8 August, 2022


“Bring Your Own Catheter,” Or Obstetrical Care In Sri Lanka

By Emil van der Poorten –

Emil van der Poorten

Not so long ago I wrote at some length about the fact that my neighbours and I are reduced to repairing the roads supposed to serve us so that even a bullock cart could traverse them.  This continues to require volunteer labour by those who can least afford to forego a day’s wages in such a pursuit.  Not for us roads carpeted for the use of Lambhorginis, BMWs and (after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) Rolls Royces in which “the chosen” travel!

Now, we have an even more sinister and cruel expansion of the “DIY (Do-It-Yourself)” principle, this one in the sphere of public health, with a slight difference – it is “BIY (Bring-It-Yourself)”

“P,” a middle-aged employee was not her usual cheerful self a few morning’s ago and her ill-humour appeared more than justified when she told my “other half,” the closest thing to a “foster-mother“ our female employees have, what ailed her.

Her youngest daughter was about to have her first baby which would be P’s fourth grand-child.  Due to the intricacies of traditional pre-delivery practices in the matter of who the mother-to-be stays with before the birth and the fact that the father worked away from home, her first-born would be greeting the world at a teaching hospital in the Hill Capital.

Sounded like a good arrangement which would ensure up-to-date facilities and good care by skilled doctors and support staff.

However, all was not, as that old colloquialism has it, “tickety-boo.”

There was the little matter of what needed to be brought to the hospital prior to the mothr-to-be being admitted.  The list was a little longer, more comprehensive and “specialized” than the typical one that mothers-to-be usually put together – baby clothes, nappies, soother, feeding bottle etc.  Oh, no this certainly was a LOT different!

There were THREE lists given to the mother-to-be and I am reproducing them all because that should provide any reader with the extent (and cost) that use of our “free” medical system entails:

As you can see the list is pretty extensive and the costs add up in a hurry.  A minority of the items listed – such as toothpaste, toothbrush, personal clothes, baby layette etc. – are those usually brought along by someone entering a maternity ward.  However, a significant part of the list, particularly given a brief anticipated stay in hospital for a common enough procedure, could, justifiably, be considered “extravagant.”  “P” told us that she anticipated a cost of approximately Rs. 10,000 for the items that, in another time in the same circumstances, would have been provided by the hospital.

To say that I was a bit surprised would be to seriously understate the case.  When a patient is expected to bring along such as a catheter from goodness-knows-where, the matter of asepsis does come to mind even if one belongs to the three-score-and-ten brigade where cognitive capacity is beginning to fade!  Is it surprising that this same hospital completely closed down an Opthalmological ward not so long ago because of an outbreak of a very serious infection of some kind?

I thought I’d heard it all a couple of years ago, when I asked a nurse for some water for a patient I’d brought in, to swallow some pills that had just been given him and was asked, in shocked surprise, “Didn’t you bring your own water?”  That was a rather surprising inconvenience.  This new regimen seems to presage something more serious by far, considering the “BIY” was relative to water and in a small rural hospital, whereas the “BIY”, this time, was in a Teaching Hospital in Sri Lanka’s Hill Capital!

It’s interesting that there is a statue of George E de Silva, a one-time Minister of Health in (then) Ceylon’s cabinet not so far from this hospital.  I rather doubt that, apart from the usual “baby layette” and the mother’s clothes, expectant mothers were expected to bring anything else to this supposedly-prestigious institution to deliver a child in the days that he held that portfolio.  And that was in the mid-forties   of the last century, about 70 years ago!

I cannot but juxtapose the lack of essentials for mothers-to-be in this hospital with the fact that a very ambitious project is afoot, with the highest in the land as patrons, to establish an oncology ward at this very same facility.  One would think that you “tended to the knitting” first before you launched ambitious schemes for expansion, no matter how justified.  Ah, but then, this is the Debacle of Asia and we have to demonstrate our lack of proportion and indifference to the circumstances of poor people every step of the way!

