Lights in the Street, Darkness at Home

Dariela Aquique

It had been exactly 12 years since I last went inside that place.  The memory of my mother’s last dying breathes had made it impossible for me to set foot in the Provincial Oncological Hospital since then.  Yet here I was, this time accompanying my sister-in-law to a consultation.

Fortunately, I hardly ever have contact with hospitals or questions related to the health care system and its institutions.  But I always hear complaints from other people concerning the poor conditions of the facilities, the bad treatment, the lack of materials, the absence of medicines, the ineptitude of many doctors, etc….

I know from talk that things are going poorly in that terrain, but until now I hadn’t had any real reason to tell about a specific incident.

Sitting in the clinic’s lobby, I saw a woman approaching.  About forty-something, she was walking with difficulty and with a painful expression on her face.  Supporting her on the left was a young physician and on the right another woman who could have been her sister, judging by their features.

When she sat down beside me (with great effort), the first thing she did was to apologize profusely because she was constantly letting off gas.  I told her not to worry, that that wasn’t important at all.  We sat there in silence for several minutes until a young man with an annoyed expression informed that no one could attend to her because the general surgery doctor was in Havana at a conference and that he hadn’t left anyone to take his place.

The patient — dispensing with the role of the hapless patient — with a mixture of anger and grief said firmly: “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not leaving here today without someone sees me, there has to be some doctor who can examine me.  I feel bad…” with those last few words fading back into silence.

I then began asking about the details of her situation, and she herself began explaining it all to me.

It had been a month since her first surgery there at this same hospital, where they had removed a tumor.  However, due to an error made by the surgeons, she wasn’t given a needed seven pint transfusion of blood (later hers became tainted), which required her to undergo a second operation.  That procedure led to complications that sent her into the intensive care unit for seven days, during which time she had teetered on the edge of the death.

Since that time she had not gotten an opinion from any specialist, only her family doctor.  She had expected this to have been her first consultation but now there wasn’t a doctor who could see her.

By then I needed to leave and I said goodbye wishing her the best and that she succeed in getting the director of the hospital to assign some doctor to examine her.  I should point out that the patient lived in the Songo-La Maya Municipality, about an hour outside of Santiago.

As I left I was able to hear what her sister said:

“Sure, we don’t matter at all, though there are always doctors in Africa or Venezuela.  That’s how it is for us: “Lights in the street, darkness at home.”