by Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES — Ten years ago, Alfreda Alfonso Martinez (80 years old) was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, a serious disease which is defined by high concentrations of blood glucose over a prolonged period of time or is a chronic condition. She used to work at the hairdressers in Candelaria; she was forced to retire because of a medical report.
HT: What symptoms did you used to have before you found out that you were diabetic?
Alfreda Alfonso: I would often feel weak, tired, wanting to urinate all the time, I was thirsty and hungry, everything got worse when I lost my transient vision. I didn’t want to go to the doctors, some people used to tell me that this was diabetes, but I didn’t listen to them. Six months later, they decided to retire me, I had serious circulatory problems, I couldn’t walk anymore.
One day, I cut a bit of skin from my left foot with the tweezers. The wound wasn’t that big, but it wouldn’t heal, I began to lose feeling in my foot, muscular control, until my daughter was told that I needed to be operated on, there wasn’t any other choice, they told her about ischaemic foot and its complications. This process was fast, I had been amputated in less than 15 days.
HT: Did a specialist doctor or psychologist tell you that they were going to amputate your foot?
AA: They didn’t explain much to me, just that it was necessary to do because my life was in danger. When I woke up in the hospital bed, I no longer had my left leg. They amputated it above the knee because the rest of my leg no longer had any blood circulation. I recovered slowly at home. No doctors come by to find out how I am doing, I have a glucometer, sometimes my blood sugar levels are at 10. I try to control it by taking medicines, I also take medicine for my nerves, I’m very unstable and depressed.
HT: So no health specialists come to your house. Do you go to the polyclinic to check your blood sugar levels then?
AA: I live on the 4th floor of an apartment block with no elevator, it’s hard to leave here, four of my neighbors have taken me downstairs in my wheelchair on more than one occasion, and it hasn’t been easy. Nobody comes by here and knows how I’m doing, my other leg no longer has any circulation, I can barely move it, that’s why I don’t accept a prosthesis, I don’t have the strength to put all of my weight on it, nor keep my balance.
HT: Who do you live with? Do you have somebody who looks after you?
AA: I live with my 60 year old son who works far away; he doesn’t come home very often. One of my daughters comes over and does everything around the house, and also helps me with my most basic needs, from having a bath to getting dressed. I have a son who left Cuba 23 years ago. We used to talk on the phone quite regularly, they brought me a wireless phone, but we’ve never spoken again after my neighbor changed the phone number [that I was sharing].
Hearing my son used to help me a lot, it made me happy; he used to send monthly remittances, that’s how I was able to buy a fan, a TV, furniture. He is called Alexis Delgado Alfonso, he is 48 years old and he used to live in Arizona. That was one of the reasons I began to start feeling unwell: the silence, not knowing how he was. I have thought about the worst case scenarios on many an occasion, I can’t keep on living with these kinds of thoughts. My daughter leaves at night; she lives in another house with her husband and my granddaughter. She leaves everything prepared for me, water, medicines. In order to not lose movement in my hands, I exercise them by going around the living room in my wheelchair.
HT: Does the Municipal Housing Association know about your situation? Have you been offered another home or space?
AA: Yes, of course, I have been offered several places, but they are in very poor condition, without windows or doors, I can’t repair them, my pension is only the equivalent of US $7 a month and I have to pay for the fridge out of that; it’s not enough for anything. Thank God there is a soup kitchen for old people and for social cases, which you have to pay for and most of the time you can’t eat the food they serve you, but it’s something at least. A social worker who works at the polyclinic gave me the wheelchair I use, it’s in very good condition, I’ve been looking after it a lot.
I don’t lose hope though, that I will be able to move into another home that is suited to my condition. I don’t want any trouble, I love the Revolution, I was an outstanding worker, I have fond memories of my customers, a lot of them send their regards to my daughter when they see her around the neighborhood. Nobody can imagine just how much I’m suffering up here, not being able to talk to the people I know, I really need that too.