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Latest comments

  • 0

    This is shocking!
    In the old days,most normal deliveries took place in rural maternity homes & district/rural hospitals, and expectant mothers took along only basic essentials.
    Now most go larger hospitals.
    Am assuming that the expectant mother attended ante-natal clinics,and a normal delivery was predicted by the medical officer.
    The items in List No.1 are NOT necessary for a normal uncomplicted delivery.These items will surely be confiscated by the hospital for use elsewhere.
    List No.2 same,except comb and soap which all patients take with them.
    List No.3 Mothers usually take one or two baby suits and a dozen nappies.
    These lists should be sent to the Minister of Health.
    I suspect that he is not aware.

  • 0

    I fully agree with the writer. The Medical Superintendent must be nuts. I believe this is what the Health Minister means when he says that free medical treatment is costly! It is costly to the patient. Reminds me also of the bygone era when we had BYOD (Bring Your Own Drinks) parties! It will soon be Bring Your Own Doctor!

  • 0

    It is good to learn that even poor people from rural areas have access to the state of the art Medical Facilities in Capital cities.

    As I understand some of the countries where these elderly foreigners come from,Hospitals are out of bounds unless you have private health cover.

    Anyway shouldn’t rich people like Mr Ppoorten help these young baby bearers by paying for the utencils.

    And take it even a step further and make it another NGO operation.

    • 0

      KAS Can you help by taking this matter up with the hospital or the Minister, who I am sure is known to you? Please help this poor family with a donation since you seem to be so heartbroken.

    • 0

      K.A Sumana sekera:
      I don’t quite know whether yours was an attempt at wit of some description. However, the country in which I lived for a significant length of time has a health care system that you are obviously blissfully ignorant of. It’s described as “universal health care” and those using it do not have to pay for hospital care or doctors’ or specialists’ consultation fees.
      I suppose in your ideal medieval Sri Lanka, the “poor” should depend on the charitable impulses of the “rich” for basic health care which, in case you are not aware of the fact, used to be FREE in Sri Lanka even when it was still classified as a “Third World Country.”
      You obviously believe that such luxuries should not be available to “ordinary” people in this country now that it has been made the Miracle of Asia by your handlers and that they should depend on the charitable impulses of the wealthy to meet their basic health care needs while others in more exalted “professions” spend months in private care facilities overseas in places like Singapore, possibly at the Sri Lanka government’s/our expense?

    • 0

      it is sad to see you running from the articles about three kids dying, sumane. we were expecting you to come out with some classics such as “they shot themselves” or something. why’re you only commenting on these peanut-articles men?

  • 0

    Dear sir, Emil,

    This Person , K A Sumanawathie, is A paid writer,
    who is doing, S xx T job, what his Moronic handlers are telling and instructing him to do and humbug ilk’s.
    This Clown and his handlers do not have any humanism with them.
    they just thrive on our poor people’s blood and
    enjoy like CRABS in A Water pot to be boiled.

    So, it is better to ignore, those Leaches from our society.

  • 0

    still better than obummer care in the US

    • 0

      Juxtaposed against the Sri Lankan “reality” (except for those to-ing and fro-ing for medical attention in Singapore, the US and elsewhere at the State’s expense)EVEN the U.S. looks good!

  • 0

    Thank You Emil for this insight into yet another area of daily life in our blessed ‘miracle’ of asia. Like ‘free’ education, the condition is one that gives cause for gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. To what avail? We have the misfortune of a political system that allows clowns, goons and nincompoops to be elected to high office and determine how are affairs are run. The ‘one vote’ democracy was for a homogenous society where the voter would ideally make an informed choice as to who was best placed to serve rather than swayed by intimidation and fear. The late George E De Silva, who’s name you invoke, was the calibre of leader we cherished in better days (his son Frederick and grandson Sir Desmond did him proud too) but it is our misfortune to live to see the dismal quality of people coming into public service these days. I fear that the tribulations you write about will get worse before, hopefully, getting better. But don’t hold your breath! May the rain fall softly on the green sward of Halgolla and may your ink never run out of ink.

  • 0

    Damn!Damn!Damn! Ofcourse I meant to write, may your PEN never run out of ink.

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