An Experience at a Cuban Hospital

Regina Cano

A Havana polyclinic.  Photo: Juan Suarez

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.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

7 thoughts on “An Experience at a Cuban Hospital

  • May 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm
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    Regina should have had her procedure done at the Cuban hospital/clinic that fellow HT writer Elio Delgado Legon visits. At that facility, the facilities, service and medical supplies are the best in Latin America and on par with most developed countries, at least according to Elio. I wish Regina luck as she goes forward in her treatment.

    Reply
    • May 22, 2014 at 11:22 am
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      How nice . You’re wishing the best of luck to Regina while simultaneously urging the intensifying of the U.S. embargo which causes food shortages, stress and a whole host of adverse effects on all the Cuban people.
      That is the dictionary definition of both hypocrisy and the expression “crocodile tears.”
      Just saying.

      Reply
      • May 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm
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        It’s called multi-tasking.

        Reply
  • May 22, 2014 at 2:28 am
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    If you think this is bad: try to get adequate medical attention outside of Havana. The father east you go the worse it gets. Havana still has equipment and functioning hospitals. In Oriente only the hospitals for foreigners in the apartheid system function. They are closed to the Cuban people.

    Reply
  • May 22, 2014 at 9:43 am
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    The photograph accompanying the article provides a clue as to why Regina received such incompetent and abusive treatment at the hospital. I’ve been in several hospitals and clinics in Canada, but I have never seen one where the waiting room was decorated with a poster of a man waving a machine gun.

    You might want to look into that.

    Reply
    • May 22, 2014 at 11:18 am
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      The man in the picture is revolutionary hero and former president Fidel Castro.
      His picture, with an upraised arm holding an automatic weapon, is analogous to an American hospital having a picture of its revolutionary leader, George Washington, crossing the Delaware River to fight the British in its waiting
      You should note that Fidel has ordered that there be no statues or official pictures of him and this has stood since the earliest days of the revolution.
      All the pictures of him are taken from photographs which were in the news none are put out by the government.
      Of course this banning of cult-figure paraphernalia flies in the face of the would-be psychologists who have proclaimed Fidel a power-mad, egocentric.

      Reply
      • May 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm
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        I have read several biographies of Fidel, some by Cubans who knew him very well. The consistent psychological portrait of the man is of a narcissist. The island is blanketed with his image. If he did not want it it to be so he would snap his fingers and the pictures would come down.

        More to the point, whatever the reason for his pictures on the wall, he is the reason the Cuban healthcare system is decaying.

        Well, except for the nice modern hospital he had built next door to his home in west Havana reserved for the exclusive use of the regime elite.

        Reply

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