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Francisco Castro: I was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1984 and I have lived in Havana since I started studying at the Higher Art Institute in 2004. Being a homosexual in a traditionally homophobic society and not hiding it automatically turned me into a revolutionary. As a young person convinced that other people can always be better, makes me live in the middle of a thorny garden, and I get hurt a lot. So I decided to find a machete and cut each branch and do it here, right smack in the garden. The one where I was born, that I love more all the time by choice, because it’s mine. My life is that search, that of the machete. I also seek help, to find it and to clean the garden.

Health Care in Cuba is “Free” but…

April 11, 2013 | Print Print |

Francisco Castro

Entrance to the emergency area of the Calixto García Hospital.

HAVANA TIMES — One of the first things one sees when arriving in the Emergency Room of the “Manuel Fajardo” Clinic Surgical University Hospital, is a huge poster in which you can read: “Your health care is free, but it costs…”, followed by a list of some of the services we are given free, with their prices.

I arrived in this place after feeling sick the whole day with a couple of vomits and a fever between 100 (38 C) and 102 (39 C) degrees. The intern doctors who examined me, decided, after the physical examination and an x-ray, that I had pneumonia and should be immediately admitted.

Before arriving in this facility I had gone to the Calixto García Hospital from which I ran away, because they ordered an urgent complete CBC test, and that my temperature should be taken in the infirmary, since, if it was over 100 degrees, I would have to be given a shot with duralgina.

The fact is that at the infirmary, the thermometer was broken, and at the clinic lab, there was a long line of upset people, while the lab technician held a cheerful telephone conversation, indifferent to any complaint.

At the “Fajardo”, the attention in the first stage was a little better, but it all returned to what is normal here, when the admission process began. To sum up, I was laid out in the waiting room, trembling with fever, with a vein of my right arm channeled, for about an hour and a half, just because no one had confirmed that my bed was ready.

The Calixto García Hospital in Havana.

When I found the stretcher-bearer, I told him I had sheets of my own to make my bed, so he took me to my room. It was 9:45 in the evening.

One of the rights of the admitted patients that was immediately violated in my case, was the one to be received by nursing staff. Once the stretcher-bearer showed me my bed, no one else took care of me.

Deadbeat due to the fever, I managed to make my bed and could hardly eat some of the food a friend had brought to me, and then I fell into an intermittent sleep because of the fever tremors and the concern that the little intravenous did not come out of my vein.

I was abruptly waken up from that half-conscious state by the nurse on duty, who pulled my channeled arm to give me some medicine. No good evening, no please, and even less the name of the medicine he was giving me. That was close to midnight.

The next morning, it was the same thing. The nurse, after giving me the medicine, took that uncomfortable thing off my arm, without a word.

There I was, lost, without knowing the times for the meals, without knowing the daily routines, each of which I discovered gradually, by asking my roommates.

When the doctors arrived, the treatment changed. And so did the diagnosis. Three students and two professors examined me in that round, and they all agreed I did not have pneumonia.

In the x-rays, they could indeed see some little spots in the lungs, that would have to be studied by carrying out a TAC (A computerized Tomography). But given the lack of any external breathing symptom, and the visible congestion in all of my body, besides the symptoms that made me go to the hospital the day before, they decided that mine was a case of food poisoning, which requires no hospitalization.

The Fajardo Hospital.

I was asked if I had recently undergone any checkup, and given my negative answer, they decided to run a complete one, including the TAC. It was Friday.

So, I would have to stay the entire weekend at the hospital, waiting for the repair of the TAC device, which was out of order at the time.

Summary: a tremendous panic; a hospital bed unnecessarily occupied; my work team going crazy, assuming my tasks; my friends mobilized, keeping me company and taking me food (we already know what to expect from the food at the hospitals in Cuba); a lot of trouble to bathe without a shower, with the toilet stopped up, and with cockroaches roaming around; surrounded by people with breathing infections, who coughed painfully and expectorated constantly; taking the chance of getting infected.

Everything for a new bad diagnosis.

