I’ll never forget how my first phone conversation with Angelo ended.
Me: “Goodbye, Dr. Angelo.”
Angelo: ‘Um, Shaun, can I ask you one thing?”
Me: “Sure.” – surprised he hadn’t already hung up
Angelo: “Just call me Angelo.”
Me: “Uh, really? Ok.”
Angelo: “Great, thanks. Goodbye Shaun.”
After six months in the country, it was the first time a doctor had asked me to drop the “Doctor” and I was blown away. I had never met this guy in person, but immediately, I knew he was one of the good ones.
Sadly, he’s off to Australia next week to start a one-year placement, which will likely turn into two, and then who knows? This is part of the medical training in Sri Lanka – to become a consultant you need two years of work experience abroad. While the theory is sound, practically it takes away some of the best and brightest young doctors – often for a lifetime.
Luckily, for now, Angelo says he will be back. And that’s a good thing, because believe me, Sri Lanka needs him and as many like him as possible.
My second memory of Angelo was at the milk stand at the hospital entrance.
He was buying a distraught patient some milk and talking to him in a calm voice, patting him on the back. Normally this wouldn’t have stuck in my mind, however after having spent months working at the hospital, this was one of the first times I had seen a doctor having personal contact with a patient.
He introduced the patient to me and called him his friend. He wished me a good day and went back to chatting with the man.
I had no idea what they were talking about, but I knew it was good.
While Angelo and I didn’t get to work too much together, we did work on updating the NIMH website (which Angelo created in his spare time in 2007). While we’re both not web developers, together we managed to keep the site afloat, adding new content and images on a regular basis for the first time since 2009.
We even managed to fight off the occasional hacker who tried to take the site down for reasons that are still unknown to me.
While the site isn’t the best, it did recently impress one foreign donor enough to provide 25,000 rupees per month to improve the hospital facilities. I tried to get the Director to kick some of that to the media unit, but was laughed out of his office. Ah well. It was worth a try.
While I often paint a comical (bordering on incompetent) picture of the hospital on the blog, that isn’t entirely fair. There are many dedicated, talented individuals working here. People that want to do a good job, but are often stymied by the system in which they work. In this bizarro world that I’m living in, its very easy to lose sight of that.
So, to make sure that doesn’t happen, I ‘m proud to salute Angelo (raise a glass, curry or whatever you’re holding) and all the other Angelo’s working in mental healthcare in Sri Lanka. Please don’t give up the fight – and if you leave Sri Lanka – please, dear god, come back!