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Embarking on a new career in physiotherapy in the UK



Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Birmingham

by Padmani Mendis

Excerpted from Memories that linger…….My journey in the world of disability

(Continued from last week)

I was going to be a doctor. Instead, I became a physiotherapist. It has been 66 years now since that decision was made, and never a regret. Just relief together with joy that I had made the correct choice. I believe that, had I studied medicine, I may well have emigrated to settle down in some land far away from that of my birth.

My mother had always wanted a doctor in the family. She had tried with each of her children in turn until there was only one left, and she appeared to have succeeded at last. I was kind of agreeable with the thought. The first step in gaining entrance to medical college at that time was that one should obtain at least five credit passes in the Senior School Certificate or SSC Examination. Having got those, the next step for me was success in the Higher School Certificate, HSC, or University Entrance Examination.

We had just entered the Sixth Form or Year One of the HSC. One day all the sixth formers in both the science and arts streams were asked to come together. We were to be addressed by a lady who worked as a physiotherapist at the General Hospital, Colombo. She was from England and had been sent to work there by the World Health Organisation or WHO. This lady introduced herself to us as Elizabeth McDowell. She told us about the work she did at the General Hospital.

And then she showed us a short film about how she did what she did. This film showed people who could not do so after strokes being taught to walk; those who had been paralysed by polio doing exercises and making their muscles strong; they could now put these parts of their body to daily use and be independent; those who had pain in the necks and backs being relieved of it through the use of lamps and machines. Some had their necks or trunks stretched out to give “traction” which would relieve their pain. Those who had asthma and phlegm in their chests and other breathing problems were placed in various positions and tapped on their chests; with this the phlegm would be loosened, they would cough it out more easily and be able to breathe in comfort.

All this and more Elizabeth showed us. Then she invited any of us who would like to know more about her work to come to see her at the General Hospital and learn more about it. The purpose was to encourage at least some of us to see a future in this new profession and join the course of study that was to be made available at the General Hospital. This was a profession that was formally new to Ceylon. There were a few young Ceylonese who had been sent by the Government on Colombo Plan Scholarships to study and return qualified as physiotherapists. Some had been sent to England and Scotland and others to Australia and New Zealand. Although all of them had to come back when studies were over, many of them emigrated later to the UK and some to Canada. Later, even to the United States.

In these countries, the work of physiotherapists was better recognised and compensated in relation to their value, and their futures were more promising. For many decades after that, even as Sri Lanka continued to produce her own physiotherapists, this exodus continued. But patients now knew about physiotherapy and asked for it. The country was continuously in short supply until the market in those countries had been filled. The Ministry of Health was then required to increase cadres and make physiotherapy more accessible to patients who were in need of it.

Physiotherapy education was started by the Ministry of Health as a two-year course of study. It is now available as graduate courses in several universities. Masters and PhD studies are also now available.The morning that we visited Elizabeth at the General Hospital we were a group of nine, young and adventurous, and Deepthi was with us. With the smell of ammonia in the hospital she fell into a faint. Deepthi went on to Medical College and then as Dr. Attygalle, ended up as an eminent Anaesthesiologist. We still tease her about her faint on her first visit to a hospital.


That visit with Elizabeth provided for me my first encounter with disability. Even though I had been a passive observer during the encounter, it had impacted my life forever. For that is when, in my subconscious, I had seen my future in this profession. I can still see that visit in my mind’s eye. I knew I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I would be a physiotherapist.

This decision however I kept to myself, knowing I should share it with my mother only when the right time for it came. I was not sure then that I would have the opportunity to avail myself of that course of study. So I went on to prepare for the HSC Examination that would enable my entrance to Medical College, more or less forgetting for the time being, the interest in physiotherapy that was created in me that special morning.

Then something strange happened to me in the second year of Form Six. I crashed in my studies. While I had gained a distinction and credits in science subjects at the SSC Examination, the marks I got not eighteen months later for term examinations were now like 10%, 18% and even below 10%. No one knew what had happened. If it happens to a young teenager now, no doubt the advice of a medical professional would be sought and a diagnosis would have been made.