What’s the objective then, of the posters reading: “Your health care is free, but it costs…”, which we also see as television spots? Does the fact that it costs nothing to us, but to the State, as they let us know, justify the mistreatment and the wrong diagnosis?

Sometimes, I wonder how life in Cuba would be, without the subsidies. I know that many people – including me – would see themselves affected, but, for how long? Would the attention to people be different? Could money warrant a treatment worthy of human beings?


What's your opinion?

  • Griffin

    There is no such thing as “free” healthcare. Every working Cuban pays for it by his miserably low wages. The government takes their cut off the top, before the worker sees his paltry $18 per month. That’s how your “free healthcare” is paid for, along with all the other “free” services the state provides.

  • Moses Patterson

    Once when I lived in Cuba, I had to be admitted to Ciro Garcia in Playa due to severe flu symptons. This hospital is the tourists hospital. Calixto Garcia, which is near my favorite casa particular in Central Havana, and where a good friend of mine works, used to be the pearl of the Cuban health care system. Now it is rundown, seemingly constantly under repair and sorely lacking supplies and appropriate hygenic upkeep. The difference between these two “Garcias” could not be greater. While the even the facilities at the tourist Garcia hospital pale by comparison to the standard of care here in the US, the rooms were at least clean and the staff attentive. The Cuban Garcia hospital was dark and smelly. The surgical unit had garbage pails with bloody bandages in open view and the toilets were nonfunctioning. Those who love to comment about the wonders of Cuban medicine should visit Calixto Garcia. Even “free” sometimes costs too much.

  • Friedrich Joestl

    I don`t know what happened to my commentary I sent this morning. It`s not there. never mind, might be my computer as well. Well what I said was, that I did not get really wise out of this articele. But what I wanted to mention is, that I was treated twice in Cube, once in the above mentioned hospital and once in Nueva Gerona. First time it was a luxation of my shoulder ( Gerona), secind time a severe infection of the kidneys by water. Both times I was treted very well and for free, although I offered to pay, being overinsured.Back to Vienna, the medical doctors expressed their admiration for the Cuban collegues, by telling me that they had done a very good job. So far my experience.It`s nothing peronal, Francisco, things that you mention happen in many hospitals around the world. An answer to your last sentence: like in all capitalist countrie there are many in mine too. Well if you want the answer: the differnce to stat hospitals ( or hospitals run by churches) is, that dying in a private hospital is much costier. I guess you get what I mean.And: which doctor qould you trust more: the omne who asks a lot of money fromm you or the one who does it motivated also for humanitarian reasons for less money? Whatsoever, was interesting reading your point of view. Kind regards from Vienna.

    • Moses Patterson

      It is very hard to believe that a foreigner was treated at Calixto Garcia hospital, but in Cuba anything is possible, I guess. It is also unfair to label the practice of medicine in the US or Austria as only being motivated by money. Are doctors in Cuba only motivated by the possibility of missions to Venezuela? Besides, Cuban doctors are not what is wrong with the system. It’s everything else associated with Cuban medicine that is in decline.

      • Griffin

        While staying at a Cuba resort, my wife was bitten by an insect & her foot swelled up so bad she couldn’t walk. The handsome young doctor in his crisp white uniform, came right to our room to see her. He examined her foot, rubbed cream on it, gave her some antihistamines, and then flirted with her.

        Hey, he was Cuban.

  • James Smith

    My experience in Los Angeles’ “best” hospital, Cedars-Sinai was very similar. I went to the emergency room with severe pain, which I thought to be Appendicitis, but turned out to be a kidney stone. The staff was uncommunicative as I lay in emergency room bed for six hours. It was only after five hours that they gave me anything for the pain. The major difference with Cuba is that my visit cost more than $5,000. Fortunately, I had medical insurance or I would have been hounded by bill collectors for the rest of my life.

    • Moses Patterson

      James, what were the conditions like at Cedar-Sinai during your unfortunate visit? Did the toilets work? Were the halls well lit? Did the attending physician toss his latex gloves in the waste basket or into a bucket to be washed and reused on the next patient as is often done in Cuba? I am curious about the machines used to do any testing if you needed any tests done. How old were they? Did they work? Sometimes the saying, “you get what you pay for” is actually true.

