HAVANA TIMES — Dora is a Cuban woman getting on in years who’s lived abroad for some time now. She loves the Central American country where she lives with her children so much she would have never left it, had a health complication not forced her to return to Cuba.
She criticizes many things about her native country. She finds it ugly, grey and poor. She does, however, have a lot of faith that Cuban doctors are going to cure her cancer and save her life. There’s also the financial issue: though everyone in the family works, it would have been very difficult for them to shoulder the high costs of the operation, medication and radiotherapy she needs.
Dora is one of the patients who, in November of last year, saw her cancer therapy at Havana’s Ameijeiras Hospital suspended when one of the pieces in the linear ionizing radiation accelerator broke down. She is also a Cuban who knows how to speak up for her rights and, during the two months in which this piece of equipment was inoperative, she never once tired of asking questions and demanding answers.
In addition to being labeled a “difficult” patient, the one thing she obtained from her queries was unofficial comments about the steps taken to purchase and import the blessed spare part. Who was taking so long and why? She never found out.
Why such a long wait? When the piece of equipment broke down, Dora (like the other patients) had already undergone several radiation sessions. We’re talking about something very delicate, as delicate as her condition.
Distressed because cancer doesn’t rest and concerned over the consequences of that long interruption in her treatment, she would ask the doctors whether that wouldn’t bring about more serious complications and would obtain discouraging answers. “Well, this kind of thing shouldn’t happen, but don’t worry. You just need to wait,” they would tell her.
And they waited. The patients weren’t referred to another institution with a similar piece of equipment. Was it due to a lack of resources or to mismanagement? If it was simply an administrative matter, they could have arrived at an agreement with the oncology hospital and, if necessary, transfer the technicians working at the Ameijeiras there to administer the radiation treatment to the patients, at night or in the early morning, if needed.
Dora did not give up. Luckily, she’s got friends who got her another type of radiation treatment (almost two months later). We’ve just found out the replacement piece has arrived at the hospital.
I don’t know whether this whole experience will make Dora waver in her faith in Cuban medicine, or whether she will begin to make a distinction between the quality of Cuban medical treatment and the ineptitude of Public Health officials.
Despite all of these problems, she hasn’t yet returned to the country where she lives with her children. She’s stayed in Cuba to rough it out and has no intention of leaving until she’s been cured.