At that time it seemed to have been alright, was not talked about, and somehow we coped with the situation. At home my mother did not show me that she was unduly worried. At school, it appeared that teachers had taken it as a matter of course – I had done badly in my examinations. Mrs. Amirtharanee Ratnasingham, our class teacher in Form Six Two and I had an easy relationship of mutual affection. My sister Nalini and she had been classmates and good friends. Beyond her intellect and knowledge, her personality made her an exceptional teacher. I had tremendous respect for her. I felt that she was always protective of me, always there for me.

Coming straight from the Principal’s office one morning at the end of the second-term, she called me aside. She said to me with great tact something like, “Padmini you have not done too well in your exams. Maybe you need to study a little more so you will be ready for the University Entrance next year. Why don’t you wait another year with us and do the exam next year? Would you like to do that?” That was good news to me because I too felt I did not know enough to sit that exam. It was, in fact, a relief. I replied that yes of course I would stay. But I had a sneaking feeling that I may not.

Before the end of that term, I had told my mother that I would not be continuing my studies at Ladies’. She was, of course not just sorry that she would not have a doctor in the family; more than that she worried about my future and what I would do now. But I reassured her that I would do something useful. I guess she knew her daughter and had trust in me.

When Miss Simon was told about my plans, she would have none of it. “No,” she said to me sternly in her office. “You are not going to stay at home. At the beginning of next year, you will come back and help Mrs. Ratnasingham in the Lab.”

Which I was happy to do. It gave me time to share my decision with my mother. I was called the Lab Assistant and was paid a salary, or allowance, of one hundred and thirty-five rupees. A princely sum to a young girl just out of school. When I showed surprise that I should receive such a large amount, I was told that this was my entitlement, having the qualification of SSC after my name.

My mother had by this time bought a house at Clifford Road, Kollupitiya, so that the younger of my two sisters, now 28, could have her own home and look after the three younger brothers and me. My mother continued to live at Kalubowila with Uncle Lyn. But her heart was with us and every morning she would come to Clifford Road and return to Kalubowila in the evening.

Most of my friends were all still students, waiting to start at the university or medical college. And here I was, financially independent. At the end of every month I would give fifty rupees to my sister as my share of house expenses. She would take no more. A monthly visit with my mother and sister to Ranjana Stores on Bankshall Street in Pettah was a part of the calendar. Here they would every month help me choose a saree made of exquisite “Katau” voile to add to my working wardrobe, now growing at a steady pace.

These beautiful Indian sarees at that time cost around twenty rupees each. Occasionally my mother would buy me a soft Kashmiri silk with a matching blouse piece for three times that amount. Other minor incidentals and the remainder was savings. I was given no choice but to put that into a Post Office Savings Book. There was a small post office not far from us at Kollupitiya. It is this that has grown to what it is now.

Sharing my Secret

These were happy times working with Mrs. Ratnasingham, getting both chemistry and physics labs ready for lessons and experiments and afterwards making sure that the students would leave the rooms clean and tidy. Getting the flowers and leaves and any other material Miss Lakshmi de Mel required for her botany lessons. And seeing to it that the rats, cockroaches and other odious animals and insects Mrs. Arulampalam wished to have for her Zoology classes were available on time. When alone with Mrs. R, she would often say to me, “Padminee, what are you going to do. You must do something.”

Which got me thinking that it was time I had a chat with my mother. I told her I would like to become a physiotherapist with the why and a possible how. Most of my brothers had gone abroad for various studies and so had my sister Nalini’s husband Leslie. She had of course gone with him. I felt it was a kind of family tradition that I should follow. If my mother agreed, I would find an affordable way. She agreed and I did.

In Search of a Way

I first looked for scholarships that I could apply for. Off went a letter to the German Embassy telling them of my interest and asking whether they would consider giving me a scholarship to study physiotherapy in Germany. They said that they had given out all their scholarships that year in 1958. However, they advised me to learn German so that they could consider me for the next year. That was rather too long to wait, but I started German language lessons. Just in case I could not find a faster route.

