Medical Policy, or Political Medicine? / Ernesto Morales Licea
Ernesto Morales Licea, Translating Cuba, Translator: Unstated
A little less than a year ago I lived for two weeks thinking I had
cancer in my lymph nodes. In November, 2010, a team of pathologists at
the "Carlos Manuel de Cespedes" Provincial Hospital in Bayamo signed a
yellowish paper, prepared on a typewriter with a number of typing
errors, telling me I had a Hodgkin lymphoma of the nodular sclerosis type.
The news was soon running like wildfire in a city of two hundred
thousand people where my name, due to journalist-politician
confrontations, had gained unfortunate notoriety.
Fifteen days later, another team of pathologists, these belonging to the
"Hermanos Ameijeiras" Hospital in Havana, would make my mother let loose
a flood of withheld tears,by telling us that opinion was nothing but a
The tests repeated in Havana on my lymph nodes showed an alteration
(hyperplasia) which may have been the product of an ancient virus, which
did not contain any sign of malignancy.
The diagnostics that would save me from the clutches of chemotherapy
came after procedures as tortuous as a bone biopsy of the hip, a
medullogram, and another nasal tissue biopsy (only practicable by
introducing a kind of fine scissors in my nose to the larynx, and
cutting a piece of tissue), from which I suffered for several days.
On returning to my eastern city, with another paper telling me that at
age 26 I was not facing any cancer, never let me know what the five
pathologist from Bayamo did or did not see when they determined that I
had Hodgkin's lymphoma.
That's right: literature searches and dozens of questions to other
physicians let me know that these kind of lymphoma cells have a clear
structure, well-defined, classical, which make any confusion very difficult.
I will never assert that behind an opinion that destroyed the nerves of
my family and my friends, was the dark and powerful hand of the State
Security, as several of those close to me asserted, alarmed at the
inconceivable error. It is not my specialty to found my opinions on
subjective bases, without arguments in hand: that is the specialty of
However, now that after the incredibly sudden death of Laura Pollan some
well-known Cuban dissidents (Elizardo Sanchez, Guillermo Fariñas, Jose
Daniel Ferrer, among many others) have signed a declaration of refusal
to be hospitalized for illness, I find it impossible not to recall my
The national tragedy reaches such extremes of justified paranoia: when
apparatchiks of State intelligence have the power to expel students from
the University, to decide who can and cannot travel outside the country,
to block a person from purchasing food at a supermarket, or entering a
public movie theater; when these apparatchiks are present even in the
most anodyne and least important institutions of society, why not
believe their interests would also prevail in a hospital?
This statement of the Cuban Democratic Alliance, saying that only in
case of emergency surgery do they want to be transferred to a "hospital
of the regime" (read: all Cuban hospitals), and only if a doctor they
trust tells them so, I believe represents one of the most terrible
statements that could be known for a long time: not even in the medical
system do the disaffected feel they have full rights.
Not even in a quasi-sacred ground such as health care, where
professionals swear the Hippocratic oath to defend the lives of their
patients at all costs, an area that should not ever yield to pressures
or influences of any kind, not even there can Cubans who oppose the
government can feel safe.
Yoani Sanchez once told me how the emergency medical attention she
received at a clinic in Havana, was reported later, in minute detail, by
a reporter who aired a television report against her.
Just as I will never know how much was error and how much was
intentional in a diagnosis that ripped away a large part of my youth,
it's likely we may never know to what extent two deadly viruses entered
the body of Laura Pollan naturally, if she was already infected with
them, and whether they were really the cause of death of the Lady in
White. That's one of the many consequences of the obscurantism with
which everything moves at the official level in Cuba.
But we do know a hard truth: the values of a society are too riddled
with rot if even the responsibility, the incorruptibility of medical
ethics must be distrusted by those who disagree with government policy.
With or without reason.
(Originally published in Martí Noticias)
October 20 2011