My Neighborhood Doctor’s Office

February 4, 2009 | Print Print |
Mavis Dora Alvarez

Mavis Dora Alvarez

Let me tell you about the family doctor’s office in my neighborhood.

I don’t think it’s very different from others. The space may differ from place to place but today I’m not interested in telling you about the layout or function of the building, but rather how we “older” people behave when we are in the doctor’s office.

I believe the environment is typical of all of the family doctors offices on these Cuban islands (we are an archipelago) where we the elderly are almost one fifth of the population… and the most common visitors of these particular waiting rooms.

Last week I was in the doctor’s office trying to find out the status of my blood pressure, levels of sugar, fat and other substances commonly found in the veins, arteries, bones and muscles of the not so young bodies.

Every time I go there, I think of how old age has aspects of humor connected to it – similar to almost everything tragic.

We elderly have our distinct psychology and quirks.

How we love to visit the doctor! It’s like a ritual, a mystical process, a responsibility, a habit. Having a family doctor’s office right around the corner and free is something so pleasurable and satisfying that we can’t pass it up!

I don’t think that it ever occurred to those who created the neighborhood family doctors’ offices that they would become excellent social gathering centers for residents who are bored at home or people who have few opportunities to be listened to when they speak with family members or others.

The doctor’s office is actually a home that has been refurbished to serve the population. The living room becomes a waiting room, the bedrooms are used as doctors’ offices and the last room is used as a treatment room and for other activities.

The living room is average size. It seats about 10 or 15 people at the same time, so we are close to one another and there are groups of conversations taking place all at once that are great entertainment while we wait.

We talk about the time of day, the local situation and the world crisis (Cubans pride ourselves in knowing something about any subject). We update ourselves on the medical problems we have while at the same time we learn about Inesita, Elena’s granddaughter who just gave birth to her second child, fortunately, without a caesarean.

The agricultural market has just received fresh onions, however far too expensive because they weigh them and charge even the dried greens instead of selling them by the bunch!

And so amid the wave of comments, once in a while someone notices that one of the frequent visitors didn’t come; a fearful silence and reserved prognosis ensues because here the absence of the common visitor could be bad news.

But also there are highlights, such as the one that afternoon when one of the older men decided to show how well his scar had healed after prostate surgery. He proceeded to pull down his pants in the middle of the waiting room where almost all of us there gathered around to admire the surgical marvel.

In passing we noticed the sexy old man wore scanty black underwear with solid color designs that seemed inconsistent with his skinny worn out body and a face more wrinkled than a map of the Rocky Mountains.

And if that wasn’t enough, while the sly old guy was bucking his belt he observed through the corner of his eye the interchangeable looks among the older women!

I’m still not sure whether it was a provocation or a promotion.

Regardless of which it was, it doesn’t matter. The truth of the matter is that in the waiting room of my neighborhood family doctor’s office you can find the best community reality shows without taking away the merit of the local grocery store and butcher shops – stories that some day I will also tell.

But I am not yet done with the doctor’s office.

The best of all will be when I tell you what happened face to face with the doctor – the end of the truly marvelous and most absolute fantasy. I promise.

  • Michael N. Landis

    What a contrast between our doctor’s offices! Yours seems to also function as a social center, mine, here in the States, has come to signify the essence of alienation. Some years back, I had a wonderful doctor whose office was close to what you describe. I knew him and his wife (also an M.D.), his nurse, and his reception staff, and they knew me, too. They were welcoming and solicitous. Unfortunately, with change of employers, I had new medical insurance which required me to switch doctors and go to their health center, a huge medical “mill.” Unless a dire emergency, you have to book an appointment months in advance. Also, you rarely get to se the M.D.; rather, a “Nurse Practitioner,” often a new one with each visit. Both doctors and nurse practitioners are encouraged , under a practice known as “capitation,” to see as many patients in a day as possible; hence, there are often fifty appointments scheduled for the day. The doctor his little time–or patience–if the appointment takes more than 15 minutes. I have found the experience so alienating that I rarely go to the doctors anymore (even though, like the cavalrymen in “Charge of the Light Brigade” my contemporaries to the left and to the right, as we charge across the field of time, seem to be, err, “falling down” at an ever-increasing rate!) Up here there are alternative settings where we “elders” can meet and socialize: “Senior Centers,” formal and informal groups (like the monthly “Great Books” Discussion Group I facilitate), and low-priced restaurants; but the latter option is shrinking. A number of these restaurants in my town have closed, and the “fast-food” restaurants have a sterile atmosphere. What you describe is one of the qualities I love about Cuba, the social atmosphere, the many opportunities to meet, greet, talk with and exchange gossip–if not ideas–with neighbors and friends. In the North it seem like a much more isolating atmosphere, especially for elders. Incidentally, one of the reasons I avoid such places as “Senior Centers” or “Senior Meals” is that they become ghettos for “senior citizens.” I much prefer relating with a mixed age group. Thank you, Mavis Dora Alvarez, for your impressions!

  • mary

    Mavis, so glad you are back again, but…….I am waiting now for the “rest of the story”. You have such a gift!

  • grok

    Clearly there is an optimum size for both local meeting spaces and doctors’ offices. I’m always trying to understand how to physically construct such free — as in both ‘free lunch’ and ‘freedom’; i.e. socialist — living spaces; since here in el Norte, any of those exist wholly by accident — and are prime candidates for immediate demolition. Since the ruling-class generally doesn’t want people getting together to compare notes on any regular basis — unless they’re paying customers somewhere. And even then, under the watchful eye of the police, or at least of police informers.

    Someone mentioned the alienating experience of large institutions, but I don’t see why people in a socialist society couldn’t enjoy the best of both worlds: having complete and spacious facilities nearby where people can meet and dine and party and socialize and work at will — but where also there is that precious ‘human scale’ to things, as you bring out so well in this piece.

    It would take some planning. And also a lot of concrete. Which you don’t have much of in Cuba, apparently.
    But it’s still a fine challenge for the future.
    ;>