Hospital Blues

By Alfredo Fernandez

Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital.
Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital.

To visit a hospital is quite simple for anyone in Cuba; you only have to be feeling a little bad during the hours that the smaller polyclinics aren’t open or have some relative admitted in one of its wards, to cite only a couple examples.

But if the facility in which you’re receiving health care is the General Calixto García Iñiguez Hospital in Havana, you’ll discover situations worthy of everything from astonishment to indignation.

This hospital is renowned not only for the professionalism of its medical personnel, but also for the deterioration of some of its facilities, which can deliver the same surrealistic impact as Dali himself.  Though this is common in many Cubans hospitals, I never cease to find myself shaken.

The Otorhinolaryngology ward in this hospital, where my sister has been admitted while waiting for spine surgery, is simply Dantean.

The bathrooms are unisex, not because of progress made by CENESEX (the Cuban Center for Sexual Education), but as a result of the general physical decline that this institution has experienced.  In the few toilets that function, men and women carry out their needs around the clock.

Trash and scraps of food accumulating for days at the entrance of the bathroom of my sister’s ward reminded me of the trash cans for collecting food for pigs that are set up in certain Cuban workplace dining rooms.

Cohabitation by gender extends to the patients’ rooms, where it’s not unusual for, say, the patient in bed 21 (a recently operated on woman) to request the patient in bed 22 (a man waiting for an operation) to kindly leave for a moment “because she needs to pee in the bedpan or the nurse has to inject her in private place.”

If we add to this description the sign located over the admissions office prohibiting the use of cameras, we are faced with the recognition by the Cuban government of a situation of abandonment, or at least one of extreme delay in the completion of repairs to this health facility, formerly the “flag ship” of all Cuban hospitals.

All of this saddens me, and I hope it changes.

3 thoughts on “Hospital Blues

  • I HAVE TAKEN MY FIRST TRIP TO CUBA SINCE 1999 AND THIS WAS TO HAVE IMMEDIATE MUCH NEEDED SURGERY. I chose this route not because of lack of insurance in the US, but rather because I fear the medical services offered in the US and admittedly because i had seen some of the disasters relatives of mine had suffered in the US.
    The hosp that i was in was great, i had a private room and the nurses and doctors who cared for me did so with professionlism etc. Yes, there were items in places they should not have been and yes there were times when i wished for more things than what i would have had at home in Fla. However, the result of my surgery was my main concern because when it comes down to it..Its about my life vs the scaps of food(i never saw) on the floor…
    I also know that if one wants to really take a can..and one will..i did Now i posted them on my blog..
    My sister now lives in Cuba..and she disagrees also but has chosen not to return here.

  • Why, after 50 years, can’t the Revolution do better than this? Why is the health care system being starved for resources? Is it a simple question of incompetence, bureaucracy, and lack of accountability? Or is there something more sinister going on here? (e.g. hurrying the elderly off to an earlier grave so that they don’t use up the resources of the social security pension system)? Even if Cuba can’t afford the latest medical equipment (which, in many cases, only prolongs the agony in the final months of life anyway), still, there is no excuse for not having adequate plumbing, and maintaining acceptable sterile conditons, in the nation’s hospitals.

  • Alfredo Fernandez,

    It saddens me to read your article. I too hope there will be change for the better soon.


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