HAVANA TIMES — One of the first things one sees when arriving in the Emergency Room of the “Manuel Fajardo” Clinic Surgical University Hospital, is a huge poster in which you can read: “Your health care is free, but it costs…”, followed by a list of some of the services we are given free, with their prices.
I arrived in this place after feeling sick the whole day with a couple of vomits and a fever between 100 (38 C) and 102 (39 C) degrees. The intern doctors who examined me, decided, after the physical examination and an x-ray, that I had pneumonia and should be immediately admitted.
Before arriving in this facility I had gone to the Calixto García Hospital from which I ran away, because they ordered an urgent complete CBC test, and that my temperature should be taken in the infirmary, since, if it was over 100 degrees, I would have to be given a shot with duralgina.
The fact is that at the infirmary, the thermometer was broken, and at the clinic lab, there was a long line of upset people, while the lab technician held a cheerful telephone conversation, indifferent to any complaint.
At the “Fajardo”, the attention in the first stage was a little better, but it all returned to what is normal here, when the admission process began. To sum up, I was laid out in the waiting room, trembling with fever, with a vein of my right arm channeled, for about an hour and a half, just because no one had confirmed that my bed was ready.
When I found the stretcher-bearer, I told him I had sheets of my own to make my bed, so he took me to my room. It was 9:45 in the evening.
One of the rights of the admitted patients that was immediately violated in my case, was the one to be received by nursing staff. Once the stretcher-bearer showed me my bed, no one else took care of me.
Deadbeat due to the fever, I managed to make my bed and could hardly eat some of the food a friend had brought to me, and then I fell into an intermittent sleep because of the fever tremors and the concern that the little intravenous did not come out of my vein.
I was abruptly waken up from that half-conscious state by the nurse on duty, who pulled my channeled arm to give me some medicine. No good evening, no please, and even less the name of the medicine he was giving me. That was close to midnight.
The next morning, it was the same thing. The nurse, after giving me the medicine, took that uncomfortable thing off my arm, without a word.
There I was, lost, without knowing the times for the meals, without knowing the daily routines, each of which I discovered gradually, by asking my roommates.
When the doctors arrived, the treatment changed. And so did the diagnosis. Three students and two professors examined me in that round, and they all agreed I did not have pneumonia.
In the x-rays, they could indeed see some little spots in the lungs, that would have to be studied by carrying out a TAC (A computerized Tomography). But given the lack of any external breathing symptom, and the visible congestion in all of my body, besides the symptoms that made me go to the hospital the day before, they decided that mine was a case of food poisoning, which requires no hospitalization.
I was asked if I had recently undergone any checkup, and given my negative answer, they decided to run a complete one, including the TAC. It was Friday.
So, I would have to stay the entire weekend at the hospital, waiting for the repair of the TAC device, which was out of order at the time.
Summary: a tremendous panic; a hospital bed unnecessarily occupied; my work team going crazy, assuming my tasks; my friends mobilized, keeping me company and taking me food (we already know what to expect from the food at the hospitals in Cuba); a lot of trouble to bathe without a shower, with the toilet stopped up, and with cockroaches roaming around; surrounded by people with breathing infections, who coughed painfully and expectorated constantly; taking the chance of getting infected.
Everything for a new bad diagnosis.
What’s the objective then, of the posters reading: “Your health care is free, but it costs…”, which we also see as television spots? Does the fact that it costs nothing to us, but to the State, as they let us know, justify the mistreatment and the wrong diagnosis?
Sometimes, I wonder how life in Cuba would be, without the subsidies. I know that many people – including me – would see themselves affected, but, for how long? Would the attention to people be different? Could money warrant a treatment worthy of human beings?