Cuba: A Way of Dying

Irina Pino

Photo: Elio Delgado Valdés

HAVANA TIMES — Hypochondriacs are individuals who suffer imaginary illnesses. They constantly experience all kinds of pains and feel lousy practically all the time.

She has high blood pressure and has a blood pressure monitor on a small table next to the door to her house, in case she has to leave for the hospital in a rush. She checks her blood pressure obsessively several times a day.

Every time I pay her a visit, I scold her for how she is constantly complaining and saying she has this or that illness. She wakes up with a headache. As soon as she starts doing anything, she feels exhausted, so she drinks juices and eats things with a lot of sugar, to restore her energies. This makes her put on weight and upsets her. She doesn’t like being fat, but is incapable of exercising.

Whenever she sleeps in an uncomfortable position, some muscle or other invariably contracts. She gets bursitis if she moves an arm quickly. She also suffers from constipation and chronic diarrhea – in short, she’s a bundle of health problems, all of them caused by her constant physical and mental weariness and her imbalanced life.

I recall a film by Woody Allen in which a divorced filmmaker who shoulders much work stress suffers a temporary bout of psychosomatic blindness. This hilarious comedy, however, has an edifying end: the character finishes his movie and gets his wife back.

The truth is that this woman is very lonely and isolated. Her son has a family of his own and has moved away. She retired, but her husband still works, a situation that has rifted them apart, as they barely see one another. She spends her time talking to her neighbors, who are in a similar situation, people who only share with her their mundane daily experiences. At home, she does household chores and then watches soap operas to pass the time.

In her youth, she did many things without growing tired. She was a professional who also made the time to look after her family. When I look at her today, I barely recognize her. I realize the lack of life projects can destroy people’s existence. Stagnation attacks and hastens the death of the body and spirit.

The lack of friends and an interesting social circle where one can share one’s thoughts, secrets and worries creates anxiety. This kind of company is crucial to us, even more so than the company of our partners. Dancing, exercising and playing are a way of combatting stress and boredom. Setting goals for oneself is a way of shedding one’s tedium.

I was recently reading an article about nuns who were involved in all kinds of chores within the convent, from work in an orchard to teaching classes. This constant movement and development kept them alive at age 80 and more. A study demonstrated their neurons remained active and even renewed themselves thanks to this philosophy that makes study and work a central part of daily life.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: A Way of Dying

  • As I spend a bit more than half my time in Cuba and the balance in Canada, I can make fair comparisons. In Cuba availability of vegetables and fruit is seasonal. There is a reasonably wide selection of fruit and as it is tree or bush ripened it does tend to be jucier. We have a mango tree overhanging our home and usually in April and onwards we will hear bumps in the night – when we shout in unison: “Mango” and go up in the morning to collect them for breakfast. The range of vegetables is very limited – lots of lettuce, cabbage, occasional carrots, onions and garlic. There is a heavy demand for potatoes but little supply.
    In Canada the full range of vegetables and most fruit is available year around. When my wife is here for her summer vacation she enjoys stir fries, cauliflower (in a cheese sauce) and sweet corn in particular. She was surprised by the wide variety of fruit, paricularly enjoying strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries but was astonished at the price of pineapple, mango, papaya and apples.
    There is no reason why Canadians cannot consume a healthy diet here or in Cuba. I find no difference in my state of health in either country. But, I should add that I am a good cook and our consumption of canned or preserved foods is virtually zero. Another advantage is that we can afford to pay 10 pesos for a pineapple or 5 pesos for an avocado or mango. But one of each of the tree represents a days pay for a Cuban. That is why they consume so much sugar and that brings its own problems.

  • Thanks for your perceptive obsrvations, Irina! I wonder if you could get funding to lead a writing workshop for such folks as the woman you describe? I wonder how she could become more actively engaged in the community? Could she volunteer at a school? Help other elders who are more fragile? Besides diet, which is very important, I think that active social engagement, both with others her own generation, and those of younger generations, including her son’s age and of her grandchildren’s age, is essential for leading a healthier, more productive and satisfying old age. As far as diet is concerned, it is a long, “two steps forward, one step backward” process. My daughter, now a freshman in college, very much believes in an organic diet concentrating on fresh veggies, fruits, to be eaten in season and, if possible, locally produced. My wife and I are gradually adopting her philosophy and practice, with beneficial results.

  • Kudos to you fellow Canuck. I could not have said it better.
    I just returned from Cuba and feel great after eating all that healthy food.


  • This woman needs to get off foods that contain sugar…and if she is eating food that comes from the USA or Canada, she needs to stop eating it NOW.
    Buy only food that is grown in CUBA…food that is not loaded with additives and chemicals…those foods are likely the cause of her constant diarrhea, as it is the cause of my constant diarrhea…every single day since the first week of July 1966.
    I cannot tolerate blood-pressure pills, because they are all made up of chemicals. To help keep the pill in me, and not end up in the toilet, I now take it just before I go to bed at night, instead of the morning.
    I am 72 and live alone. I keep my mind occupied reading and writing on the computer, and reading books. I am lucky to have a car and can drive, because I can no longer walk far because of Arthritis in much pf my body!
    This lady needs to change her life and start talking about happy things with people instead of constantly talk about her Health situation.

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