Personal Experience of Fighting My Mother’s Disease during COVID-19

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

The Mayari Hospital

HAVANA TIMES – In the early days of April, COVID-19’s appearance in Mayari was close at hand or would be soon; and the first positive case would be identified at any moment. Not only because the number of cases had been growing exponentially across the country, just like in our province (Holguin); but because in Banes, a neighboring municipality, several cases had already been reported, just like they had been in Moa. The latter is an area we have to pass through.

As a result, we tried to keep my mother at home with her normal treatment, helped by medical staff at the Family Doctor’s Office, which is luckily next to mine and my parents’ house. Thinking that it could be lots of bad things, except for what it truly was.

We finally ended up going to the hospital, despite my mother panicking for two reasons. First of all, because of Coronavirus; secondly, because she had been admitted into hospital two years ago, because her heart problem got really bad and the experience was terrible.

The scene in any Cuban hospital.

My mother is obese, and hospitals aren’t equipped for people suffering this physical condition. The few wheelchairs they had were for thin people, the stretchers were only 60cm wide and with springs, which are painful. Not to mention hospital beds are all raised, with springs underneath and a person’s body sinks into them if they are heavy, suffering Sacroiliac pain.

Beds are so old that they don’t have brakes either, so they become dangerous and uncomfortable when moving them. Bathrooms don’t have running water, are scabby and always have a wet floor. The showers have dirty tiles, but are narrow too and without water, a real ordeal for slim patients, so you tell me what it’s going to be like for an older person, who is super obese and is weak because of being sick for several days.

As soon as we mentioned the hospital, my mother began shaking and became really anxious. I’m sure she was remembering how she fell in the bathroom last time, because of a slip or how hard it was to get into the raised bed that moved about with so much body weight, and she had to do this every 15 minutes because she was on diuretics.

Not to mention the little privacy she had with another seven patients in her room, and while one was groaning, another was defecating, and another one was shouting because of the pain. This is why it took us a while to decide to take her to the hospital.

The Attention from the medical staff was excelent.

She didn’t want us to call for an ambulance, at all. It was also a very rough experience last time. It took hours to come and she ended up getting a really old, Soviet one without any air-conditioning, and she was very uncomfortable. She almost passed out. That’s why we spoke to a friend who has a ‘54 Chevrolet, but it was impossible to get her in because of how weak she was.

With no other choice, I called for an ambulance and thanks to mobility restriction measures, they are now staying in the municipality and it came quickly. We were given a real ambulance this time, which was a real gift, and we got her in quite easily. We were lucky.

A few hours later, it was hard to confirm with the doctors that she was really suffering from “acute kidney failure”, which was supposedly “chronic if left untreated” according to her symptoms. Her condition worsened over hours, and things were becoming critical. She was in front of the Intensive Care Unit, and thanks to there not being an empty bed at the last minute, we went back to the observation room. It was good because only her children could help my mother who was shouting the entire time because of the Sacroiliac pain caused by the bed’s supporting frame.

The situation in the bathrooms is critical.

During the first dialysis treatment – the most risky – she was in cardiac arrest for six minutes, and then in critical condition for almost half an hour. The doctors thought that she was going to die. We cried for her. But then there was a miracle! The kidney specialist came out smiling, unlike the previous times, and said that my mother was strong and the magic words: The woman is getting better!

Later, again: The woman keeps getting better! After a while, they let me in to see her. She was complaining a great deal about her Sacroiliac pain. But she was alive, and her prospects were looking good.

Things really took off after that. The kidneys reacted and she went into polyuria. She regained some consciousness within five days, and she was back to normal after seven days. I found some cardboard under an unoccupied mattress and I made her bed more comfortable, and her back pain went away quite a bit. Finally, an arterial blood sample and creatinine test were carried out, but the results came back low, and it needed to be repeated because the results were so encouraging. But they were right.

It was during this recovery process that we found ourselves forced to witness the first COVID-19 case develop next to us. We were at risk of becoming infected, and that would have been deadly for my mother. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mayari, without anyone suspecting, was just five meters away and the Intensive Care Unit uses the same corridor as we did to get to her room. We hoped that because the person was also HIV+, they would take extra protection measures. It seems they did.

The emergency room is one of the few areas of the hospital in good shape.

There was another patient who had come from the ICU, who had been on the bed next to the woman with COVID-19, who was now next to my mother, and us who were looking after her, less than a meter away. It took them two days to isolate her. Before knowing this, my mother’s roommate’s companion had helped me move my mother to the stretcher to take her for her dialysis; and it was the same stretcher that the same medical staff used to carry her too. Luckily, she tested negative.

We finally went back home, and while we looked after our mother – who continued to get increasingly better -, we kept an eye out for any symptom in the family that might make us suspect a possible COVID-19 infection. Luck was still on our side and I believe we are free from this suspicion.

My mother’s acute kidney failure also got better, and the fear of it being chronic has also disappeared, so she only has some kidney damage which needs to be treated, without dialysis.

However, we were in a dangerous area, under a double threat. And the threats were dangerous! This is why I haven’t been writing this month or doing many other things. But I’m back and ready to carry on fighting the battle for a better Cuba, the way I know how, from the realm of ideas.


Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

One thought on “Personal Experience of Fighting My Mother’s Disease during COVID-19

  • Good luck with everything! I wish improved health for you mother. My father had kidney problems and was on dialysis for many years, so I can empathize with such challenging health issues in the family.

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