GRANMA: Cuba’s Field Medicine, Also of Excellence

Posted on January 29, 2010

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 What did you feel when you arrived in your county and saw such devastation?
“I was wordless. But I always cite Marti when he said that a man cannot be happy while there is another one suffering. That is why I am here. I don’t know when I will be going back to Cuba to finish my specialty. I just know the day I arrived here, not the day I will leave.”
–Atilius Argace, Haitian doing her third year residency in gynecology at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba
 
 

 

  

 

 

GRANMA

January 28th, 2010

It seems like the intention of Haiti and these disasters is to terrify this Cuban doctor; however, she is one of those women who instruct you with a simple look. Two days after the earthquake I found her surrounded by the injured patients who arrived constantly in the La Renaissance hospital. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and she had been working for over 24 hours, but she would continue working.

Olga says she used to believe she had experienced everything concerning disasters in Gonaives, but she changed her mind on January 12 this year. “The psychological impact has been immense; the worst thing was seeing people die because we did not have all the necessary conditions right after the earthquake, as the country had collapsed. Such is the case of that young lady who came in with an abdominal trauma and, due to our inability to take her into an OR, she finally died. We were almost treating people in the streets.”

But perhaps what this earthquake really caused in her was the urging need to meet with her family again: her husband Gabriel, her daughters Dailen and Danay, and her 3-month-old grand daughter who she has not yet had the pleasure to meet. She confesses her need to return home:

–You helped to put the La Renaissance field hospital to work and you are now head of it. If you keep on working so well you will never go home…..

“Although I may need to go back home, I will always do my work properly.”

DOCTORS IN THE FIELD

Outside the park Croix des Bouquets, dozens of people form a long queue. On the inside, many others mill around the door of the field hospital which has opened to the public. Many of them have some leaflets printed in Cuba with pieces of advice on regularly washing your hands, boiling the water, protecting the food, not throwing rubble everywhere, and visiting the doctor in case you feel ill.

Darid Gurlene carries a baby girl and three more children holding her skirt. Nekila, the little baby girl, has a fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Darid had been waiting for hours in the queue. She was protecting her children from the sun rays with a piece of cardboard, while she confirmed that she was there to see the good Cuban doctors.

Just like her, many people in Croix des Bouquets already know that Cuban doctors are building a field hospital to treat all the people who need it. When we asked the doctors why there were so many patients attending the hospital, they all agreed on one answer: “The treatment and the medicines are all free.”

Dr. Olga Maria Delgado says that these cases are not directly linked to the earthquake, but are rather a consequence of the disaster, as in the case of the diarrhoea and the infectious respiratory diseases. In the field hospital, an area for hospitalization, for appointments and the OR, are already working. The intensive care ward, the labs, and the rooms for ultrasounds and X rays have still to be built.

Nine Cuban doctors, two Haitian residents, and six students from the Latin American Medical School are working in this hospital. Among the happy moments they have had is having saved the life of Yunel, who got to the field hospital only 28 days old and weighing just two pounds. After the earthquake, he started to suffer from fatigue, vomiting and diarrhoea. Yunel’s mother, Yulia, learned at church that the Cuban doctors were healing the people, and she decided to visit them. Now, Yunel is out of risk, even though Yuila still does not know how to write her son’s name, not even her own.

One of the most populated tents is that of the Haitian resident Atilus Vargace, who is now taking the third year course of the specialty of Gynecology-obstetrics in Cuba and came to help his people after the earthquake. There, dozens of women wait to be treated for the first time by this doctor. Atilus had already treated 21 cases and it was not yet noon: “Many women have twin pregnancies, others get here with strong pelvic pains or breast abscesses. The majority has never had an appointment with a doctor before.”

–What did you feel when you arrived in your county and saw such devastation?

“I was wordless. But I always cite Marti when he said that a man cannot be happy while there is another one suffering. That is why I am here. I don’t know when I will be going back to Cuba to finish my specialty. I just know the day I arrived here, not the day I will leave.”

I must confess that I never expected to listen to the name of Marti in the middle of such a tragedy. Haiti is still surprising me, and so is the force of the Cuban Revolution which is capable of training doctors like these, who, even under field conditions, heal their patients with excellence.