Salute to Our Medical Staff

Salute to Our Medical Staff


Salute to Our Medical Staff


By Admiral (Rtd) Ravindra C Wijegunaratne (Former Chief of Defence Staff)

My late mother was a nurse. She was very beautiful and strong. She had 41 years of Government service and reached the pinnacle of her profession before retirement and went abroad. Then she worked in Norway and Saudi Arabia for a few years. 

She returned home when we lost our elder sister due to an accident in Russia. Then for the next 20 years she worked in private hospitals in Sri Lanka (Nawaloka, Asiri, Central, Delmon in Colombo and Philips at Kalutara).

 Her last assignment was to train young nurses in the Philips hospital in Kalutara, closer to our home in Matugama. She stopped working at age of 80 years that was also with much reluctance. 

She passed way at the age of 83 years. More than her earnings, her work and the teaching of young nurses was her passion. She loved her profession and was highly respected by her student nurses. 

She was very proud of her profession. I would say she is a true student of Florence Nightingale. She looked after patients day and night with the utmost dedication.

She used to narrate how she was recruited in to the Nursing service by the New Zealand and Belgium sisters in 1950s when she was just 19 years old. Those days she says, trainee nurses had to go through a tough training under the watchful eye of the foreign sisters who always expected very high standards. Her expertise was in the labour room. 

She used to boast, “You have to be very strong and caring to be working in the labour room. That’s why I was selected for this job by the New Zealand sisters”. She served in the Government maternity hospitals in De Soyza and Castle Street for very long time of her career.

I can vividly recollect how she return home with tired eyes after the night shift when we were about to go to school. 

By the time we returned home after school she had prepared our lunch and was waiting for us to come home. When I recollect those days, I now realise that she must have slept less than five hours and that was during the day. She was not neglecting her responsibilities as a mother because of her chosen profession.

In the late 1960s when my late father became Private Secretary to the then Justice Minister and head of Senate, Hon Fairly Wijemanna, he wanted my mother to take an early retirement. 

As a child of 5 years old I can very well remember that my mother was very angry and vehemently refused my father suggestions. That was the last time my father discussed her early retirement.

We were lucky that we had two dedicated servants at home, Asilin and Piyasena. Asilin cooked and Piyasena took us to school.

 My father sacrificed some of his “happy outings” with his friends to be at home with us whenever mother was on night duty. My mother was very proud of her profession and her dedication and commitment to the patients was unbelievable.

Occasionally, she used to recollect working in the labour room at the Castle Street Maternity hospital which was very tough. She sometimes had three or four deliveries in one shift. 

She said, “How wonderful to bring new life to this World. I am blessed with this job”. She had the complete record of babies she had helped to deliver in her diary. Amazing!

One regret!

She had one regret. When she took over her night shift in the mid-1960s, the nursing staff of the previous shift had said they had a stillbirth, a baby boy who was pronounced dead on delivery by doctors and was laid in the labour room sink to be collected soon by the mortuary staff. My mother carried the baby, who was pronounced dead, by his legs and give him a hard tap on his back.

 Like a miracle, the baby started to cough. Pandemonium erupted in the labour room and child was immediately transferred to the Intensive care Unit. She says she regretted she could not record the baby’s name in her diary. She use to say “this lucky baby must be still living and he should be around your (my) age”. What a story!

When I was Commander of the Navy, she broke her hip bone. The Navy Orthopedic Surgeon Dr Wijedasa, treated her at our Welisara Navy hospital. 


I believe that was the happiest time she spent before her demise a year later. Her hip replacement was successful but she didn’t want to get discharged from the Navy hospital and go home. 

She was very popular with the doctors and nurses. She was loved by the trainee nurses. My mother will recollect some incident that happened during her very long and precious Nursing career and teach them. I know she was a very good teacher. 

When she was leaving the Navy hospital, there were tears in eyes of the trainee nurses. She was a graceful lady who leaves a loving impression with whomever she met. I think she inherited this quality from her job. No need to say, she was very proud of me.

She never counts the money she earned in her Government Nursing Career. When she compared what she earned abroad in private hospitals and government service, it was “peanuts”. She never complained about what she got, but preached what Florence Nightingale has thought. 

She says “We were Angels for the sick carrying our lamp in the darkest night to ensure they recover fast”. This is exactly what British PM Boris Johnson said after leaving hospital last week.

He paid tribute to two nurses (Jenny from New Zealand and Louis from Portugal) at his bed side during the night he was in ICU taking Oxygen. In his own words, “When things would have gone either way”.

A tribute to the nursing staff


More than a tribute to my mother, this write up is for all our nurses, sisters, matrons and medical staff we see on TV working tirelessly with dedication and commitment during this difficult time of our country. Your great effort will help us to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and to keep the death rate low. I know how much you earn in the Government service.

 I know the difficulties and tiredness of night shifts. I know you do not afford to have “Asilin and Piyasena” at home with what you earn. I know how much sacrifice your husband has to undergo due to your profession. I know how much your children miss you.

Do not worry; you are the true disciples of Florence Nightingale. The Nation highly appreciates your work day in day out.

I see my mother in all your eyes and faces. Your children will one day write and speak of your commitment. Like what I am doing for my mother.



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