We had at school a teacher of English called Erin Muller. It was obvious to us that she was related to the well-known Orthopaedic Surgeon Gerry Muller. I had heard that Mr. Muller had his own clinic where he employed a physiotherapist from England. I told Miss Muller that I would like to meet her to find out about opportunities in the UK. She gladly arranged for this. I was given the address of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy or CSP, headquartered in London.

The CSP was responsible for all physiotherapy education in the UK. My next letter therefore went to the CSP taking care to inform them of our financial constraints. Back came the reply that there were three hospitals in the UK to which I could apply. Costs of study would be within my mother’s budget. So, I sent letters of application to all three. Post was then carried by ship. It turned out later that all three would offer me a place. I grabbed the offer made in the first letter that reached me. I had got a place to study physiotherapy at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital or ROH in Birmingham.

The Course of Study in Physiotherapy in the UK was in length then three years and three months. All costs had to be paid for, including the course and related fees and all costs of accommodation had to be met. This we could absolutely not afford. But the three hospitals recommended in the letter offered a way out. They were all Orthopaedic Hospitals. They offered a combined course whereby a student who first followed a two-year course in Orthopaedic Nursing with them, could then avail of free tuition in physiotherapy as well as have accommodation provided for during the period of the physiotherapy course. Here it was. My mother was hesitant, pointing out to me what I was letting myself in for. But she was no barrier, And never had been throughout my life.

My letter of acceptance had to be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from my school principal. Now how was I to get this?

Miss Simon and I had never been very close. As part of her daily routine, she would go to the hostel every day to have lunch with the boarders. I would accost her on her way there at noon-time.

And so I did, making my request. That she was at the same time shocked, amazed and happy for me is an understatement. Yet filled with pride that quiet me had gone far beyond her expectations, she admonished me for, “leaving everything until the last minute”. I went to her office that afternoon and her letter was in my hands. The next morning that letter attached to mine was on the high seas on its way to inform the ROH, Birmingham that they would soon have a student from Ceylon.

Preparation for my Mother

Meanwhile, there were lots of things to be done. Most important to my mother was to find out as much as she could about this Orthopaedic Nursing and Physiotherapy course that her daughter was determined to go to England for. She had to be sure even now that she was doing the right thing in letting me go.

When Mr. Muller had earlier heard of my interest in physiotherapy he had been delighted. He had invited me to come to his clinic and be with his physiotherapist while she worked whenever it suited me and her. I had been doing that regularly. So my mother had an opportunity to speak with her.

Then an appointment was made with no delay with the Officer-in-Charge of the British Council in Colombo. When he heard about our plans, he was angry with my mother. He used words like, “do you realise what your daughter will have to do as a nurse in England? Do you know that she will have to go down on her hands and knees and scrub the floors? Are you going to let your daughter do these things?” Which had my mother in tears. But I had read enough about nursing in England to know that this was not true. I was as determined as ever that I would go. I had to go to England to study. I tried to persuade my mother that he was misleading us. Why he did that I knew not.

But my mother would go no further without ascertaining the truth of what the British Council Officer had told her. So she next made an appointment to meet Ceylon’s other well-known Orthopaedic Surgeon at the time, Dr. Francis Silva. Dr. Silva was a relative of my father’s, but my mother made this a formal occasion, seeing him in his surgery.

When he heard of what I wished to do and what the Officer had said, he first dismissed that person’s stories out of hand. Then he filled my mother with reassurance. She was actually “Pansy Akka” to him. He told her what a useful profession this was in England. He told her Ceylon needed many more young girls like me to who were willing to do what I was planning to do. My mother was almost satisfied – maybe I would be alright.

(To be continued)

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If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!



BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
Consultant in General & Interventional Cardiology, NHSL

Tobacco harms practically all of the body’s organs and is a key risk factor for heart disease!

