I have seen the inside of a Cuban hospital the hard way--as a patient. There is a story attached that helps to explain why I have not made a posting for more than two weeks. And like all stories, it has a beginning.
Santa Clara is in the middle of Cuba
Wendy and I badly needed a break (no pun intended). Also, our 40th wedding anniversary was coming up, so we wanted to treat ourselves. Thus we booked a trip to Cuba. We had never been there before and we wanted to experience that country. We got a little more than we bargained for.
The causeway can be seen in left of map
Our resort was located on Cayo Santa Maria, an island on the northern coast, connected to the mainland by a 48-km causeway. The nearest major airport is in Santa Clara, almost 120 km from the hotel.
Our flight did not arrive until about 8 pm, and it was almost 11 when we got to the hotel. We then had to find our cabin. The resort was not well lit. And then we discovered our key did not work. In the dark, right near the lobby, I fell flat on my face. It had been raining and everything was slick.
A satellite view of Cayo Santa Maria with is many resorts
The people in the lobby called a doctor and I was soon brought to the International Clinic about 3 km away. After an x-ray revealed that my arm was broken right near the shoulder, it was decided that I would have to be brought to the hospital in Santa Clara by ambulance, since the clinic was unable to set the arm.
Wendy went along and we arrived at the hospital at about 2:30 in the morning. There it was decided to immobilize the arm and wait until the displaced bone could be set under a general anesthetic later that day.
Another x-ray followed, together with a blood test and an ECG. These procedures required knocking on doors and waking up the technicians, who were sleeping in these rooms. The equipment was old, but it still worked. This typified the hospital.
Then I was brought to my room in the international wing. The room was clean, although it was in disrepair. The TV worked, after a fashion--there were only four channels, all in Spanish and very snowy. I had no reading material with me, and thus I had a lot of time to reflect and pray.
Our resort--we stayed in cabin 16, with an ocean view
Surprisingly, I was not angry. I regretted that my vacation was starting in an inauspicious way, but I was stoical during that first day. About 1 pm I was brought to surgery. In order to separate the clean surgery from the rest of the hospital, a ladder had been placed on its side in the hallway, my gurney was put on one side and another gurney on the other, and I was shifted from one to the other.
In the recovery room, where I went before and after the surgery, there was a wall clock that did not work and was upside down to boot. Yet the hospital was remarkably clean.
It was not really surgery; the bone in my arm was aligned better, although not perfectly. There was a team of ten doctors and nurses. A few bulbs in the lamp over the surgical table were broken. The arm was then put into a cast that covered not only the arm but also half my chest. I noticed that right away when I woke up.
Soon I was brought back to my room, where I later enjoyed a good meal. Wendy had gone back to the resort, where she slept briefly and then sent emails to our children. She was unable to reach the insurance company, but our daughter did and initiated the claim procedure. Wendy came back to the hospital that evening by taxi--about 120 km--and stayed the night. She too received a plate of food.
The next morning, after arranging funds to pay for the hospital and the clinic, we took another taxi back to the resort. I had missed only about 36 hours of our vacation.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed our stay there. The beach was beautiful, even though I was unable to enter the water to swim because of my cast. We were able to walk for many kilometers. And the food was reasonable--after all, this is Cuba. We have lived in many countries and the food in Cuba compares well with that elsewhere.
The hospitals do too. I grew to appreciate the Cuban medical system. The doctors and nurses are among the best in the world, even if their equipment was old and obsolete. They are well trained and in high demand elsewhere in the world. For example, Cuba exports them to Venezuela, in return for oil.
At the resort I learned that while the hotel staff receive tips in hard currency or the convertible peso, doctors and nurses only receive a minimal salary in ordinary pesos. My stay in the hospital meant that the hospital was able to earn some money. Whether the doctors and nurses received any of it, I do not know. I hope they did.
Medical care is free for Cubans. It is basic, but adequate, according to reports. Some people allege that only foreigners receive good care in Cuba, but that is not true. We have to pay, but the fees are minimal as compared to what American hospitals charge.
Would I go back to Cuba again? Definitely! But next time I hope to avoid Cuban hospitals.