Hospitals: You bring everything?

A bucket in one hand, a pillow under my arm, and a fan balanced on my hip.  I enter the door of the oncology hospital and the backpack over my shoulder blocks the custodian from seeing my face.  It’s of little importance because the man is used to the fact that the patients’ families must bring everything, so my Baroque structure of fans, bucket and pillowcase doesn’t surprise him.  He doesn’t know it yet but, in a bag hanging off me somewhere, I’ve brought him an omelet sandwich so he’ll let me stay after visiting hours.

I come into the room and Mónica is holding the hand of her mother, whose face is increasingly haggard.  She has cancer of the esophagus and there is little that can be done, although the woman still doesn’t know it.  I’ve never understood doctors’ refusals to inform one, directly, how little time is left before the end; but I respect the decision of the family, although I don’t join in the lie that she will soon be well.

The room has a thin light and the air smells of pain.  I begin to unpack what I’ve brought.  I take out the little sack of detergent and the aromatic with which I’ll clean the bath; its aroma floods everything.  With the bucket we can bathe the lady, using the cup to pour, because the water faucet doesn’t work.  For the great scrubbing I brought a pair of yellow gloves, afraid of the germs that spread in a hospital.  Mónica tells me to continue unpacking and I extract the package of food and a puree especially for the sick.  The pillow has been a wonder and the set of clean sheets manages to cover the mattress, stained with successive effluvia.

The most welcome is the fan, which I connect to two peeled wires hanging from the wall.  I continue to unpack and come to the little bag of medical supplies.  I have obtained some needles appropriate for the IV, because the one in her arm is very thick and causes pain.   I also bought some gauze and cotton on the black market.  The most difficult thing—which cost me days and incredible swaps—is the suture thread for the surgery they are going to do tomorrow.  I also brought a box of disposable syringes since she yells to high heaven when she sees the nurse with a glass one.

To distract her, I’ve come loaded with a radio, and a nearby patient has brought a television.  My friend and her mom can watch the soap opera, while I look for the doctor and give him a gift sent by the sick woman’s husband.  When bedtime comes a cockroach crosses the wall near the bed and I remember that I also brought some insect spray.  In the backpack I still have some medicines and a little gift for the girl in the lab.  I have money in my pocket, because ambulances are for the most critical cases and when they send her home, evicted, we will need to take a Panataxi.

In front of our bed there’s an old woman who eats the watery soup she’s been given by the hospital staff.  Around her bed there’s no bag brought by her family and she doesn’t have a pillow for her head.  I position the fan so that she will also get the cool air and talk about the arrival of another hurricane.  Without her realizing it I touch the wood of the door frame, whether to expel the fear of disease or in horror at the conditions in the hospital, I don’t really know.  A woman passes by shouting that she has bread and ham for sale for the visitors and I lock myself in the bathroom which smells like jasmine after my cleaning.


  1. OMG thats all I can muster, I live in a country where people complain day in day out about our health service, they complain if they have to wait a couple of months for treatment. I think they need to read your blog and what individuals from other parts of the world go through each day, I can’t even imagine having to take my own supplies into hospital. My sister is disabled and spends alot of time in and out of hospital if we didn’t have the health service I have no idea what would of happened to her. You really do have alot ot deal with, I feel truely humbled to have read your blog xx

  2. When I read your blog I wanted to cry, why? Because 50 years ago when I left Cuba, all hospitals were well equipped throughout. At that time many Cubans wanted a “CHANGE”, little did we know what kind of change the Rovolution had in store for us. Thanksfully I had a vision and left early, but left behind are millions suffering the consequences of an idiology and the aberration of a “mad man”. There was no need for a revolution to take place at that time but to go to the polls & decide who was going to govern us. Communism has not work in Russia, North Korea, Cuba and many other countries. What make you think that it will work in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, etc…?

  3. It’s true that Cuban family members go to the hospitals to provide things which aren’t provided. But it’s ALSO true that no one asks the patient for money or proof of insurance, when they enter the hospital or when they are discharged.

    No Cuban pays anything for their hospital stay. Their insurance is the fact that they are citizens of Cuba, a country where health care is considered a right, and not a privilege available only to those with enough money to pay for it. Before the Revolution, only those Cubans who had the money could get decent health care.

    Cuba has many problems, not all of which are fault of Washington’s efforts to isolate, starve and strangle the country into submission, but we in the United States could learn a few things from the Cuban experience. We could, at least, if we were free to visit and see it with our own eyes. That freedom, however, is denied to us, by Washington, not Havana.

