In the comments section to my 1/31/2012 Cuba post, Emily’s asked whether we were involved in the actual delivery of the medical supplies we took over and what free medical care means in Cuba. I can answer the former but not the latter question.
Those of us on the tour carried over-the-counter medical supplies of a wide variety, since pretty much everything you could buy at a Walgreen’s or CVS are needed. We were encouraged to spend about $50.00 each, as I recall. We had both a “drop” in Santiago and in Havana. In Santiago we met with two nuns at our hotel who collected half our donations, and in Havana we visited a St. Vincent de Paul nursing home for women, where we gave the nuns the rest of our goods and toured the home. It was extremely clean, peaceful, and pleasant, despite the age of the buildings. It was run, of course, by the Catholic Church, and not the government, so it wasn’t typical. We were told the nuns had something like a central clearing house for the medical supplies. Ours would be distributed where they were most needed across the country, not just at that particular nursing home.
We spent a good hour at the nursing home, which was about 45 minutes too long for me. I speak as someone who spent seven years of her life visiting her mother almost daily in a nursing home, so my interest in nursing homes is pretty much depleted. There were two beds to a room, neatly made and in perfect order, some with teddy bears or private refrigerators brought from home.
The residents were calm and old (surprise), though some were younger with Down’s Syndrome. We looked into every possible nook and cranny– the kitchen, the dentist office, the infirmary—taking endless time because our Cuban guide was obviously proud of the facility, as well as wanting us to honor the nuns and residents with our attention.
I, on the other hand, was chomping at the bits to get going to the next thing on the schedule: a walking tour of Old Havana. I thought of that Faulkner line about how if a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate. “The ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies…’” Well, to me, getting to walk around historic old Havana was worth any number of old ladies. I could tell our long visit to the nursing home would cut short the walking tour, which it did. I am a Bad Person. (I also realize if I make it that far I’ll be one of those old ladies….) Continue reading “Medical Matters in Cuba”