HAVANA TIMES — Three people had their hands on my body, ready to hold me down in place and prevent any movement (even though I hadn’t shown the slightest intention of moving).
I assure you this rather oppressive picture was not a product of my imagination; it was my experience during an endoscopy I was subjected to in the Gastroenterology Department of a hospital in Havana, a complementary examination I underwent following a consultation.
Folks, for someone who’s had intestinal parasites for years and has had tubes and hoses pushed down my esophagus more than once, and endoscopy shouldn’t be a new and traumatic experience…but it was.
At one point, I asked them to stop so I could catch my breath, as they had instructed me to do. When I moved a hand up and down, they tightened their grip on me and shouted: “don’t move!”
The first words spoken by someone, whom I later learned was an inexperienced medical student, were: “This is a painless and quick procedure.” Immediately after they administered the anesthesia (for my mouth) and put the mouthpiece in place, they began introducing the device without any pauses along the way or waiting for me to get used to the sensation or draw in air through my nose, as they had asked me to do beforehand.
All the while, the young student carried out a number of erratic movements that caught the attention of the specialist and doctor. They would guide him, saying “a little further back”, or “a little further up”, exclaiming things like “look, there’s an ulcer!” and “it’s so big!”
I confess I came out of the procedure nervous and scared, my eyes glazed over, feeling impotent, like an animal that had been abused and humiliated, somewhere where everything that takes place is outside one’s control, where there’s always an excuse for mistreatment.
Four days later, at a consultation, I told my doctor (who had been at the exam) about the pain I felt when I touched my stomach and he, surprised at how traumatic the test had been for me, confessed he’d been assigned “two students 18 days ago and they had to go through those rounds,” because many specialists are working abroad on internationalist missions. Never once did he apologize or show any sign of humility in response to the violent incident.
I suggested that every member of his team be subjected to this examination themselves, in order to become more aware of signs to be evaluated and have a better sense of how to conduct the entire procedure.
I don’t believe the way the procedure is done – with a doctor and assistants – has anything to do with cynicism or ill intent. I believe medical doctors in Cuba have the same living conditions and show the same social behavior than the rest of the population, which leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ethics, humility and respect for others (which are essential to the medical professional). As such, these doctors are not aware of their bad habits. I don’t believe, however, that this justifies such irresponsible mistreatment.
Perhaps this situation is less evident at clinics, research institutes or specialized hospitals, where there is a professional tradition that makes up for other shortcomings. It is a question of the way in which individuals behave, really.
There is also a certain level of permissiveness in the population, because doctors are the most highly demanded professionals, the ones responsible for our health. The majority of patients in Cuba today do not expect to receive good or thorough attention without paying for it with some gift. I don’t believe this determines the quality of medical attention in all cases, though.
All the while, physicians give us very little information during the treatment or instructions about how to deal with one’s condition or how to avoid its reappearance.
Well, folks, being diagnosed with two duodenal ulcers can become something quite tragic in the life of any Cuban living on the island, for, as many people know, maintaining a diet of neutral food products, including milk (today at around US $ 7.50 the packet) is no easy thing, particularly if you don’t have an income on a par with today’s prices.
Being treated like an animal about to lose its tail or part of its ears or beak, or about to have part of its fur shaved off so as to look more pretty, or having a doctor treat you with indifference, makes me feel a bit of pity for these beings that humans look down to…but that is another topic.