Divorce Cuban Style between Health and Humanity

Irina Echarry

Photo by Caridad

Blood was running out of my mother’s nose and down her face.  Her high blood pressure had been stabilized, but something caused it to shoot up again.

The ear-nose-and-throat specialist attending her in the polyclinic told the on-call doctor in the ambulance that her case was an emergency and that she had to be taken Calixto Garcia Hospital immediately.

But the doctor was overwhelmed.  He had several patients in serious condition, among them an elderly man suffering from an accidental head injury who had to be prioritized for when the first ambulance arrived, and felt that the specialist was speaking to him in a domineering fashion.

An argument began between the two physicians over which patient should be given priority.  Each was citing their specialties and competence in the matter, which they tried to prove by referencing I don’t know how many years of work and experience.  But what about my mother?

She was lying there bleeding with her pressure going up.  But that wasn’t so important.  Solving the issue of the egos of the two doctors was apparently more urgent and they dropped everything to resolve that concern.

Of course my mother began to get upset when she heard the shouting and the explanation of why her case was an emergency.  Every so often the one doctor would yell at my mother ordering her “to be calm, just relax,” and then he’d continued arguing.  Three doses of nitroglycerine under her tongue helped her to recover physically, because the emotional part had been destroyed.

In any case, we couldn’t wait for the ambulance, which could only carry one patient on each trip.  And since my mother wasn’t selected for the one that arrived, we decided to make it to the hospital on our own.

There they treated her quickly.  They put a plug in her nose and instructed her to breathe through her mouth for the next 48 hours.  If the nosebleed started again, we were advised to return in a hurry for her to be admitted.

When the day came to remove the plug, we went to where we had been told to go, but they informed us there that they didn’t have the equipment necessary to extract it.  We would have to wait for an appointment set for 1:00 in the afternoon, though at that time it was 8:30 in the morning.

No matter how much we tried to convince someone that she was very uncomfortable, that her blood pressure was high at that very moment, that she could get upset having to wait so long and that we lived a long way from the hospital, no one was moved; to the contrary, we had to put up with more shouting from the nurses and the presence of the doctors around us who seemed to feel no impulse to address the situation.

We waited peacefully more than four hours until finally a doctor who hardly looked at her adroitly removed the cotton that obstructed her breathing, and we left.

Now all the symptoms have gone away, at least the most serious ones.  She has to control her blood pressure daily to prevent it from rising, and we do that by every possible means.  The experience of being sick makes you sick.

Our doctors are very well prepared in terms of curing physical problems, but they lack humanity.  They seem incapable of keeping in mind that patients are not tables that needs fixing (though they can fix them very well), but human beings with fright, pain and the fear of death.

I don’t know what to think of the dehumanized treatment meted out by the doctors.  Perhaps they feel a sense of grandeur from being able to save or not save a life, and that’s something that not everyone is prepared to manage well.  Or perhaps they’re not guilty.  Maybe they didn’t notice during their studies that they were dehumanizing their own patients.

While we waited our turn, we saw to a group of students who the doctors were evaluating.  But how did they call them into the examination room?  A doctor stopped at the door and said: let number 3 and 4 in.  Like this, they had ceased being people and had become numbers.