Dora’s Problems in Cuba

Irina Echarry

The Hernamos Almejeiras Hospital in Havana. Photo: Raquel Perez

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.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

2 thoughts on “Dora’s Problems in Cuba

  • The argument about education used to be true since at least everyone had to do the “social service” thing and then work for peanuts the rest of their life, but since the last migration reforms is pointless.

    Right now you can get your diploma, grab your passport ant leave the country, so it is perfectly possible to get an education without paying for it in any meaningful way

  • As subtle as it is presented, this post represents the real choice between Castro-style socialism and Latin American-style capitalism. Without knowing the specific central American country that Dora and her family live, Irina’s post implies that the needed medical equipment and services exist but at an out-of-pocket cost beyond Dora’s budget. On the other hand, while the out-of-pocket costs of services in Cuba are less (yes, there are costs), the availability of equipment and services is lacking. If Castro-style socialism worked as planned, the argument for the revolution would be stronger. But the reality is that despite the sacrifices, education is NOT free and public health services, when available, are often low-quality and limited. The choice of capitalism over socialism is easy.

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