  4. From Carlos to Walter Lippmann
    A government big enough to supply you with everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have….”
    You can’t even imagine the service that a regular Cuban receive from the run down government control hospitals in contrast to the centers “reserved only for tourists” (Cubans are not allowed). These services are for sale to the highest bidders in either Euros or Dollars. You will be surprise to find out how long a person has to wait in order to receive the so called “free service”
    I really wish you can go to Cuba to observe with an open mind the Health Care System and then come back to this blog and tell the world the truth. But let me tell you this, it is not difficult at all for you to visit Cuba. All you have to do is to inquire among the different churches in the city were you live and find out which one travels to Cuba and tell them you want to go with them on a church mission, of course paying for your expenses. Another thing, Washington has nothing to do with Cuba’s failures. The reason for the Embargo rest solely related to credit reasons. It will be easy for you to investigate how many of those countries that have lended credit to Cuba have not even got paid a single cent, not even for the accumulated interest. In my opinion these United States has nothing to learn from a totalitarian regime that continues to promise and promise for close to 50 years and had not being able to deliver. You talk about the freedom denied to us in this country by not being able to visit Cuba, please ask Cubans if they are allowed to travel outside their gulag.


  6. Walter Lippmann you must be high. Who would want to go to a hell-hole like that even for free? In the US if you are injured or sick you go to a hospital and they will not turn you away whether you have insurance or not. They may move you to the city hospital but they will take care of you. And what exactly do you call “decent medical care”? watery soup with cockroaches running around and hoping a family member will bring sheets? I would call that shitty medical care.

    As for the embargo that somehow causes all of Cubans ills even thought they can trade with every other country in the world and get free stuff from Venezuela, nobody with a brain cell buys that BS line. It always amuses me how people who furiously battle free trade and McDonalds are the same ones who so badly want the US to trade with Cuba. Maybe the embargo will end and we’ll see what the Cuban govt. does when Micky-Ds moves into Havana.

    Regardless – the time of “The Revolution” is nearing its end. The youth of Cuba are fed up with the lies and hypocrisy and they are the ones who will rule the country eventually. It may not happen til the last of the old Castro’s are dead and in hell, but it will happen sooner rather than later. Something has got to give.

  7. I pray that you and your family will make it safe through the hurricane and any other trials you might face in the future. I love reading your blog, it is refreshing.

  8. Gracias…por revelar las condiciones en cual fallcio mi tio. Gracias por su verdad. Sigue…brava! Sigue con la verdad.

  9. In the original it says ‘pan con tortilla.’ In the English translation ‘bread and an omelet.’ But in Cuba ‘pan con tortilla’ means an omelet sandwich. No?

  10. Their insurance is the fact that they are citizens of Cuba, a country where health care is considered a right, and not a privilege available only to those with enough money to pay for it.

    Actually, the elite get great health care. Regular people get crap.

    “Before the Revolution, only those Cubans who had the money could get decent health care.”

    Now, after the revolution, no one can, unless they have connections in the government or are a tool of propaganda.

    “Cuba has many problems, not all of which are fault of Washington’s efforts to isolate, starve and strangle the country into submission,”

    How dare you! It’s not the US that is the cause of this but the “glorious socialist revolution.” And as a tool of the Soviet Union allowing the US’s enemy to threaten the lives of Americans, they really didn’t help the matter. Castro has been and always will be a threat.

    “but we in the United States could learn a few things from the Cuban experience. ”

    If by “we” you mean people like you, then no. People like you will always see exactly what you want to see and nothing else.

    Every true believer in socialism always thinks that when it inevitably fails that there was some other cause, that it wasn’t done correctly, that another nation interfered, or that people were not committed enough to it. You will never see that it is socialism itself that IS the disease.

  11. My dear girl,
    You could be my daughter-I will be 50 next year. You have a gift for writing and You could write a bestselling book! The description and the depth with with you share your feelings and experiences is so beautiful. The life in Cuba is so bad, from what I’ve read elsewhere and seen on TV, it is not fit for the smallest animal. We just had an election here in the US. Barack Obama won (probobly by rigging the election and mezmerizing the government educated masses) and he reminds me of Fidel Castro. God help America. I used to go to church with a couple who were from Cuba. They were missionaries and wonderfully giving people. I also am an aquaintance with a young lady from Cuba who was a boat person when she was a child. What a wonderful human being. I pray for Cuba often. You are so kind to help your family and friends. John 3:16 Thank you for reaching out to the world with your story.

  12. For a country that boasts of ‘the best health care’ what a farce – as for health care professionals I don’t doubt that the doctors and nurses are magicians, helping, assisting and curing without having proper supplies even the basics – they are to be comended.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *