The Best Thing Is Not to Die

By Warhol P.

HAVANA TIMES — In July I underwent emergency appendicitis surgery at the military hospital located in the Marianao neighborhood, in western Havana.

I got there in the middle of the night with severe pain and a doctor on duty immediately treated me. She then sent me to have some tests done, but at that time of night the hospital is completely empty, so the place was like a maze to my mother and me.

To make things worse, we couldn’t find anyone to tell us how to find the department that did the emergency tests.

After a relentless search we finally succeeded in making it to the department, where we found a specialist in a bad mood (it seems we had inadvertently woken him from a deep sleep).

On the ground floor, one could see dirt with the naked eye. And when it came time for the urine test, which required me to fill a small glass tube, other difficulties cropped up. There was no light in the bathroom, so when I closed the door I couldn’t even see my hands, which resulted in me peeing down my leg as I tried to fill the container.

After six hours of observation, a doctor told me that he was unable to perform a laparoscopy on me, which is what they do to confirm appendicitis. It seems the hospital didn’t have the equipment. That was when I got upset. How is it that a military hospital doesn’t have this type of equipment?

Photo: Irina-Echarry

Finally, by touching my stomach, some other doctors — as if magicians — were able to diagnose that I had appendicitis; so they quickly admitted me into the hospital that afternoon to undergo surgery.

Once in the operating room, they prepared me for the general anesthesia, while I laid there the whole time looking up at the lights on the ceiling. Just before losing consciousness, I thought I might never wake up. Dying in the operating room would have been a gift, a happy death, an escape from everyday problems.

But after a few hours I woke up. To my surprise I was still alive, and worse, in the same place. A few tears ran down my cheek. I thought about how everyday life would return in a few weeks, with me again experiencing ever-worsening shortages, living in this Cuba where nothing happens, where everyone is so manipulated and numb.

But at least I was alive. My mother was happy and I had my friends there with me. In short, death wouldn’t have been the solution to the problems, because even if I had died they would have continued for millions of other Cubans.

The best thing is to be alive, and continue moving forward, noting that some things are hopeless, like those who lead this country and how they must realize that things are going bad, how something must be done soon so that people don’t suffer as much as they do.

You can’t cover the sun with your finger; we are walking through increasingly thorny paths, but who cares?

After 54 years of supposed revolution, why do Cubans continue to live miserably, with shortages of all kinds? Who is looking out for our prosperity?

When I speak of prosperity I mean what it takes to live with dignity, to have salaries that meet our immediate needs, such as food and housing.

With yearning, I hope to one day wake up and see how things have changed for the good of all, that in the end those who lead us understand once and for all that the policy that has been in place for the past 54 years hasn’t worked, because there have been more mistakes than successes.

I know that day will come, so I think the best thing isn’t to die, but to stay, to see a future that’s not so distant.


3 thoughts on “The Best Thing Is Not to Die

  • Warhol, you write, “After 54 years of supposed revolution, why do Cubans continue to live miserably”? Certainly a pointed and valid question. I find too often, however, that Cubans don’t really know what they do have, the result of being born after the Revolution as I assume you were, and your inability to travel overseas to see how the 99% live in capitalist countries. It certainly seems rosy, watching Hollywood movies, or reading what American propagandists would have you believe.

    Not being able to travel is a huge issue but even if the Cuban government allowed it, how many people can afford to travel overseas? Even in the US, only 30% have passports. Like most people, you have to rely on reports from sources you can trust, not those that have something to sell.

    From what you wrote, I see you were seen immediately at the hospital, not a common occurrence, even in Canada. Emergency rooms are incredibly overcrowded here. I once had to go to an emergency department in a hospital in the US when I was visiting there. It was wonderful and when I commented on it, I was told I was in the unit for people with health insurance. Before they would even see me, I was required to show my health card from Canada.

    The nurse then took me to a door, opened it and said, “this is the REAL world,” where people without insurance have to go. It was like a snake pit, crowded, noisy and full of very sick people.

    Even when you have insurance there is no guarantee the bills will be paid. Michael Moore has a very funny scene in his movie “Sicko” where a woman was in a head-on collision that knocked her out cold. Paramedics got her out of the car and into an ambulance. Later, she gets a bill from her insurance company telling her the ambulance ride was not going to be paid for because it wasn’t pre-approved by the insurance company.

    Her response was, “I don’t know exactly when I was supposed to pre-approve it, you know? Like after I gain consciousness in the car, before I got in the ambulance? I should have grabbed my cellphone off the street and called in the ambulance?”

    Wikipedia notes that in the US, the median charge for removal of an appendix is $33,611. If you have no insurance, as many in the US don’t, and not enough money to pay it, you declare personal bankruptcy. Medical costs are the leading cause for personal bankruptcies.

    Another point – you were put out because the hospital did not have equipment for a laparoscopy test and used the standard diagnostic test of applying pressure to the stomach. Laparoscopes are not used as a diagnostic tool for appendicitis. They can be used for treatment, however, which is a newer method. To keep medical costs down in Canada, doctors often choose a tried and true method if it is effective over ones involving expensive equipment or procedures so they probably would have applied pressure for the diagnosis like the Cuban doctor did.

    Another point – while operations are always distressing, from your account, it went well and you received first class medical attention. Something to be grateful for.

  • Your choice of life over death as an answer to resolve the problems faced by Cubans on a daily basis was absolutely the right one. It is not your death that will hopefully fan the embers burning inside all freedom-loving Cubans. The good news is that no one lives forever no matter what.

  • Thank you, Warhol P., for this first-hand account, and your beautiful expression of despair and hope.

    The Cuban model, or experience–whichever you prefer–teaches the world socialist vanguard that Marxian state monopoly socialism is an incorrect maximum program.

    What is needed now, both in Cuba and in the capitalist countries, is a recognition that state monopoly doesn’t work, and that socialism must be redefined as a socialist cooperative, state co-ownership republic; a republic in which private property rights and the conditioned market are retained and utilized by the political leadership for successful socialist construction.

    Best wishes to the Cuban people.

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