  • Friedrich Joestl

    I know Moses, you wouldn`t believe anything which isn`t anti Cuban. My dear I spent and stil spend every year months and month in Cuba, not with officials, with just normal people.I know that many thing seen from, our point of view – and never forget that our point of view is not necesaríly the one of the Cubans , so don`t put things so absolute – by the way I wonder if you would have the same sarcastic criticism on f.e the Dominican republic, were things are not any better or even worse- are not perfect. often difficult to understand. ;any things need to be improved. But critisizing, bloggering anti Cuban shit or being diffamatory is very easy. Does any of this big mouths having any solution? Does any of them do anything positiv for their country? Seems to me that for some people the easiest way to make money is to become a dissident. Pays well for a while at least.Serious: my respect for all those who want an amelioration or the situation in Cuba, so support the reforms, why not work in the institutions etc. or help from the outside? No respect for those who join the most reaccionary circles for good money to bring down the socialist system. They have very little sympathy from the left to the center.And, wise man as you are, you should know, that reforming things is not always an easy task, especicially under very unfriendly economical circumstances as thé case in Cuba. And all the useless polemics don`t serve for anything. Contrarily, they simply aggravate the situation, create mistrust and hate.Lets be fair ab look opebn mind on the positive things the government does without loosing out of sight what still could, should and has to be done. But above all, let the Cubans themselves decide and not come up with our typical western arrogance, telling them what they hace to do. And be honest, how much democracy do we really have in our so called free countries? Have a cloase look and you`ll find there`s very, very little and its getting less and less.

    • Moses Patterson

      How much democracy do I have? I have voted in 7 presidential elections. Each time I had a choice between no less than four candidates. I have voted for governors, US Senators and members of the House, State Representatives and a variety of local level politicians. My Cuban wife has never voted for her President.. Her entire life the same two people have had complete authority. So, honestly, what a stupid question!

    • Griffin

      You want to let the Cubans themselves decide? That is not something the Castro brothers have permitted for 55 years. Instead of true support for the Cuban people, arrogant Westerners like yourself tell Cubans how lucky they are to live under a dictatorship in conditions you would never accept in your own country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Elizabeth-Faraone/100000185676545 Elizabeth Faraone

    Here is a worse scenario. My sister had been diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctor that diagnosed her made no efforts to help her get immediate proper medical care. He simply referred her to a doctor that wasn’t able to see her for a month. Meanwhile, she was in a crisis and she was dying. Her diagnosis was a late diagnosis, as she had no medical insurance and had taken care of her symptoms with diet, not realizing she had Leukemia, which was a direct result of her having helped during the clean-up of the fallen Twin Towers in Manhattan – no protection to the clean up workers was provided, although it was quite obvious that it was a toxic brew and that, eventually, everyone exposed would eventually die of some sort of cancer. Getting back to her diagnosis, her spleen was extremely enlarged and she was emaciated. She had been to the emergency room twice already, but because she didn’t have insurance, she was looked at and NOT admitted to the hospital. I proceeded to complete her tax returns for her so that she could apply for our socialized medicine called Medicaid, since she earned so little that she qualified for it. After I finished her tax returns, she took off her robe, and when I saw how skinny she was (skin and bones), I looked at her boyfriend and said, “Take her to the emergency room and insist that they admit her.” She was admitted and it took a few days for them to start the life saving medication that she needed from the moment she was diagnosed. She was stabilized but only lived for two more years because her diagnosis had been so late. So if you question whether Cuba would be better off without government subsidized medical care, DON’T. Of course it is better to have medical care FOR ALL. I think too many people are influenced by Americans that come to your country and tell you how great it is in the US. It is lies. In most countries in Europe, health care is socialized. They have their problems too, but I bet more lives are saved there than in the US. Getting back to my sister’s exposure to the toxic brew – the US government has essentially stopped overseeing the safety of work places. Apathy and cruelty is a worldwide problem. Cubans are going to have to figure out how to get their health system to function with more competence and compassion. The answer is certainly not to deny those who can’t afford health care.

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