After seeing “The English Patient,” a magnificent film directed by Anthony Minghella and played brilliantly by actor Ralph Fiennes in the principal role, I felt as though I had been to its locations on those days when I have had to visit and remain for hours around América Arias hospital — so-called in honor of she who was once First Lady and a great patroness of the arts, the wife of President José Miguel Gómez of the Republican era.
Anyone with a relative or friend who is a patient at this hospital, better known as “Maternidad de Línea” (“Línea Street Maternity”), if he has seen the same film, will do as I did: mentally recreating the movie’s locations as he moves among the trash and underpinnings of the facility.
This maternity hospital, built in 1930, is another great example of the Art Deco style, as was the once-magnificent, now-extinct (as a result of governmental apathy and neglect) Pedro Borrás hospital — today gone to ruin by “the work and dis-grace*” of the Revolution. Both of these structures had been designed by the famed Cuban architectural firm of Govantes and Cabarrocas.
The interior and exterior appearance (of the América Arias facility) gives the impression of an abandoned hospital — and really, it is — except for an operating chamber and two emergency waiting rooms that are kept up. In the midst of this great deterioration, a valiant medical team does the impossible, with practically no resources, to save lives. Anxious relatives pace from one end to the other while they await news from the operating room, with no place to sit.
A friend remarked to me that, upon spotting at one of the patios only two construction workers shoveling a bit of cement mix, she drew closer and asked them why, in such a big hospital needing repairs, there were so few workers. They both responded that this was because of a lack of allocated construction materials.
How is it possible that in our country there are hotels constantly being planned, remodeled and built, while the population can hardly count on halfway-decent and clean hospitals to go for treatment? The common citizen — the one who suffers from these shortages and the absence of hygienic conditions — takes as a bad joke and a sign of disrespect the healthcare propaganda that is so replicated throughout the Cuban media.
*Translator’s note: A pun on the phrase, “By the work and grace of the Holy Spirit”
Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison
2 March 2015