Thursday, March 31, 2016

Oh ! how could you switch sides ?

….It takes only a few rotten minds to create hell in this country and we saw it happen for 30 years…

Let’s call her Geetha. She was twenty year old, who was treated for the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). She was admitted to the emergency unit twice, following suicide attempts with drug overdose and ingestion of insecticides.

“This dakta (‘doctor’ in her accent) treated me when I got shot in the battle last year,” Geetha starts her usual ranting every morning, when she sees me. She told me this even on the very first day that she saw me in the medical ward.

I’ve already told her a number of times that I was a Sinhalese doctor, who lived in Colombo and never had been to the North, especially during the days of the final battle.
She agrees with me momentarily, each time I explain this, but the very next day starts again with the same talk about me being a Tamil doctor who worked for the terrorists.
“How could you switch sides like this?” sometimes she scolds me.

“Geetha, I’ve told you I was not here last year,” I try to reason with her on daily basis.
They must have been treated by a doctor, who must have had the similar features of mine. Geetha is an ex-combatant, who was forcefully taken in as a child soldier by the LTTE. I feel gloomy when I think of those dark days that many of them had described to me. She is so sure that I am one of ‘their’ doctors and even my workmates tease me of being a terrorist spy.

But one day, to my utter relief, she says that the other doctor in this ward was seen with them during Pudukuduirippu days (the final battle). This is a kind of joke to us as we both were awaiting internship at that time. Geetha brings so much laughter to us every morning with her made up stories about each one of us whilst addressing us as ‘daktar, daktar’.

Villagers all over the North come to our general hospital for all their health needs. Most of them could speak Sinhalese. About five to 10 are admitted everyday for their claims of minor situations such as fever or common cold and sometimes for no reason at all, under the title ‘insisted admission’.

Later, we find out that the ex-combatants like Geetha, and IDP’s fake illnesses to get away from the camps. The elderly and those who are settled in their villages, come here when their homes are flooded or in the absence of their families. When the wards are busy with critically-ill patients and genuine emergencies, we face great difficulties with these ‘fake admissions’.

I met Geetha when I was working in the medical ward as she was treated for her suicide attempt twice; once with a self-ingestion of a pesticide, and later by overdosing of medications given to her. At the counseling sessions with the mental health unit, she was diagnosed with the PTSD. We found her often seated on the bed, talking with God. Sometimes she gave lectures to the whole ward of what God has said to her.

I see her sitting on a bench at the end of the corridor of the ward. Her thousand yard stare tells me of the pain she held, being alone, sick and feeble. She lost her family and her childhood when she was taken forcibly by the terrorist group to train her as a child soldier. She says she has a brother and she will start searching for him as soon as she gets better. During her psychotic episodes she yells, “Thambi kutti thambi kutti, thambi kutti” with tears streaming down her cheeks. (thambi kutti – baby brother )
“I feel so sorry for Geetha,” I say to the nurses and attendants sitting in the nurses’ station at the entrance to the ward, seeing Geetha’s blank stare.

“Doctor, even though you feel sorry for them, I still can’t forget those horrible bloodsheds in the past that terrified us since our childhood,” one of the attendants says in a heavy voice.

“How was it in your area?” I ask her as I like to listen to their stories. Surely, the life has been a living hell for them when the terrorists occupied these areas.

“Yes,” she recalls. “Our village was attacked by the terrorists for countless times. I was three months old when my mother had to hide in the jungle with me in her lap. She was praying that I wouldn’t cry because that would give away their hiding place. We couldn’t even go to school. That’s why we can’t get a decent job these days. I’m lucky that I could work here as a sanitary worker. We never had proper sleep at nights. Most of the time, we ran to the lake or to the river to hide in water or in the bushes or puddles nearby.”

“My husband,” she continues, used to work as a gramarakshaka (home guard) and his bunker was attacked by the terrorists on the night he was not on duty. All three of his friends who were on duty that night were killed. We have lost count of the valuable lives we lost for decades. How can I feel sorry for the terrorists who killed most of my loved ones?”

“Sometimes I feel sorry for ex-combatants of the terrorist group, like Geetha, but then I remember how their group terrified us and darkened our lives in the past. My heart throbs with pain when I remember those times when we saw piles and piles of dead bodies of my own people killed brutally by them,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.

The terrorists killed and destroyed almost everyone who was against them. For decades, they terrified a whole nation with, horror, terror and sorrow by destroying countless lives.
I strongly believe that weapons, anger or hatred can’t bring justice to this country. The Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other minorities have lived in this country in peace and harmony for years. It takes only a few rotten minds to create hell in this country and we saw it happen for 30 years.

As a Buddhist, who read and follow what Buddha preached, I always try to understand and put all those teachings into practice. Metta is not just a word to wish others. We should practice and achieve a state of mind that has Metta, Karuna, Mudhitha and Upeksha -the four Noble Truths of Buddhism. When you reach such a state, you are no longer a victim of anger, hatred and cruelty.

“Doctor, I could have been like you if I wasn’t staying at home that horrible day,’ says the young boy in front of me. He was forcibly taken by the terrorists while he was awaiting admission to the medical faculty.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and only opens himself to some of us who treat him in clinics. A bright tomorrow of a future doctor was destroyed within seconds by ruthless terrorism.

Time after time I meet them, when they get hospitalized for various flu symptoms during the rainy season. They all seem to be happy with the temporary freedom.

I’ve met hundreds of people, who have walked the same path as those I wrote above, and they all taught me valuable lessons to overcome fears of living. If one could find harmony with whatever left of him, that’s the greatest happiness that can make him live the rest of his life with compassion, love and hope.

*Please note that the names used in this story have been changed to protect privacy.

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