The Good Fortune of Beggars / Miriam Celaya

Photograph by Orlando Luis

One of the most common attacks from the official spaces against the alternative bloggers revolved around our supposed malicious interest in silencing the “achievements” of the Revolution. With regards to the issue of health, the scoldings bring up a point. The altruism of the so-called solidarity–referring primarily to the medical brigades serving in other countries–has become, for several years, the surviving showcase for marketing tropical socialism and is the object of more than a few recognitions on the part of international organizations who comment on the professionalism and spirit of sacrifice of our doctors, as well as the political willingness of the leaders of the Revolution to support health programs in less-favored countries.

Cuba, by virtue of this capricious principle, ranks among the “favored” countries for an enviable public health system, taking into account that is has the luxury of exporting doctors and equipment. Of course, they never mention in said spaces that so much altruism is detrimental to the Cuban people themselves, who have witnessed an accelerated deterioration in all the health services.

It’s not necessary to point out that the official press allows itself to reflect daily on the efforts of our government to maintain “the high standards” of medical attention, the “free” character of the services, and the many sacrifices they have to make to ensure that the people don’t lack such privileges. Most commonly, the official praise is accompanied by data. So, a patient who depends on dialysis, or who has undergone complex transplant surgery of some organ, has to additionally suffer the governmental pedantry reminding him of his eternal debt of gratitude to the Revolution and the high cost of his care and treatment, as if it weren’t enough to suffer the illness and the impossibility of access to other services offered by the country’s battered hospitals.

On short, we bloggers are truly impertinent, as we spend our time looking for spots on the sun. Because, after all, faced with such greatness, what does it matter, for example, that a 74-year-old patient has spent ten days in Salvador Allende Hospital (Covadonga), between the end of May and the beginning of June, without undergoing an endoscopy because there was no water? It’s true that he was vomiting blood, but still–without even finding an ambulance that could take him for the prescribed examination at another hospital–the doctors on more than one occasion tried to discharge him without diagnosis. Very professional and ethical of them, as after all, at the end of the day they’re not plumbers and couldn’t solve the water problem. Right? The patient finally was able to enter, be diagnosed, and undergo surgery at the Hermanos Aimeijeiras Hospital, thanks to the opportune intervention of his nephew, a famous musician whose name I won’t mention.

Another silly little thing the media don’t divulge is the fact that the Dentistry School at the University of Havana is not offering services because there aren’t any gloves. Believe me, it’s true. After a precarious period due to a scarcity of this basic supply, the prestigious center had to discontinue patient care due to the small reserve of gloves which had to be set aside for the use of those students facing the upcoming state exams. Let’s not go into the frequency with which they lack anesthetics or simply the frequency with which those they do possess have expired. I know this because I suffered it with my own tooth.

But the glove crisis has turned into an epidemic. A few months ago my friend Diana took her son to the Central Havana pediatric hospital for the removal of a small subcutaneous cyst by outpatient surgery. My friend watched how the doctor, after a brief operation, instead of tossing the gloves in the trash, carefully laid them on the instrument tray. She wanted to clear up this mystery and the doctor explained that she had to return the used gloves to the nurse each day, who was in charge of recycling them. This was required because there was such a scarcity of gloves and at the end of the consultations they were recorded as if they were basic equipment. Diana wonders where it would be possible to sterilize worn latex gloves. I do not know the answer to that.

Recently an acquaintance of mine was undergoing a caesarean in the Gonzalez Coro (formerly Sacred heart) maternity hospital, one of the most prestigious of its type in the country. Just before the operation, the anesthesiologist asked her husband for a 10 CUC card to recharge her mobile phone. I wonder what family would refuse, under the circumstances, to satisfy the specialist’s request, but I don’t know a single one that would dare to denounce such extortion. And I know that all the specialist are not extortionists, but I don’t know of one who doesn’t accept gifts.

We know that their salaries (like those of any State-employed Cuban) are not sufficient to meet their basic needs, but in this case setting aside words such as “altruism” and “ethics” when it comes time to classify our specialists would be less false, because, at the end of the day, they are, in general, as needy and corrupt as anyone.

Marcia has just injected herself in the veins of a leg. The varicose veins cause her great pain, not to mention the unesthetic aspect of those fat blue and red veins running across her skin. What’s clear is that she had to find the injections “outside” because they don’t have them in the hospital, but in the end she was able to deal with her circulatory problem. Now she needs the shots in the other leg… Only the clinic where she is supposed to undergo the process was closed. The attending physician doesn’t know if it will reopen, nor where or where. So, Marcia must begin her peregrination through hospitals and clinics to find a solution, or simply resign herself to living with the atrophied veins in her leg while waiting for treatment.

The hidden face of these false “free services” jumps out at us daily in every clinic. Of course there is no lack of the bovine-minded who rejoice in the mere fact that, in the best case, there is a medical graduate behind a desk ready to prescribe some remedy, after a phone consultation with the nearest pharmacy to verify whether or not they have the medicine. Although the most common is that ordinary Cubans will be attended to (if you can call it that) by some foreign student, almost always a remote and enigmatic Latin American. It is the good fortune of the beggars when they have no other option.

The anecdotes of Cubans who are forced to be seen at clinics, or even worse, to be hospitalized and undergo surgery in our much-lauded “free” service, would fill an infinite collection of pages. I dare say many more pages than would be required for all the triumphalist articles published by Granma in the last decade. This explains, perhaps, the mania of the bloggers to expose the infinite spots on the Revolutionary sun, whose artificial brilliance has produced a strange blindness in the official journalists. Hopefully they won’t have to be seen in a medical clinic! Or, better yet, hopefully our clinics will have the same conditions as theirs!

June 14 2011