By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES – Damaris enters the room with a wide smile, as white as her uniform. It’s 1 PM and her patient is having lunch, but that doesn’t matter. “My mother is going to Oriente and I have to pop out to Guanabacoa to say goodbye,” she explains.
While preparing the injection, she adds: “I need you to stop eating for a moment Madam, so I can give you your vitamins and give you your dose of Furosemide, it’ll be quick.”
Damaris and I aren’t friends, it’s the first time I’m seeing her. She is the nurse and I am in the hospital looking after a sick woman. I don’t need to know anything about her life, but she can’t hold it in. “I’m giving the medicine a little early so I can leave, just imagine. This goes on until tomorrow like this. It’s really hard work, nothing can pay for it.”
Before leaving, she lets us know that there isn’t any sodium chlorine or oxygen, making sure that she didn’t need anything else. And she leaves.
Later, while hooking up the drip, she tells us that it was really hard for her to get a hold of the sodium chlorine and that she had to go look in another ward and “fight hard” for it. Then, she stays in our room, looking at us, at me, as if she were waiting. It was a little strange for me because no other nurse has ever done this, but every individual is a microcosm, I don’t really know anything.
She takes advantage of me leaving the room to speak on the phone to catch me: I wanted to tell you something, my mother went to Oriente today, as you know, and when I was talking to her to find out whether she got there OK, the line went dead and I don’t have any credit. Would you be able to give me 1 CUC for my cellphone?
I’m moved, my mother is sick, I’m sensitive and I just happen to have a little bit of credit on my phone. I give it to her without thinking twice, she says that she will also be able to check on her daughter and she shows me a photo of a beautiful girl. Night shifts are hard for everyone, but it’s normally a lot worse on women who leave children or elderly relatives at home because they worry.
I think about that when she says she is hungry, that she hasn’t eaten and it’s going to be a long night. I feel bad about not being able to help fill the stomach of a person who is responsible for taking care of so many patients, but I only have a juice left which I happily give her. She leaves.
Then, she comes back and walks around the room. She says that she is bored, and the soap opera won’t be on for a while yet. I can’t do anything to help her now, I’m a lonesome soul, I like to help people, but I don’t like to give up my privacy; and Damaris was trying to do this. So, I began to wonder whether she was playing at being “my friend” and why exactly.
At some point in the night, I lay down on an empty bedframe, mattresses are taken off so they don’t get stolen. Damaris comes in again, she fills with pity when she sees me laying on the bare iron framework and brings me a mattress. I resist, I don’t want her to get into trouble, but she insists that it’s fine: I’m going to be in room x, in case you need to give me something.
I’m left with a strange feeling. What would I have to give her? She must have got confused, I’m sure she meant to say: in case the patient needs something, or had I misunderstood? But she doesn’t leave me very long to rack my brain as she comes back again to tell me that she isn’t in that bed but in another now… and she keeps coming back to give me updates about her movements in the ward, so I wouldn’t lose sight of her.
I came to the conclusion that she wouldn’t leave me in peace until she got what she wanted. I don’t know why she chose me when there were so many people accompanying patients in the ward. Damaris was harassing me, and the worst thing was that I had no idea how to get out of that perplexing situation. I have no way of knowing if there was sodium chlorine in the ward and she didn’t have to “get a hold of it”. Maybe the story of her mother was just a coincidence and she doesn’t spend her time asking patients or their companions for favors.
It’s an ambiguous feeling, it’s hard to know where the truth lies. She’s the nurse who’s on call the entire night, if anything were to happen to my mother, she would be the one to see her. I was so disturbed, uneasy and sleepy that I gave Damaris a little extra and she left me alone. She was gone the next day. We had the mattress for a couple more days without anyone asking for it back. When I ran into Damaris again, she continued to flash her smile, as white as her uniform, and she kissed me in greeting as if we were friends. Luckily, it was my last day there as my mother had been given the all clear.
I still think about having fallen into her trap, I’ll be better prepared next time. However, the most surprising thing is that when I tell this story, many people think “this is normal”, that “she has to find a way to get by” or that “you rub her back and she rubs yours.” As if Damaris were doing me a favor.
It’s interesting, many of these same people are insulted by customs officials, for example, (and rightly so) when they stab you in the back at the airport, but they were now justifying or accepting Damaris’ attitude. Does it make it any less loathsome just because she’s a nurse? I would say it makes it even more so, because she was taking advantage of the vulnerable situation sick people are in, their companions, and she plays with their emotions.
Note: This isn’t the nurse’s real name, her identity is the least important thing in this article. Out of all the health professionals who saw us, she was the only one who behaved in this way, but we have to recognize the fact that there is always at least one Damaris.