Where charisma meets courage

Where charisma meets courage

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A front line warrior as social media likes to call her, Dr. Dinu Guruge, has spent her weeks and months living on a meal a day so she can save on a PPE Kit, doing hundreds of rounds of PCR tests and attending to people throughout Colombo in need of care in times of crisis.

Essentially there are two kinds of people we meet. One of them zaps the energy out of us within minutes of meeting them, leaving us feeling weary or low. The other exudes a warmth that’s unmistakeable, radiates a sense of hope and belonging that’s uplifting. They come across as being approachable, caring and empathetic to the core. Some call it a vibe, some call it charisma. Whatever you call it, Dinu has it and it’s contagious.

Lanka Courier, must however make a disclaimer. It is very likely that even after spending a few hours speaking with Dinu, you may not recall every word she said but you will never forget how important she makes you feel. Which is not a trait that’s easy to come by in a profession where one’s sole responsibility to treat complete strangers.

A front line warrior as social media likes to call her, Dr. Dinu Guruge, has spent her weeks and months living on a meal a day so she can save on a PPE Kit, doing hundreds of rounds of PCR tests and attending to people throughout Colombo in need of care in times of crisis. On most of her days, the only contact she has with her baby is the sight of him sleeping.

But such is the sacrifice she intentionally undertakes. She is also by default the first associate of every COVID-19 positive patient, a bitter truth that she does not waste much time pondering over.

A past pupil of both Museaus College and Devi Balika Vidyalaya, Dinu grew up in a home where the use of words like no, hard or can’t were not permissible. Her parents lament to her that she has had it easy so she has to try. “As a principal, I would never say no to something without trying or finding out,” she says as a matter-of-fact. “If it really matters we will always find a way to make it work.”

Although Dinu’s mother is a medical practitioner, Dinu did not qualify to study medicine in Sri Lanka. A setback she considers a blessing in disguise. She ended up trading her life here for bone chilling winters, a foreign language, unpalatable food and friends from all over the world. Dinu spent her years studying Medicine in Russian and travelling while at the People’s Friendship University where she went on a scholarship.

Dr. Dinu Guruge

Initially she interned at Hambantota, where she dealt in pediatrics and surgery. “I liked pediatrics because I found it to be one of the most challenging fields, oftentimes children are brought to us crying and then we need to diagnose the child and to also soothe the parent.”

Coincidently her husband was also studying medicine, at the same time, in Russia at a different university, but they would only meet at Kaluwanchikudy in Batticaloa. Both of them were assigned to the emergency unit and worked for several years before returning to Colombo.

“Even though it was a small hospital, there were so many admissions per day, it was unbelievable,” she said. “At the same time, wherever I went, patients from all over found their way to me. They called me a John, a medical slang for someone who attracts patients. Oftentimes the nurses would ask me to retreat to my room, because a flood of patients would suddenly be at my door.”

At the time of meeting her, Dr. Dinu Guruge, the deputy chief medical officer and regional epidemiologist for the Ministry of Health was planning for the second inoculation for COVID-19 for healthcare workers which was to take place the following day. “I cannot afford to have this phone off,” she says. “Even when I am home I’d receive calls about women who are pregnant but having COVID or COVID related deaths. I attend to every call because I realize that while I have access, many don’t. And particularly in times of uncertainty we need to be doing all we can to reassure them. It’s beyond contagion, it’s a humanitarian mission.

At just 36 years of age, Dinu has had to go through a crash course in public health having to deal with a pandemic at her doorstep. But she takes joy in the work she does and although she gets herself tested every two weeks, she believes in this cause to her core.

It is easy to see that her warmth comes off as being rooted in something deeper than an upbringing or motive. It comes from her own contentment with life and real empathy and curiosity about the concerns of other people who seek her out.  A way of living, where every interaction is thought of as being worthwhile and valuable.

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