Favoritism in Cuba's Health Care System
February 21, 2011
Any Cuban will have lots of stories similar to the one I'm about to tell.
I went with a friend to a suburban hospital for her to get an ultrasound
exam of her reproductive organs. At six o'clock in the morning, women
began to line up for the test.
Since they each arrived with a full bladder (which is required for the
exam) and they all had the strong urge to use the bathroom, we zealously
organized a line. We figured that even one person cutting ahead would
slow things down too much once the yearned for moment to urinate came.
By the 8.00 a.m. starting time, all those women were writhing, jumping
up and down and groaning in pain as they tightened their muscles to hold
themselves back. We were afraid that the medical staff would come late,
so it was a great relief when the doors to the consultation room opened
They then begin seeing the patients, but which ones? – those in line?
No, not them, but the ones who were either friends of the doctor or who
had previously cut deals with her and her ill-mannered smoking
secretary. Another hour later, the first of the early arrivers had
still not been seen. Instead, even more "buddies" were being attended
to while a bunch more of them waited for their chance.
The early arrivers were restless and furious, but not one of them dared
to protest or complain. After getting what I "deserved" I understood why.
By 9:00 I couldn't take any more, I went into the consultation room to
ask when they were going to see the others. The smoking secretary
responded "now!" But from her insolent tone and the grimace on her
face, I could tell that what she really meant was "when you leave me the
I'll summarize what happened next.
For my having asked this several times, the specialist took it out on my
comrade. She humiliated my friend and emotionally trampled her with a
histrionic ability that's difficult to describe.
She wasn't going to let a companion or a patient question her that way,
since that was the way things were done there. My friend suffered
through the experience crying, but when she managed to string a few
words together, her sweet complain wasn't heard.
However when the doctor saw her tears streaming down, it seems the
physician became sensitized. She apologized and told my friend that she
would attend to her. She wouldn't have to keep poking her head in and
she won't have to get in line. By this point my friend was in no mood
The hospital is public, sustained by the people's money, but doctors and
patients behave as if it were private and the medical attention were a gift.
It doesn't always happen this way, though it occurs often enough. The
mechanisms are too tortuous for people to exercise some control over the
functionaries and the specialists – who should supposedly serve them.
This problem is so frequent that it has now been established in common
thought as something normal, making it now much more difficult to of
extirpate. People don't fight it; they accommodate the best they can.
The alienation stemming from "state socialism" and "capitalism" takes
place despite having taken different roads, and they wind up looking
pretty much like. The question now is "what is to be done?"