Sally makes an involuntary decision to see first hand (literally) the Cuban health system



After a delicious breakfast outside in the courtyard (no sign of the Americano Loco) we set off to explore Trinidad.

We started at the Museo Histórico, still quiet before the tour groups arrived. I saw a young woman studying with an ancient English textbook and I asked her about it- it was from the 1950s! Mirtha was very pleased to hear that we were English as she wanted to practise her pronunciation –  She had a CD player but CDs are very expensive in Cuba- I told her I’d send her some of my Learning English CDs . We agreed to meet her later at her other job as a shop assistant at a store selling local arts and crafts. She worked there from 5-9pm.

We wandered into a local art gallery.

The building was in need of repair but the art on the walls was fascinating. We bought a dozen postcards for $42.50MN (£1)- the assistant used a calculator to work out the change from a $50 MN note. We saw some interesting book titles including ‘Obama and the Empire’ by one Fidel Castro.
We then set off on the Lonely Planet guide walking tour of the town.
Walking past a primary school we peered in through the gates which led off the street and we were invited in.

The 9 year old children in one class were learning the Roman numerals and we also saw the playground where large murals of Castro and Che were painted on the walls.
We then continued down a long cobbled side street where two old ladies were sat on a doorstep asking for ‘sabón’ so we gave them a few hotel toiletries we’d brought with us.
Tied up outside some houses were horses.

All of a sudden, whilst walking in the cobbled street, I slipped on some wet cobblestones and fell down hard, putting out my right hand to break my fall. As I did so, I felt my wrist  take my full weight and it snapped. Bill, (trying not to faint!) shouted ‘taxi taxi’ and a small group of Cubans gathered round. Someone took charge and reassuringly said ‘Clínica Internacional’ and we shouted ‘sí sí’. A lady commandeered a private car and a passenger got out to enable Bill to help me into the car. The driver drove fast across the cobbled streets (painful!) and we saw the clinic. As we got out Bill offered payment but they refused.

At the clinic (below, left) I was assigned a personal nurse who was to stay with me  the whole time. A nurse put a splint and bandage on my wrist and gave me a strong injection painkiller. They said we needed to go to the local hospital as they didn’t have the facilities for X-ray here. We waited for the Clinic ambulance but it was not available so they pulled over a passing taxi whose driver refused payment. The ambulance later came to the local hospital and the driver waited with my nurse.
The local hospital (below, right) was a long wide corridor with patients sat on benches. I was put in a wheelchair and waited. The X-ray room is the one at the end of the corridor; the consulting room, the second door on the left.

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The state-run, for profit, International Clinics are found in the bigger towns and aimed at tourists. Hospitals are also state-run but are not profit-making.
As a foreigner, I jumped the (short) queue and had my wrist X-rayed. Bill checked out the machine- a Toshiba, made in 2006. Not the latest but reassuringly Japanese. I sat in the wheelchair whilst the radiologist manoeuvred my wrist into position and took two X-rays then popped them into a large ‘chest freezer’ to develop. I was wheeled out to wait for the consultant.
Soon someone came to ask for the wheelchair – my driver said no but, as I could stand, I said they should have it.
When the X-rays were ready, I was taken to the consultant, a brusque man who barely spoke to me but told the nurse I had to go to the larger, provincial hospital in Sancti Spíritus to have the bone re-set as it was a serious break and I would need an anaesthetic, either local or general which they’d decide once there. The nurse explained that the ambulance would transport me the 75km and if I needed a local, they would stay then bring me back. However, if I needed a general anaesthetic, I’d have to stay in for 24 hours and they could collect me tomorrow or I could take a taxi back to Trinidad.
We returned to the International Clinic (to prepare for my admission to the next hospital) in the clinic ambulance- a basic converted people carrier-sized vehicle with a stretcher down one side and two worn out seats (one behind the other but no seat belts) on the other.
There was no a/c so the windows were open for the breeze- which was fine till we got stuck behind various trucks which chucked out the most noxious black fumes! During the 90 minute journey, we passed many such trucks, mainly carrying people sat on benches either side.
The hospital was large and busy- an old building without air-conditioning. I had to wait a while then was taken in to the treatment room and asked to get on to a cold metal bed like this one:
cuba hospital
There were several other patients in the room on similar beds. I was attended by three doctors at once, first being injected with a local anaesthetic (VERY painful), then they managed to get one ring off my finger but there was no way they could pull off the ring on my little finger- I said they could cut it off. Someone brought some HUGE wire-cutters, wrapped in a towel- to keep them warm! They used the hot metal to melt and cut through the gold. They then proceeded to attempt to manually fix the wrist; three doctors pulling and manipulating the bones. OUCH. The doctors put a narrow splint on the wrist to support their work.
I was taken to the primitive plaster room, which was a tiny, square room with a huge vat of water taking up most of the space in which to soak the bandages. I was plastered from my thumb to over my elbow and it was HEAVY!
A second X-ray showed that the manipulation had been as successful as it could be, that an operation had been avoided for the moment. I had one important question before they discharged me- could I drink mojitos? ¡Sí!
 We were taken up to the 4th floor….through a locked door….to a wonderfully cool part of the hospital which turned out to be for foreigners. We walked past private rooms with TVs and were taken to an office to pay for my treatment- a total of $150CUC  paid on credit card.

On the way back to Trinidad the ambulance suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere, by a small house, from which a teenage girl ran out with her mother. It turned out that, 13 years ago, my ambulance driver had been working as a driver for the local hospital and he’d been called out to the girl’s mother who had gone into labour with complications. He had saved her life and the baby was safely delivered. Now, every time he drives past, he slows down and says hello if they are home. The nurse told me that the daughter goes to school on horseback.

2015 155

Once back at the clinic at 7pm, we had to settle the hand-written bill- $250CUC fully itemised which included the drugs, X-rays, nurse attendance and ambulance. The pharmacist made a tiny mistake in her hand-writing. Rather than amend it, she had to re-write the whole bill. She explained that the state checked everything and she couldn’t possibly have any corrections on the bill. We were also told that we had to stay at the clinic till midnight- 12 hours after my accident, in case of any complications. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so they agreed we could go to the Casa to eat the dinner we’d booked as long as the ambulance took us and collected us.
So, we were dropped off…. and the landlady said that she had heard we had gone to hospital (!) and that we’d be away for 24 hours so she’d cancelled our dinner. 😦
So we sneakily went to the nearest restaurant we could find, ate Ropa Vieja and drank mojitos before returning to the Casa to be picked up by the ambulance.
Back at the clinic, the pharmacist explained the further costs of keeping me in the clinic to be monitored- $10CUC per hour. I was expecting to have to sit in the waiting room but was shown to a room with two beds. Bill chatted up the nurses on duty- sharing out my emergency packet of Minstrels, the likes of which they’d never tasted!
Finally, as the clock struck 12, we were signed off and allowed to leave. Tomorrow- the beach?!

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