Allow us a word… / Jeovany J. Vega
Jeovany J. Vega, Translator: Unstated
To Dr. Adelaida Fernández de Juan.
I recently read your article, "Medicine defended, which circulated on
the web this past August. Before I read it I saw your name at the
bottom, and as this is a sign of responsibility and courage — as those
who dare not to hide in anonymity may be arrested — for me, in advance,
I felt your sincerity and valor, and so I feel a reverence, far beyond
what I can share. Like you, I am a doctor, graduated in 1994, and I find
in your writing references to the abuse and misunderstandings, so I
would like draw your attention to some details.
During the time I practiced medicine I was a witness to various
situations in which a health worker mistreated, consciously or
unconsciously, some patient or family member. This is undeniable. But as
undeniable as this, is the fact that for each of these cases of
mistreatment I can recall a dozen cases (without exaggerating), on the
contrary, only in these, different from the others, were rarely reported.
When a patient feels mistreated, frequently they immediately complain to
the different levels of the Health System, the Government and the Party,
but this almost never happens when the mistreatment — much more
frequently than people think — happens in reverse. Sometimes the patient
isn't even aware of his attitude, as the grievance is assumed from the
professionalism of the mistreated, in this case us.
However, there is a point where I disagree with you or with whomever
suggests it. When you refer to the topic, "…the extremely low and
disproportionate salaries, the undervaluing of the vocation, the truly
abusive treatment of which we are victims and other grave matters…";
then giving the sense that, "…there are possibilities of lessening these
This takes me to past times, when our sector was on the list of the
so-called "budgeted," that is those depending completely on State
financing. This was the excuse to explain why professional salaries in
the health sector were so low and could not in any way be raised. But
time passed, then came the era of medical missions abroad and now we
live in a very different reality.
Today Cuba maintains collaborative medical missions in over 70
countries, which have been reported in recent years to bring up a sum of
between five billion and eight billion dollars annually. A rapid
calculation converts 8 billion dollars — in the Cuban peso in which we
receive our wages — into 180 billion pesos annually.
With this alone we are the most productive economic sector of this
country. But to these millions in income (which greatly exceeds even
Tourism, which generates some two billion) we have to add that
contributed by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, the
third highest exports after nickel and petrochemicals. It's clear: our
section has become the engine of the Cuban economy, so there is no
compelling reason that we should be paid this miserable salary,
equivalent to less than 30 dollars for an entire month's work.
If I go on about the numbers, it's only because they are very eloquent.
You know, as I do, that the added human sensibility that makes our work
priceless, despite our great scarcities that perhaps those who judge
with surprising lightness us don't know, don't fully understand the
seriousness of the matter.
You, like me, have been on medical duty where there is a lack of vital
medications, reagents, X-ray film and essential disposable materials;
where we don't even have running water, where we can't even wash
ourselves on a 24-hour shift, without even being able to wash our hands;
resting in such tough conditions that people wouldn't even believe it if
they saw it; eating poorly — for example broth and mashed potatoes, or
corn flour and boiled potatoes for every meal — knowing beforehand that
this shift did not bring us a penny to feed our children and knowing, as
well, what is even more painful, that other State sectors like ours,
which don't generate anywhere near the income we do, are much better paid.
For decades we have been a very poorly served sector. In my case, I
remember that since 1994 I worked for seven years with only the two
doctor's coats I was given as a recent graduate, and this compares with
other sectors that have received uniforms and shoes every year — some
even every six months — as well as extra monthly pay in convertible
pesos, personal hygiene products and food. I couldn't explain this if it
weren't accepted, with pain I say it, hard evidence: those responsible
for dealing with this sector don't concern themselves with the
well-being of our workers, nor with our families, everything is a matter
of sheer laziness, a proverbial irresponsibility, or both.
You quote another journalist, Fernando Ravsberg, as part of what is
already becoming a crusade, also on the attack — according to what I
infer from what you wrote, because I haven't had access to that article
— extending the shadow of bribery on the just and the unjust. I read it
and remember, however, such elevated examples of moving dedication:
professionals who are second to none in knowledge, and also in ethical
principles, people of integrity, who carry their wisdom with a shining
humility, living in the midst of shortages and that it shames me even to
remember, and who even so, prefer to die rather than stoop so low.
I know there are the unscrupulous among us, I know its face, its name,
its last name, they are not abstract examples but reality. But for my
pride and yours, Doctor, and perhaps to the surprise of Mr. Ravsberg,
they will never be the rule, they are a painful exception. That I know
and I would hold both my hands to the fire for that, my disinterested
and honest people. Who search the trees for firewood, who look above us
and find enough reed to cut it; but when there is not enough courage, it
is more comfortable and certain to take from us, those below.
For saying words very similar to yours, Doctor, I was stigmatized, and
some idiot even accused me publicly of being "money-grubbing," when I am
among those convinced that capitalism is very far from offering a
solution to the problems of the world, but to belabor this point would
take us far off topic.
I think it is stupid to run after the superfluous, following a consumer
culture that compels me to buy a cellphone every month or a new car
every year. But as absurd as this is, after working 26 years, to be
without a penny three days after being paid; that the workers of our
sector eat lunch at noon without knowing if they will eat dinner that
night; that our "salaries" honorably earned don't even allow us to feed
our families for more than a week a month; that a specialist with 20
years experience has only one pair of broken shoes; that the most that
we can aspire as physicians is to a battered bicycle.
Before such a picture, even Kafka would pale, would certainly suffer a
massive heart attack with all the complications described by cardiology.
I don't ask for irrational opulence, but nor do I deserve the miserable
existence they seem to want to condemn me to.
Excuse my manners, allow me to present myself: I am Jeovany Jimenez
Vega, I live in Artemisa and I have been a specialist in Internal
Medicine since 1999. Five years ago I was disqualified to practice
Medicine anywhere in the national territory indefinitely, since October
2006, for having channeled to then Minister Dr. José R. Balaguer Cabrera
the opinions of 2300 professionals in Public Health about that
disrespectful "salary increase" in our sector in mid-2005.
At the time of my punishment I was a Party member – since 1995 – and was
studying the final year of specialization in Internal Medicine; I was
expelled from the party immediately and suspended from my Residence, and
several months later was disqualified, along with a colleague and friend
who accompanied me on that initiative.
The details of they flat out lied to try to legitimize our punishment
can be found in the first post of my blog "Citizen Zero"
(http://citizenzerocuba.wordpress.com), open since last December to
denounce this injustice and fight to regain the exercise of the
profession that was taken from me.
Doctor: Despite everything, I have no doubt, we can count on the respect
and caring of the majority of our patients and this is a great
encouragement to continue. Along with this, I am comforted that there
are professionals like yourself, who are not resigned to look on with
indolence and shame, but who break their silence and share the truth. We
consecrate our lives to the medical profession, as we must, but this
should never be understood as renouncing the right to proudly defend our
We live proud of our sublime profession, far beyond that "…contempt for
the vocation, the abusive treatment…" to which we are subjected by those
whose job it is to ensure our well-being as workers.
We will never forget that our oath imposes on us the duty to comfort man
in his sickness and at his death, and to always comfort him in his pain,
even if in his delirium he comes to bite the hand that cures him. In
this endeavor, Doctor, we hold our heads high and our hearts open, and
nothing else matters. Be assured, better times will come.
September 12 2011