14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 February 2018 — In an impulse of good faith or perhaps with some excess optimism, Fabiola arrived at the social services department of the Van Troi polyclinic in Centro Habana one October morning with a medical certificate to register her mother – a bed-ridden octogenarian with senile dementia – in order to receive the support that, as proclaimed by the Cuban authorities, these terminal patients are entitled to. Making that decision was her first mistake.
Weeks before, a doctor from that same health institution had made the recommendation, considering that it was “a right due the old woman, a widow and pensioner,” and something that might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demands.
The request might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demanded
It was for this reason that Fabiola decided to go through the process, knowing that, aside from the high cost of adult diapers, there are often cyclical crises due to shortages of such an essential product.
She also knew that in the neighboring municipality of Old Havana there is a regular system of elderly care, a service introduced by the City Historian, by virtue of which the coveted diapers for elderly bed-ridden residents of that municipality are distributed, with duly accredited prior medical certification.
All this is possible, of course, “subject to availability,” a pretext coined by some astute official, which is almost as useful as “the imperialist blockade” since it can be conveniently applied by official institutions in the face of any shortage situation.
However, Fabiola thought that the public health system, and in particular social services, because of their unique and national character, would function the same way in each municipality, and decided to try her luck in hers. Her second mistake was, then, to attribute some margin of efficiency and functionality to an official institution.
Almost four months later, after a telephone call and after thoroughly confirming personal details of the patients and Fabiola – labeled “caretaker” – a kindly clinic employee notified her that “it was her turn to pick up the module” in the establishment assigned to her, where she had to go and present the “receiver of the benefits” to get the expected help.
The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel. No diapers.
The employee explained that “that is all there is.” After all, she punctuated, “it’s free and it’s something.” And she also said that the modules could be accessed every six months, as long as the patient’s medical certificate was presented that would certify the patient’s status.
The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel
With her ephemeral exercise of faith deflated, and after recognizing her unjustifiable slip, Fabiola decided to close and forget that chapter. She would continue as before, resolving everything necessary on her own, attending to her mother with the same specialist doctors, who were her friends, and made house calls to her mother, and – if necessary – appeal to her relatives abroad to get whatever medicine or help they might need.
But believing that she would be unscathed when using the system’s controls was the third and most naïve of her mistakes. Because when Fabiola – who for decades stayed out of the government’s health system – gave in to the temptation to officially register her mother’s “case,” she was not only attributing credibility to a proven ineffective institution, but was making an attempt against one of her most precious personal assets: her privacy.
It turns out that the Cuban socio-political regime is precisely designed to invade one’s privacy, to blur the individual into “the mass” and to create in the population that humiliating feeling of commune or flock in need of the Government’s protection, which favors in the first place the acquiescent assimilation of official controls disguised as “protection of the population” – invasions of private spaces by fumigators and inspectors under the pretext of eliminating vectors (which are never eradicated), or untimely and unsolicited visits from the family doctor or nurse, among other intrusions – and collaterally establishes as a social norm of mutual vigilance, promiscuity, vulgar egalitarianism, envy and mistrust among neighbors, for all of which there are mass organizations, the different meetings of the so-called People’s Power and all the institutional entelechies conceived by Castro over decades of totalitarian power.
Now, since she applied for Social Assistance “help,” automatically turning her mother into a statistic of the system, Fabiola – who is a rare Cuban journalist who does not belong to any political or mass organization, does not vote, does not participate in neighborhood meetings or popular festivals, does not like gossiping or personal confidences, does not meddle in the lives of others or give advice and does not cause discomfort or allow the invasion of neighbors or strangers into her home – has started to feel that her house is a kind of besieged square, under the merciless harassment of state officials.
With her candor, Fabiola and her family had fallen into the system’s networks, which now tried to breach her impenetrable privacy, something that in Cuba is considered a remnant of a decadent bourgeois, incongruent with the project of eternal socialism to which we Cubans aspire, according to the Constitution.
As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding in her house at any time of the day to “see the patient”
As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding into her home at any time of the day to “see the patient,” while the municipal Social Assistance office has recently sent her an employee with an extensive questionnaire that sought to collect, in addition to the personal data of those who inhabit the house, the income of each one and its origin, the occupations, the number and brand of electrical appliances they own, how many rooms they have, monthly expenses for gas, electricity, food, and a host of intimate details that Fabiola, true to her custom, refused to answer.
“Tell your bosses that none of that is any of their business, and that it’s already very clear that I never should have and will never again request your ridiculous ‘module,’ so don’t send me anyone else because I will not see them. Do you ask all these indiscreet questions to the bunch of decrepit old men who rule this country? Or do they not need those alms? Because many of them are old enough for adult diapers. Also tell them that my mother is perfectly well taken care of, and it’s not thanks to the Revolution”.
The young official, stunned, feverishly took notes on a blank piece of paper writing, perhaps for the first time, an official report without information. She felt uncomfortable and frustrated, and probably thought that Fabiola was as crazy as her mother. Which could be true, because Fabiola has the extravagant madness of behaving like a free individual in a slave society. In fact, this has always been the greatest of her abilities.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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