Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cuban Doctors Aren’t the Same Anymore

Cuban Doctors Aren't the Same Anymore
June 19, 2012
Yordanka Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — This wasn't the first time that Virgen talked to me about
when she visited Cuba. About 12 years ago she went to my country
accompanying her sister who was receiving medical treatment.

But it wasn't only in Havana where Virgen first befriended Cuban doctors
(we know that Venezuela is now full of our physicians).

Initially, like most Venezuelans, Virgen didn't have much confidence in
Cuban medicine. However, one morning in a private clinic she found a
magazine — published outside of Venezuela — in which she read a report
about health care professionals in Cuba and their work in different
parts of the world.

The article wasn't written by Chavez supporters or anything like that.
Virgen told me that she ended up "borrowing" the magazine to show the
touching and informative story to all of her friends.

This was how she got to know the first Cuban doctor who was sent to work
in the area where she lived. He was one of the first to serve in Caracas.

Talking with Armando, she learned of his anguish.

He had never had to treat a gunshot wound, his roommates weren't the
best people in the world, his nights — spent locked in and away from his
family — were filled with homesickness, while sometimes gunshots
ricocheted off the wall in his house only to leave him a nervous wreck.

Yet despite all that, Armando was determined to do his job as he had
sworn to under the medical code and to go even beyond what was required.

This was how Virgen got to meet other health care professionals, until
she got the opportunity to travel to Cuba, accompanying her sister who
was ill with a serious heart disease.

At the La Pradera Clinic (for foreigners), her sister as a patient and
she as a companion received the best of care. But Virgen wasn't
satisfied with the formal "doctor-patient relationship," so she became
friends with most of the staff there.

She also made friends with many other patients and would often go with
them visiting different parts of Havana. This was how she first saw and
took pictures of the famous "Camels" (the double-humped buses in the
capital), collapsing tenements, La Bodeguita del Medio bar/restaurant,
some beaches on the east and west sides of town, and became acquainted
with a little more of "Cuban life."

She learned that the food they received at La Pradera was far more than
what "ordinary" Cubans usually ate. And also she found out that the
doctors caring for her sister earned paltry salaries – though better
than the professionals at other Cuban hospitals.

She learned to make "panetelas" — here they're called "tortas" (cake) —
in pressure cookers, which left her totally impressed. In this way she
was getting to know our other side as "inventors," which is typical of
those who have no other choice but to "invent" in order to make do.

Since then, Virgen has continued to recognize the kindness and wisdom of
the doctors from my country, but over the last couple of years they
haven't been the same, she confessed.

"They've been infected by the Venezuelan doctors." That was her
explanation in brief.

She notes: "How is it that over there in Cuba we can't dream of
maintaining a cell phone, while here in Venezuela the doctors spend all
their time glued to the devices?" She went on to add: "Plus, whenever I
go for an examination now, they hardly look at me; their ears and energy
are focused on those damned Nokias. And most of them will simply
prescribe the same thing: Paracetamol and Piroxicam.

She knows that these drugs are manufactured in Cuba, where people often
have a hard time finding them in pharmacies, and she's surprised that
they don't provide a greater range of medicine throughout Venezuela's
system of Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers CDI.

She added, "A few years ago the Cuban doctors who attended our area did
regular "field work," meaning that he or she would go see patients who
were hypertensive, pregnant, diabetic or whatever on a regular basis.
Now — at least in this area — it's difficult to even find them posting
up public service health care messages.

My neighbor even complained saying: "One night when my daughter had a
high fever, I took her to see the doctor who was serving us. But she
didn't even want to open the door; she was upset because it was her
break time."

Virgen knows that these aren't isolated cases, though nor is this an
attempt to generalize.

"Cuban doctors are losing their innocence, they're becoming
Venezuelanized," she repeated at the end, longing for those physicians
who she met at the beginning of "Mission Barrio Adentro*.


* Mission Barrio Adentro (English: "Mission Inside the Neighborhood") is
a national social welfare program established under current Venezuelan
president Hugo Chávez in 2000. The program seeks to provide
comprehensive publicly-funded health care, dental care, and sports
training to poor and marginalized communities in Venezuela. source:

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