Demonstrating the IV line tourniquet. This is actually pretty genius and works fine.

I feel like I’m in an American medical drama walking around in my white coat. Standards of dress are very important here, though I was alreadyin formal ‘surgery-mode’ from the get-go. I’m striking out in one way, though: I’ve been told local students aren’t allowed facial hair. I’m constructing elaborate camouflage plans to hide my beard. Trundling through fields of deadly snakes is one thing, but dealing with weeks of patchy regrowth? Pass the snakes.

Down the path to the left, around the corner, service lift up, and you’re in Ward 25, the male surgical ward. I’ve started familiarising myself with my surrounds. It took me a bit of experimenting to figure out how their cannulas work for putting in lines, which look very different to what I’m used to. No tourniquets here for popping out veins when you take blood; a bit of IV tubing tied in a knot looks basic but still does the job perfectly. No pre-packaged alcohol swabs either – you make your own swab on a stick and dunk it in the alcohol jar. The drugs sit in beautiful multicoloured jars like a lolly shop, and I can’t help but rummage through them.

Rainbow-coloured medicines - dozens of them!

Looking around the ward, I saw some other foreign students. Two guys from Cairns were seeing patients, and I later met a German girl, her friend in gynaecology, and two girls from Sweden. It was interesting to talk to them all about how things worked in their healthcare systems, too. Tim happened to have a Sri Lankan girlfriend back in Australia, and subsequently had enough Sinhala to get by! I took his tips on useful phrases to ask the patients directly, and he was happy to walk me through his basic consultation routine. He recommended that I check out some of the surgical clinics for some quality teaching, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for them.

A standard meal at the hospital. It's cheap and delicious.

Stepping into an air-conditioned room I found the high dependency unit, and inside a gentleman whose record paints a concerning picture just to look at. The man has file after file stacked in front of his bed, all from private healthcare institutions. I’m told that private care is quite good and available to those who can afford it, but often the toughest cases end up transferred to public facilities regardless. His case is a difficult one: a neuroendocrine tumour (NET) in the pancreas, and possibly elsewhere too. NETs are particularly troublesome because they tend to produce their own hormones depending on their variety, which in turn throw the body’s hormonal regulation out of whack. The surgeons sweep in, and I can’t make out the details of what they’re saying as it’s mostly in Sinhala. Interestingly, they switch back and forth to address us in English, but I’m lost again once they start to discuss the patient in detail. I make a note for myself to read up on his case, later.

I’ve found the canteen, and got to get to know the Germans a bit better. They’ve warned me that I’ll be a target on the morning rounds for questioning, so I remind myself to read more of that surgical textbook on my phone, and try not to associate it too much with my PBSD (Post-Bollywood Stress Disease). The heat has been up to 35C, leaving you drenched at midday, and something about the dehydration makes me desperately crave these cream soda sugary drinks they sell here. By the fourth one, I was beginning to wonder if my travel insurance covers fillings.

On the way home, I go past a smoking tuk-tuk that has apparently caught fire on the hospital grounds. I think it’s safe to say at this point that they’re not that safe after all.