Smoking can impact all aspects of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. I know from my experience over the years that about 25% of the patients who seek treatment from me for heart conditions smoke.

Is there a strong link between smoking and heart disease?

Of course, there is! Smoking definitely contributes to heart disease. The majority of smokers experience heart attacks.

Some claim that the only people at risk for heart attacks or strokes are those who are classified as heavy smokers. Although this is the case, did you know that smoking even one or two cigarettes a day might result in heart attacks?

Young smokers are on the rise, which unfortunately brings more cardiac patients between the ages of 20 and 25 to the cardiology unit.

Why is tobacco poison for your heart?

The harmful mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, can interfere with vital bodily functions when inhaled.

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and pass it on to your heart, which then pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood arteries. However, when the blood that is circulated to the rest of the body picks up the toxins in cigarette smoke when you breathe it in, your heart and blood arteries are harmed by these substances, which could result in cardiovascular diseases.

What does cigarette smoke do to your heart?

Atherosclerosis (Building up of cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery)

Endothelium dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis. The inner layer of coronary arteries or the arterial wall of the heart both function improperly and contribute to artery constriction when you smoke cigarettes. As a

result, the endothelium-cell barrier that separates the arteries is breached, allowing cholesterol plaque to build up. It’s crucial to realize that smoking increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in even those who have normal cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks

The plaque accumulated in the arteries can burst as a result of continued smoking or other factors like emotional stress or strenuous exercises. Heart attacks occur when these plaque rupture and turn into clots.

Coronary artery spasm

Did you know you can experience a spasm immediately after a puff of smoke?

A brief tightening or constriction of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the heart is referred to as a coronary artery spasm. Part of the heart’s blood flow can be impeded or reduced by a spasm. A prolonged spasm can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

People who usually experience coronary artery spasms don’t have typical heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, they are frequent smokers.


An erratic or irregular heartbeat is known as an arrhythmia. The scarring of the heart muscle caused by smoking can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.Additionally, nicotine can cause arrhythmia by speeding up the heart rate.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking!

Did you know the positive impacts start to show as soon as you stop smoking?

After 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate begins to slow down.

In just 12 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your heart and other vital organs.

12 to 24 hours after you stop smoking, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease decreases by 50% after one year of no smoking.

So let us resolve to protect and improve heart health by saying no to tobacco!

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Religious cauldron being stirred; filthy rich in abjectly poor country



What a ho ha over a silly standup comedian’s stupid remarks about Prince Siddhartha. I have never watched this Natasha Edirisuriya’s supposedly comic acts on YouTube or whatever and did not bother to access derogatory remarks she supposedly introduced to a comedy act of hers that has brought down remand imprisonment on her up until June 6. Speaking with a person who has his ear to the ground and to the gossip grape wine, I was told her being remanded was not for what she said but for trying to escape consequences by flying overseas – to Dubai, we presume, the haven now of drug kingpins, money launderers, escapees from SL law, loose gabs, and all other dregs of society.

Of course, derogatory remarks on any religion or for that matter on any religious leader have to be taboo and contraveners reprimanded publicly and perhaps imposed fines. However, imprisonment according to Cassandra is too severe.

Just consider how the Buddha treated persons who insulted him or brought false accusations against him including the most obnoxious and totally improbable accusation of fatherhood. Did he even protest, leave along proclaim his innocence. Did he permit a member of the Sangha to refute the accusations? Not at all! He said aloud he did not accept the accusations and insults. Then he asked where the accusations would go to? Back to sender/speaker/accuser. That was all he said.

Thus, any person or persons, or even all following a religion which is maligned should ignore what was said. Let it go back and reside with the sayer/maligner. Of course, the law and its enforcers must spring to action and do the needful according to the law of the land.

