Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Good Fortune of Beggars / Miriam Celaya

The Good Fortune of Beggars / Miriam Celaya
Miriam Celaya, Translator: Unstated

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

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

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