HAVANA TIMES, Dec 14 — I would like to denounce the bureaucracy that puts limits even on how far one can go in struggling for life. I want to defend the right of people to feel like they’re running up against the limits of nature and not those of human whim.
This past Sunday I accompanied a neighbor to the Clinic for Domestic Animals in Centro Havana. After dickering over the under the table prices with the taxi drivers — who are generally indifferent to the agony of any dog and only take advantage of the owner’s precariousness — the driver of a small car reluctantly agreed to drive us from the outlying Alamar community to Centro Havana for the sum of $7 CUCs (about $9 USD).
We got in the narrow vehicle, doing the best we could to accommodate Poly, who had been struggling for six days with blood in her urine. She had previously been diagnosed by the vet at our local clinic (where there’s hardly any medicine and they have to treat the animals with more desire than resources). They said she had babesia, a parasite that causes the illness known as babesiosis in animals as well as in human beings.
This parasite is transmitted by ticks and attacks the red corpuscles in the blood. Once at the Carlos III veterinary school, we got in the end of the line of sick or injured pets.
Seeing dehydrated Poly and with her white tongue, we kept our eye on the order of the line, which seemed like people were cutting, and soon the stress erupted into an argument… The sole available doctor also lost his temper, interrupting his treatment of an animal. But between the complaints and excuses, we understood that all of us who were there —the doctor, his assistant, the owners and pets — we were involuntary victims of impossibility.
With this realization, discord was replaced by tacit solidarity and soon we started talking about our pets with mutual concern and sympathy. Poly rested on a bench, where she continued dripping red urine.
I wandered around looking at the condition of the facility, with its broken windows, and I concluded that the place appeared more abandoned and depressing than it did in the ‘80s, when on more than one occasion I had the misfortune of going there with a sick pet on a Sunday; that’s the day when neither the laboratory or the operating room is open, and where this humid infirmary with gray walls is a place where any cure is improvised.
When Poly’s turn came, the veterinarian confirmed the diagnosis of babesiosis: “an extremely aggressive illness.” He indicated an antibiotic whose initial dose they could give her there, but that afterwards it would be necessary to buy it in a pet store that sell products in hard currency. He then immediately started giving her a saline solution and stressed, “She needs a transfusion urgently, but that’s not possible today because it’s Sunday and the warehouse where they keep the blood is closed.”
The situation was all so purposeless that my neighbor began crying. She begged them, even the director of the clinic, who she asked, “Don’t you have the keys to the warehouse?” He responded saying, “It’s a measure taken to prevent stored blood from being stolen and sold under the table.” The most they could do was to guarantee her that the next day, Monday, Poly would be the first one to get a transfusion – if we were able to get to the clinic by 8:00 in the morning.
Now in the street again, and at the mercy of the implacable taxi drivers, my husband found a driver who finally agreed to take us back to Alamar for “only” 10 CUCs. The car was one where you had to enter stooped over and in which we could hardly protect the animal from all the bouncing of the vehicle, especially when we ourselves almost went flying off of the uncomfortable benches retrofitted as seats.
Home at last, Poly, who seemed reanimated after the saline transfusion, finally fell asleep on her little rug, though she would still have to battle through the long hours that separated her from dawn. And she struggled, her eyes gazed into those of her owner, and she drank some water to please her. But this was only the end of Sunday. With her eyes opened from the last spasm, her strength was drained by the first hour on Monday.
We’ll never know her exact age because she appeared around our building already an adult, eight years ago. We’ll never know if her will to live would have triumphed without the grotesque hindrance of the bureaucracy.
My neighbor is still tormented, looking for some trace of her own blame, of some act of negligence. Me too. I blame all those who limit people in their ability to struggle for life, even what we can cling to – these people who try to place limits on our desperation.
Who has the power to draw the line between solution and impotence? And why do we accept it? The shortage of resources doesn’t justify the ineffectiveness of a medical care system. It’s not the human potential that fails, because the Havana veterinary clinics are able to “push themselves to the limit” more from the human quality of their specialists than out of institutional support.
With the sting of the guilt, I repeat: “The road was made for walking…” I firmly believe that many people can still discern between fate and what’s right, and they can demand that in the face of an emergency that roads be improvised. Roads that can later be established and travelled by anyone who needs them – any day of the week.