My Father’s Death in Cuba

Irina Pino

My father with his great grandchildren.
My father with his great grandchildren.

HAVANA TIMES — After spending eleven days at the hospital, my father’s body is now locked up in a box, inside a horrible coffin. It’s strange and hard to accept, but real. Perhaps death is but another moment in existence. I believe in this possibility, I cling to it.

Spiritual people say energy is conserved and all around us, and also accompanying us. Though the fact this is one of life’s forms cannot be denied, deaths at hospitals tend to be denied all dignity. A body with tubes sticking out of its arms and mouth, being fed serum and air through a respirator, is an ordeal for the patient.

Why not let a patient die when they’re in such a terminal condition? Why do doctors insist on prolonging life artificially, making those close to the dying person desperate and bringing a different kind of death to them? Why do they not let them die at home, surrounded by their families?

I think I’m in favor of euthanasia, at least in cases where patients have lost all their faculties. My father wasn’t such a case, he remained conscious to the end. Perhaps it would be better to hasten their death, like Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, a character in a Garcia Marquez novel, did, by committing suicide at the age of seventy, inhaling poisonous mushrooms.

The coldness of the doctors and nurses at the special care unit stunned me. My father died alone, without his loved ones nearby, without a hand holding his, full of pain, in utter solitude. That is the worst thing that can happen to someone, to see how their life goes out without the gaze of others to accompany them in this transition to the unknown.

The body still hot, wrapped up in a sheet, like a mummy, and I standing outside in the hall, seeing the doctors walk from one end of the ward to the other, having to hear the male nurses and their vulgar jokes, seeing the transvestites who mop the floors. Restless, waiting for the nurses to take him to the morgue on a stretcher.

Three hours later, they came for him. My brother-in-law took care of the paperwork. The last names had been switched, the home number on record was the funeral parlor’s number, it was an administrative mess worthy of these incompetent people.

I recall the early mornings, the screams of an abandoned AIDS patient whom the nurses ignored. No one wanted to change the bandages on his leg, which suppurated constantly. They would place new bandages over the old, soiled ones. The bed remained covered in urine. The yellow liquid ended up streaming down the hall.

Everything there was complete chaos. I had to be on the alert, keeping an eye on the nurses so they would change the serum bags on time, and replace the liquid in the oxygen tank, which ran out quickly because the container was broken. The indolence of the nursing staff drove me mad. I had to gather the strength I didn’t have and change the sheets – covered in urine and feces – myself. They acted like automata, robots, removing and changing sheets mechanically. I had to go and look for a young nurse who had telephone conversations with her boyfriend all the time a million times to tell her my father would die if they didn’t replace the oxygen liquid. Another nurse went to say hello to a friend and left my father with a needle hanging from his arm.

The tension was constant. I was disgusted every time I used a public bathroom, located at the end of the hall. It was in deplorable condition, the doors broken, the sinks with no faucets and toilets that didn’t flush. Outside, on the floor, there was a pile a dirty sheets, for everyone to see, covered in urine, feces and blood.

The doctors would come in the morning for an inspection, get all visitors out and then call relatives to their offices to give them a report. It would have been better to free my father of all the tubing and that cold hospital bed. Death should have surprised him in his room, next to his wife, the woman who was his companion for more than sixty years, next to his children and grandchildren.

At the funeral parlor, a granddaughter was asked to identify the body. He was naked, his body decimated, like a straight line drawn over the stretcher. They had removed the sheet (they never did return it) and proceeded to prepare the body. A number of problems arose: they couldn’t get him up to the hospital floor in question because the elevator was broken and had to wait for the repair people to fix it. The inert body waited several hours. Finally, a friend of the family asked the workers to help him carry the coffin up the stairs. It looked like a scene from a dark comedy, but without the comedy part.

The coffin had an ignoble look to it, a faded gray, and one of the corners was coming undone. The flowers were withered white lilies and small roses. It would have been better not to put any flowers there, as they made the walls oppressive. My father, however, had a peaceful look, as though sleeping.

Some windows in the room were broken, others were missing half of the pane. One could hear the echoes from other wakes, other peoples’ voices, weeping over other dead people.

The room was a freezer in the early morning. At two in the morning, people was falling over, exhausted. They no longer hand out coffee at the funeral parlor, like they used to.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

9 thoughts on “My Father’s Death in Cuba

  • Au contraire. This BLOG is “a sounding board” for my “rants against the regime”. That’s exactly what it is. This article was submitted to HT to provoke discussion. If you have a problem with that, stop reading.

  • what kind of man are you? This article is not a sounding board for your rants against the regime

  • Hi Irina, my condolonces to you and your family. Everyone deserves to die in a dignified manner,

  • So true but that’s what they boast!

  • Cubans are taxed at greater than 95%. Medical care in Cuba is far from free.

  • Dear Irina, I am so sorry for your loss. What a terrible thing to have to experience, watching a loved one die in such a deplorable hospital. Very sad.

  • Cuba may boast of free medical care for everyone but if this is the reality (which I don’t doubt), it’s a rather sad state of affairs. We should not complain about the type of care we receive in Canada when you read this account. Very touching!

  • Irina: my heartfelt condolences on your tragic loss and the difficult aftermath.

    I had the misfortune of losing a dear friend, an ex- novia, in Havana on March 5th, so I can appreciate your pain. Fortunately she was allowed to die at home surrounded by her family and myself and was quickly cremated.

  • This is heartbreaking and powerful. Everyone needs to read this.

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