One wonders why this sudden spurt of insults arrowed to Buddhism. Of course, the aim is to denigrate the religion of the majority in the land. Also perhaps with ulterior motives that you and Cass do not even imagine. In The Island of Wednesday May 31, MP Dilan Perera of Nidahas Janatha Sabawa (difficult to keep pace with birth of new political parties combining the same words like nidahas and janatha to coin new names) accused Jerome Fernando and Natasha E as “actors in a drama orchestrated by the government to distract people from the real issues faced by the masses.”

We, the public, cannot simply pooh pooh this out of hand. But is there a deeper, subtler aim embedded in the loose talk of Jerome and his followers? Do we not still shudder and shake with fear and sympathy when we remember Easter Sunday 2019 with its radical Muslim aim of causing chaos? It is said and believed that the Muslim radicals wanted not only to disrupt Christian prayer services on a holy day but deliver a blow to tourism by bombing hotels.

Then their expectation was a backlash from the Sinhalese which they hoped to crush by beheading approaching Sinhala avenging attackers with swords they had made and stacked. This is not Cass’ imagination running riot but what a Catholic Priest told us when we visited the Katuwapitiya Church a couple of weeks after the dastardly bombing.

It is believed and has been proclaimed there was a manipulating group led by one demented person who egged the disasters on with the double-edged evil aim of disrupting the land and then promising future security if … Hence, we cannot be so naïve as to believe that Jerome and Natasha were merely careless speakers. Who knows what ulterior moves were dictated to by power-mad black persons and made to brew in the national cauldron of discontent? Easiest was to bring to the boil religious conflict, since the races seem to be co-living harmoniously, mostly after the example of amity set before the land and internationally of Sri Lankans of all races, religions, social statuses and ages being able to unite during the Aragalaya.

We have already suffered more than our fair share of religious conflict. The LTTE exploded a vehicle laden with bombs opposite the Dalada Maligawa; shot at the Sacred Bo Tree, massacred a busload of mostly very young Buddhist monks in Aranthalawa. This was on June 2, 1987, particularly pertinent today. They killed Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Katankudy after ethnically cleansing Jaffna and adjoining areas of Muslim populations.

The Sinhalese, led by ultra-nationalists and drunken goons ravaged Tamils in 1983 and then off and on conflicted with Muslims. Hence the need to nip all and every religious conflict in the bud; no preachers/ Buddhist monks/overzealous lay persons, or comedians and media persons to be allowed to malign religions and in the name of religion cause conflict, least of all conflagration.

Comes to mind the worst case of religious intolerance, hate, revenge and unthinkable cruelty. Cass means here the prolonged fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie (1947-), British American novelist of Indian origin who had a ransom set aside for his life declared by the then leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The British government diligently ensured his safety by hiding him in various places. After nearly two decades of tight security around him, he ventured to the US on an invited visit. He settled down in New York, believing he was now safe from the fatwa and mad men. It was not to be. In New York on stage to deliver a lecture in 2022, Rushdie was set upon by a lone assailant who stabbed him in the eye, blinding him in that eye and necessitating his wearing an eye band. What on earth was his crime? Writing a fictitious story to succeed many he had written and won prizes for like the Booker.

Religious fanaticism must never be permitted to raise its devilish head wherever, whenever.

Farmer’s fabulously rich son

Often quoted is the phrase coined by the Tourist Board, Cass believes, to describe Sri Lanka. Land like no other. It was completely complementary and justified when it was first used. We were an almost unique island where every prospect pleased, particularly its smiling, easy going people and the wonderful terrain of the land with varying altitudes, climates and fauna and flora.

Then with the decline of the country engineered and wrought by evil, self-gratifying politicians, their sidekicks and dishonest bureaucrats, disparities became stark. Sri Lanka is now in the very dumps: bankrupt, its social, economic and sustainability fabric in shreds and people suffering immensely. But since it is a land like no other with a different connotation, only certain of its population suffer and undergo deprivation and hardship. Others live grand even now and have money stashed high in–house and overseas in banks, businesses and dubious off shore dealings. Some lack the few rupees needed to travel in a bus but most political bods drive around in luxury cars; infants cry for milk and children for a scrap of bread or handful of rice. Plain tea is drunk by many to quell pangs of hunger while the corrupt VIPs quaff champaign and probably have exotic foods flown over from gourmet venues.

