work in those same UK hospitals later when an opportunity came his way to work abroad.
"This autobiography is so enthralling that I started to maintain an alphabetical Index to enable me to go back to the many cases of educative value health wise. I had read a few autobiographies of Surgeons and Physicians both local and foreign as well as many medical novels of Frank Slaughter and Richard Gordon"
One matter that drew my attention as a former management consultant and trainer is the response of some of his students undergoing training under him indicating their preference to hear him speak/teach in English rather than in the mother tongue in which they had learnt science in school up to the Advanced Level examination. My point is that these medical students had learnt science in the national languages and suddenly had to switch the medium of instruction to an international language in which text books are written and made available What a waste of energy to have to learn new fangled technical terms in the mother tongue only to unlearn and abandon them in medical school for want of text books. Couldn’t the English language have been used during their stint at school as it happened in the time when Prof. Rajasuriya and Prof. CC de Silva were schoolboys?
He has maintained his poise and balance in the midst of a few setbacks in life as well as when near death children were brought to him for treatment. Often he has received accolades and tributes from the distraught parents of the children he treated. Recognition came for the research he had done on drugs used in the treatment of asthma and respiratory distress. But he did have his antagonists from the academic community who were highly critical of his research on drugs like frusemide in the treatment of infections in kidney disease. His stance had been justified according to later research findings.
There is a macabre account of his days in Kurunegala in the period 1988/89 when he had to brave the JVP insurgents who were ruling the roast temporarily in the city because he dared to visit the hospital violating the curfew imposed by them.
Towards the end of this extremely readable autobiography the author turns somewhat philosophic in the self awareness of his innate proneness to be hot tempered. He sets out his vision and outlook on life and his beliefs, attitudes and hopes for the good life. In times of adversity he has had recourse to prayer following the example of his mother. He had sustained his faith and morality by practicing the religion he was born into. He winds up his autography fittingly with the words of the English song ‘My Way’ composed by two Frenchmen and sung by Frank Sinatra. As mentioned in the lyrics he may have had a few regrets, such as personal tragedies, but they were too few to mention.
This book should be a “vade mecum”, a sort of companion to medical students and particularly to those aspiring to be doctors, and more than all, to all book lovers who will certainly learn many a valuable lesson in leading a contented life.