“My life has and continues to be dedicated to helping my fellow human being in whatever tangible way I can. That will never change.”
By Leon Suseran
Though he is intensely modest and would not admit the obvious, there is little doubt that Dr. Narine Datt Sooknanan
virtually carried upon his shoulders the ‘business’ of delivering healthy babies and pre- and postnatal care of innumerable mothers in the Ancient County for over 30 years. His place at the helm as the only Obstetrician/Gynaecologist (OB/GYN) in Berbice during his time spent at the New Amsterdam Hospital brought him an immense workload, long days and nights spent at the facility, and some tough times.
But this was only because of the sheer love and dedication he exhibited for the profession he so loved (and still does). Today, he is easily one of the most experienced and qualified OB/GYNs in the country, and still has an extremely deep concern for pregnant mothers and the safe delivery of their babies.
Narine Datt Sooknanan was born in Crabwood Creek, Corentyne, in 1940, to poor peasant farmers who were engaged in rice cultivation. As was customary for young boys in those days, young Sooknanan assisted his parents in their agricultural pursuits in the rice fields, as well as tending to the livestock, “and that was how most of us were able to survive.”
He contrasted the past with the present, in that thieves never stole people’s produce and livestock.
“People had that sort of understanding, and one can argue, they were more honest,” he reflected. “The community spirit existed in those days and village-folk shared whatever resources, be it food or otherwise, that they had.”
Narine attended the Crabwood Creek Canadian Mission School after which he spent some time at Skeldon Lutheran High. Due to financial constraints, he had to discontinue his education at Skeldon High and thus secured
a job as a Lawyer’s Clerk with Mr. Bhiro Persaud, Barrister-at-Law. He migrated to New Amsterdam but quickly realised that he did not like the job, so he moved back to the Corentyne.
Taking advantage of a scholarship for an Agricultural Officer in the 1950s, young Narine pursued the Agricultural Apprenticeship for two years, spending lots of time studying and doing work in the Botanical Gardens in Georgetown, partaking in several months of studies in plant nursery, livestock, rice cultivation and veterinary science.
He gained meaningful employment in the Veterinary Division under the Ministry of Agriculture, and this started a new chapter of his life; one that entailed him travelling the length and breadth of the country.
“Those were good days,” he fondly recalled.
After completing a few months of studies of Rabies in Cattle, at the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, he returned to Guyana as the Rabies Officer in the Agriculture Ministry.
The main vector, he recalled, was the vampire bat.
“We used to travel the whole country inoculating animals against rabies, and visit the islands as far as the Rupununi Savannahs. You learnt a lot about cattle—it was a good civil service job,” he added. He was also tasked with manning the Veterinary Lab in Georgetown and recalled the “good veterinary services” back in those days. In the meantime, he pursued private evening GCE ‘A’ and ‘O’ Classes at Queen’s College.
In 1962, he won a scholarship to study Veterinary medicine in Prague, Czech Republic, of which he took advantage. He quickly switched to pursue human medical studies at Charles University, the oldest and largest in the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1348. Prior to his studies, he did one-year language course since studies were done in the Czech language.
Narine graduated as a Medical Doctor in 1968. But he wanted to go further, into specialization. In 1970, he travelled to England and secured a job, while pursuing specialized studies in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the London University. He graduated in 1976 and became a Member of the Royal
College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London.
A few years later, the young astute doctor, after conducting medical studies and research into his field of practice, was bestowed with the honorary title of Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London (FRCOG).
MEMORIES OF NEW AMSTERDAM HOSPITAL
He returned to Guyana as a Consultant to Obstetrics and Gynaecology with the Ministry of Health in 1977. He was positioned at the New Amsterdam Hospital, located then at 25 Charles Place. His days spent there were “memorable”. The workload was very heavy since he was the lone OB/GYN in the entire Berbice area, and one of the very few in the country. Of course, he was responsible for the Department of OB/GYN.
“With my experience I saw almost all. I gained tremendous experience working in a speciality at the busy regional hospital. You had to cover everything that happened. In those days, the conditions were not as good as today—there was more shortage of so many things—syringes, needles, lights, water—I think the doctors today have it better.”
He recalled the days of hard work and excellent team work.
“We had dedicated staff—I essentially lived in that (New Amsterdam) hospital, because I literally
was 24/7 in the facility—I really had little time for home, but still, you felt encouraged when patients felt better and you had a lot to do with helping them—that is your reward.”
Dr. Sooknanan also reflected that the birth rates were much higher in those days, having some 3 deliveries per day and an average of 1,500 per year.
“Obstetrics and Gynaecology is a very delicate area in medicine and one has to always be present in case things go wrong, because believe me, things do go wrong very quickly.”
During his time, Dr. Sooknanan attended countless medical conferences and seminars worldwide and in the Caribbean. The various medical journals always keep him updated about what’s happening in his specialized field. As a Fellow of the institution, he receives journals and books from the RCOG.
Dr. Sooknanan was also involved in training nurses at the Nursing School and served as Examiner at the University of Guyana Medical School. He was also a member of the Ionic Lodge and served, too, as Past President of the New Amsterdam Rotary Club.
“I am always ready for a challenge, and I do not like staying at home—I love hospital work. I am at my happiest and most satisfied when I am able to deal effectively and efficiently with diverse and complicated cases that present themselves before me.”
Our ‘Special Person’ has witnessed hundreds of ‘miracles’ entering the world and he describes the feeling as magical. “It’s always nice to see a baby come out alive and everybody’s happy—doctor and mother are happy. It gets very distressing, though, if the baby dies, it upsets everyone—not only the patient but the doctors, nurses—all the staff. It’s something you don’t want to happen.”
Dr. Sooknanan met his wife Eliska, while at Medical School in the Czech Republic,. They have four wonderful children, three of whom are doctors as well. The twins – Michael (OB/GYN in London) and David (General Practitioner in Toronto) – as well as Adrian (Internal Medicine), are all doctors. Their daughter Dalida is a jeweller.
Having retired over four years ago, the doctor was asked whether he would still make available his services and expertise to benefit the health sector in the Ancient County. His answer, though short, spoke volumes of this special individual.
“I am ready and willing to train young doctors in the speciality if the Ministry of Health so desires. My life has and continues to be dedicated to helping my fellow human being in whatever tangible way I can. That will never change”.
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