It Costs / Regina Coyula

All the hospitals I’ve visited lately have put up  some eye-catching posters: “Your health service is free, but it costs.” I’ve seen these relating to ophthalmology, surgery, orthopedics, dentistry, and I recently saw a generic one for the Institutes. Then they enumerated a list of services, from the simplest and least inexpensive to complex procedures costing thousands of pesos.

For the citizen who made several unsuccessful visits before finally receiving a medical consultation after a long wait; for  the person whose hospital admission is like moving day, having to take a tub and heater for bathing, a fan, a lamp, insecticide, and the major part of the food in the house; for the man resigned to the unwritten law that in order to receive appropriate health care he has to provide something extra, snacks for each shift, cigarettes for the nurse, a little “gratuity” to facilitate the ultrasound or the analysis—this colorful wall poster is nothing but propaganda. Propaganda and a neutralizer. It doesn’t cost you, so don’t complain.

(And I’m not saying whether it costs, with the pseudo-salaries and inflated prices.)

I admire the skill and dedication of the doctors, but the excellent service that we were promised as “medical power”—not because of the number of physicians per capita (although you can find that in the Amazon or in northeastern Brazil), but because of the quality of health service as a whole—was lost along the way. And no one can convince any Cuban that the fault is due to the blockade and the imperialist threat.

During a wait of over an hour for a scheduled appointment (visible through a window in public view) with of an employee whose function is to deliver laboratory results, a young man who decided to lie down on a bench and sleep through the wait—with that grace Cubans have for taking the edge off any situation—in front of one of the afore-mentioned signs, caused all of us who were waiting to laugh: The public health costs us, but because it’s free …

21 April 2014