Five Hours of Pain

Daisy Valera 

Havana's Calixto Garcia Hospital.

After returning from Pinar del Rio Province, and perhaps as consequence of having swam in a swollen river, I began to have an ear ache.

I heard my words repeated and felt as if there was water inside my head, but I’d already checked to find that this wasn’t the cause of my discomfort.

I was like this for several days, avoiding any noise and going without talking too much, recalling my childhood pains that used to force me to apply ear drops usually sitting on my night stand.

I don’t like going to the hospital.  I’m one of those people who irresponsibly try to self-medicate themselves.

My mother is a doctor, so my house has always been a doctor’s office; therefore by force I’ve memorized the treatment of some common illnesses.

My ear ache seemed common, so I prescribed myself plenty of liquids, but things started to turn a little ugly when I began to feel dizzy.

Though I didn’t want to, I went to the nearest polyclinic with a pain that threatened to drive me out of my mind and with my balance pretty much out of whack.

I started dreaming about an analgesic, but it was just that – an illusion.  What awaited me was an imposing line at the clinic.

A doctor finally attended to me.  She listened to me and kindly told me: “Here, there’s nothing we can do for you.   With the new re-organization of polyclinics, there’s no longer ear-nose-and-throat staff or equipment at this clinic.

I couldn’t believe it.  No one who has suffered pain in their ears would accept such an answer (nor was the doctor very happy about giving it to me).

Very solicitous, she continued by saying: “Look, so that you don’t get bounced from one place to another, go to Calixto Garcia Hospital, that’s the facility that treats people from East Havana.

I would have laughed if I hadn’t been in such terrible pain.  The fact that people who live in the populous municipality of East Havana have to travel miles away to a hospital in the Vedado district made no sense to me.

Nonetheless, I climbed on a bus since there was no way I could afford a taxi.  If you have a pain but don’t have money, you have to take the bus – there’s no other remedy.

I arrived in the rain at Calixto, where the ears, nose and throat consultations were the most demanded. The sole doctor on-call in that specialty was busy with a patient.

It seemed that I was never going to get rid of this ear ache.  I waited, I waited, I waited…

He finally re-appeared, what joy, it only took him two hours to return.  What enviable luck.

The attention was also impeccable.  After joking around saying that he would have to operate on me, he prescribed me a few pills and nasal drops.  I had a cold my ears.

I headed off content to the pharmacy with my prescription in hand, but I wasn’t surprised to find that they couldn’t attend to any patients because they were counting the money – which meant I’d have to wait a half an hour more.

Well, something like that can happen when you don’t have any other alternative than diving into a weakening national health system.  I went to the polyclinic for treatment at 5:30 in the afternoon but I was only able to get relief by 10:30 that night.

Lines, delays, a lack of hygiene and disorganization have become common in the Cuban health care system.

But there can be no mistake: Cuban medical personnel (there are always exceptions) could be the best you can find.  Nothing less.