My Brush With the Cuban Medical System
A couple of days before my second trip to Cuba I was repairing one of my work vans using a pneumatic air chisel. Small metal fragments were flying but I was wearing safety glasses so I was not worried. I felt a sharp sting on the first finger of my right hand and found I had been nicked by a piece of metal (or so I thought).
Off to Cuba I went a few days later. That damn finger was sore and stiff but I was going to CUBA…so to hell with it. After the second day, the knuckle began to swell and it was getting difficult to hold a can of Crystal comfortably. My landlady saw my finger and got alarmed. I did not understand a word of that machine gun Spanish of hers but she grabbed me by the sleeve and down the street we headed. We stopped by a doorway and when I looked inside I almost cracked up laughing. Behind what had to be a desk, which survived several wars, sat an older woman dressed in a nurses uniform straight out of a book from the First World War. Remember the little cardboard hats with the little Red Cross on them??? And WHAT A NOSE!!! She looked like a big old woodpecker we get up here in the frozen North. There looked to be about 4 waiting patients in front of me but I was usurer into a small room right away. The doctor came in and he looked about 20. He took one look at my finger, shook his head, making clucking noises and pulled down a jar that was filled with a bluish liquid and some long metal things. It reminded me of those jars you see in a barbershop which they sterilize their cutters and combs in. Out of the jar he extracted what he thought was a scalpel. To me it looked more like a F$#%&#G hunting knife!!! I have killed deer with weapons smaller than that!!! I got to confess. When it comes to needles and surgical instruments I am a full fledged COWARD!!! The doctor laid out a clean cotton towel on the exam table and motioned for me to place my hand on it. “NO WAY JOSE, You ain’t cutting my finger off you crazy jerk!!!”. He looked at me kinda funny because he did not speak English but he sure got my meaning. No translator was needed, that’s for sure. He showed me with hand motions that all he wanted to do was open up the knuckle to let the infection out. Looked to me like he wanted to lance my finger with a meat cleaver!!! Gathering all my courage, I put my hand down on the table and prayed this fat old white guy did not faint on the floor. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up to see a black Woody Woodpecker staring down at me. The nick……I still say it was a GASH…hurt for only a second but what came out was a lot of infection and a small metal fragment. It felt better right away. That only lasted until he pored something on it that looked like SUPER iodine. I screamed like a little girl!!! Holy hell did that stuff burn. :o The finger was wrapped up in some gauze and I was on my way.
By night, the swelling was gone and I could hold a Crystal comfortably once again. He came by my casa every morning to unwrap the finger, change the dressing, and rewrap it. The cost……5 CUP pesos. (25 cents)Thank God for the Cuban medical system. My vacation was SAVED!!!
PS. This is the reason why I started to gather stuff for the doctors in Cuba. Little did I know it was going to be a life time obsession and almost cost me a divorce on SEVERAL occasions.