In the Peak of Health / Rebeca Monzo

Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 24 May 2018 — How is it possible that international organizations rank our planet Cuba near the top when it comes to public health services?

There are only a very small number of hospitals that the government can point to as examples of quality health care: Camilo Cienfuegos Clinic in Vedado; Cira García Clinic, formerly Miramar Clinic; Cimeq Hospital, which serves government officials, their families and friends; La Pradera, for very special cases; and the famous Kohly Clinic, which is reserved for very high-level officials and their closest relatives. Most of the other hospitals, which — like those previously mentioned — were built before the Cuban Revolution, are the ones available to the rest of us, the “average Cubans.”

In spite of their solid construction, these hospitals are in an overall state of decay due to neglect. And the level of cleanliness and hygiene in them leaves much to be desired.

Not long ago, a very close family member of mine checked into Calixto García. Along with other medical instructions the hospital gives patients upon admission, it recommends that they and those accompanying them be sure to place all personal items inside sealable plastic bags to prevent contact with the small roaches that are routinely found on the small bedside tables next to each patient’s bed.

Leaks in bathrooms and the lack of shutoffs at sinks and showers, from which water shoots continuously due to the absence of requisite items of plumbing, are other major problems. The patients, most of whom are elderly, are in constant danger when walking through corridors due to the chronic presence of puddles of water, putting them at risk of falling.

Something that caught my attention and struck me as unimaginable was the day the nurse on duty went from bed to bed, asking patients and their caregivers if they had seen anyone running away with a window. It seems the “pantry” of the recently renovated ward had just been robbed.

Such extraordinary incidents have become almost routine in most hospitals. Facilities being robbed of their plumbing is, unfortunately, now a common occurrence.

Another incident that made an impression on me was the day that I had an accident and hit my forehead, causing a deep gash almost to the bone. My neighbor took me on his motorcycle to the clinic to which I was assigned.

When I got to the emergency room, it was closed and I had to spend several minutes walking around the facility, looking for a doctor who would help me. After a while, a doctor showed up. She checked the wound, told me they could not help me and said I should go to the Orthopedic Hospital so they could do an X-ray before suturing it.

She did not give me a referral so, when I arrived at the hospital, I went to the emergency room doctor and explained what had happened. He said he was sorry but that they could not help me and that I should go Calixto García or Fajardo. We finally decided to go to the latter because it was closer.

There I was immediately seen by a young medical student in the emergency room who cleaned and stitched up the wound with “kid gloves.” He suggested I go to a small waiting room where there was stretcher, which I did very carefully because there was water on the floor. The only three questions the doctors there asked me were the following: name, address and age. They did not take my blood pressure, or do an X-ray, or ask if I felt nauseous, or if I had ingested anything right before the incident.

Draw your own conclusions with respect to basic health care services provided on my planet, where hygiene — a fundamental aspect of health — is quite precarious.