And most of those who drive luxury cars, eat and drink exotically and live the GOOD life, did not inherit wealth, nor earn it legitimately. Young men who had not a push bike to ride or Rs 25 to go on a school trip to Sigiriya are now fabulously wealthy. Cass does not want to list how they demonstrate immense wealth possession now.

One case in the news is Chaminda Sirisena, who seems to be very, very wealthy, wearing a ring that is valued at Rs 10 million, and then losing it to cause severe damnation to its stealer. Goodness! Cass cannot even imagine such a ring. Well, he lost it and 5,000 US $ and Rs 100,000. The suspect is his personal security guard. Having never heard of this brother of the ex Prez and he not being the paddy multimillionaire owning hotels, Cass googled. Here is short reply, “Chaminda Sirisena. Owner Success Lanka Innovative Company, Sri Lanka, 36 followers, 36 connections. (The last two bits of info completely incomprehensible and no desire at all to verify). He sure is comparable to Virgin Airways Branson and other top global entrepreneurs to become so wealthy being a son of a man who served in WWII and was given a small acreage to cultivate paddy in Polonnaruwa. When his brother Maitripala became Prez of Sri Lanka it was with pride the comparison was brought in to the American President who moved from log cabin to the White House.

Hence isn’t our beloved, now degraded Sri Lanka, a land like no other with Midases around?

We now have another maybe thief to worry about. No further news of the poor mother whose life was quashed for the sake of a gold ring, leaving three children motherless and probably destitute. When we were young, we were told very early on that if we lost anything it was more our fault; we were careless and placed temptation to less fortunate persons. The Tamil woman who died after being in remand was such a one who needed extra protection from temptation. To Cass her employer is more to blame for the probable theft and for the tragedy that followed.

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Snakes of Sri Lanka



By Ifham Nizam

Snake bites are a serious public health issue in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 80,000 snake bites occur here every year.Due to fear and poor knowledge, hundreds of thousands of snakes, mostly non-venomous ones, are killed by humans each year.The state spends more than USD 10 million a year on treating snake bite patients.

According to health sector statistics between 30,000 and 40,000 snake bite patients receive treatment in hospitals annually, says Dr. Anjana Silva, who is Professor in Medical Parasitology, Head/ Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University.

To date, 93 land and 15 sea snake species have been recorded from Sri Lanka. While all 15 sea snakes are venomous, only 20% of the land snakes are venomous or potentially venomous.

The term, ‘venomous snakes’ does not mean they cause a threat to human lives every time they cause a bite. The snakes of highest medical importance are the venomous ones which are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in severe envenoming, disability or death,” says Dr. Silva who is also Adjunct Senior Research Fellow – Monash Venom Group,Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and Research Associate- South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.

Only five snakes could be considered to be of the highest medical importance in Sri Lanka: Russell’s viper, Indian krait, Sri Lankan cobra, Merrem’s hump-nosed viper and Saw-scaled viper. All but Merrem’s hump-nosed vipers are covered by Indian Polyvalent antivenom, the only treatment available for snake bites in Sri Lanka.

There are another five snake species with secondary medical importance, which are venomous snakes and capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, but the bites are less frequent due to various reasons (Sri Lankan krait, Highland Hump-nosed viper, Lowland hump-nosed pit viper, Green-pit viper and Beaked sea snake)

The snakes of highest medical importance in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  1. Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Sinhala: Thith Polanga/ Tamil: Kannadi viriyan)

Medically the most important snake in Sri Lanka. It is found throughout South Asia. It is responsible for about 30% of snake bites in Sri Lanka and also about 70% of deaths due to snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Some 2-5% bites by Russell’s viper are fatal. Widely distributed throughout the country up to the elevations of 1,500m from sea level. Highly abundant in paddy fields and farmlands but also found in dry zone forests and scrub lands. Bites occur more during the beginning and end of the farming seasons in dry zone. It can grow up to 1.3m in length. Most bites are reported during day time.

Over 85% of the bites are at the level of or below the ankle. It is a very aggressive snake when provoked. Spontaneous bleeding due to abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney failure have life-threatening effects.

Dr. Anjana Silva

  1. The Sri Lankan Russell’s vipers cause mild paralysis as well, which is not life threatening. Indian Polyvalent antivenom covers Russell’s viper envenoming. Deaths could be due to severe internal bleeding and acute renal failure.
  2. Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) (Sinhala: Thel Karawala/ Maga Maruwa; Tamil: Yettadi virian/ Karuwelan Pambu)

It is distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is found across the lowland semi-arid, dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. Almost absent in the wet zone. Usually, a non-offensive snake during the daytime; however, it could be aggressive at night.

Common kraits slither into human settlements at night looking for prey. People who sleep on the ground are prone to their bites.

Most common krait bites do occur at night. Bites are more common during the months of September to December when the north-east monsoon is active. Most hospital admissions of krait bites follow rainfall, even following a shower after several days or months without rain.

Since most bites do occur while the victim is asleep, the site of bite could be in any part of the body.

As bite sites have minimal or no effects, it would be difficult to find an exact bite site in some patients. Bite site usually is painless and without any swelling. Causes paralysis in body muscles which can rapidly lead to life threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty).

  1. Sri Lankan Cobra (Naja polyoccelata; Naja naja) Sinhala: Nagaya; Tami: Nalla pambu

Sri Lankan cobra is an endemic species in Sri Lanka. It is common in lowland (<1200m a.s.l), close to human settlements. Cobras are found on plantations and in home gardens, forests, grasslands and paddy fields. It is the only snake with a distinct hood in Sri Lanka.

Hood has a spectacle marking on the dorsal side and has two black spots and the neck usually has three black bands on the ventral side. When alarmed, cobras raise the hood and produce a loud hiss.

Cobra bites could occur below the knee. They are very painful and lead to severe swelling and tissue death around the affected place. Rapidly progressing paralysis could result from bites, sometimes leading to life-threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty). Deaths could also be due to cardiac arrest due to the venom effects.

  1. Merrem’s hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) Sinhala: Polon Thelissa/ Kunakatuwa; Tamil: Kopi viriyan.

Small pit-vipers grow up to 50cm in length. Head is flat and triangular with a pointed and raised snout. They are usually found coiled, they keep the heads at an angle of 45 degrees. Merrem’s Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) is the medically most important Hump-nosed viper as it leads to 35-45% of all snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Merrem’s Hump-nosed vipers are very common in home gardens and on plantations and grasslands. Bites often happen during various activities in home gardens and also during farming activities in farmlands in both dry and wet zones. Hands and feet (below the ankle) are mostly bitten. Bites can often lead to local swelling and pain and at times, severe tissue death around the bite site may need surgical removal of dead tissue or even amputations. Rarely, patients could develop mild blood clotting abnormalities and acute kidney failure. Although rare, deaths are reported due to hypnale bites.

  1. Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), Sinhala: Weli Polanga; Tamil: Surutai Viriyan

This species is widely distributed in South Asia. However, in Sri Lanka, it is restricted to dry coastal regions such as Mannar, Puttalam, Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa. In Sri Lanka, this snake grows upto 40-50cm. It is a nocturnal snake which is fond of sand dunes close to the beach. It could be found under logs and stones during daytime. Bites are common during January and February.

It is a very aggressive snake. A distinct, white colour ‘bird foot shape’ mark or a ‘diamond shape’ mark could be seen over the head. When alarmed, it makes a hissing sound by rubbing the body scales. Although this snake causes frequent severe envenoming and deaths in other countries, its bites are relatively less severe in Sri Lanka. Bites could lead to mild to moderate swelling and pain on the affected place and blood clotting abnormalities and haemorrhage and rarely it could lead to kidney failure.



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