"Please don't let me be on the floor"
So here in Cuba, I have managed to experience their health care system firsthand. The second day we were here I ended up being taken to a neighborhood doctor’s office to get a refill of antibiotics. Unfortunately the week before we arrived I had a terrible sinus infection and it had not yet dissipated when we arrived in Cuba, and since we were planning on spending a lot of time in the water snorkeling, they figured it was best that I be in good health. The first thing I noticed about the Cubans is their practice of preventative medicine; if you aren’t feeling well, their first instinct is to take you to the doctor before your situation worsens. The neighborhood doctor’s office was unique. The doctor’s office is downstairs and the doctor lives above the office on another floor as to be readily accessible. This also has other advantages being that each doctor is very familiar with the Cubans living in the immediate area, as to better keep an eye on their medical needs. Also, within the doctor’s office, the first doctor I saw wasn’t sure if I needed another prescription so she referred me to what she called “the professor,” another doctor in the office that had a higher status to be sure. To make their diagnosis, they felt my glands and used a tongue depressor. They had very limited medical supplies. After getting the prescription for Sabrina Rodriguez (it was easier for her to spell than my last name, and held more weight in the Cuban pharmacies), we proceeded to the pharmacy. The first one we arrived at was out of antibiotics, so we went to another. The shelves in these pharmacies were practically empty and the doctor’s write you a prescription for multiple drugs in case they are out of one you need so they can attempt to get you another one. It is a very unique way of handling medical care. When we finally tracked down the amoxicillin, they had given me 40 pills for $50 moneda nacional, the equivalent of 2 CUC which is roughly $2 American dollars. Very impressive. Not to mention, I never saw a bill for anything. Cuban health care is 100% free for the Cubans. All they pay for is their prescriptions.
My second experience with the Cuban medical system was during our third week on the island. We were in our first marine ecology lab and I was watching the first group sift through sand when all the sudden I started to feel funny. I sat down at a desk in the corner and then decided to go to the restroom to splash water on my face, but it was locked. No sooner than I asked my professor for the key, I told one of my classmates to catch me because I couldn’t feel my hands and the room was black and I couldn’t see anything. I remember feeling as if I was in a deep sleep and very relaxed. It was at that moment that I began hearing voices all around me in a panicked tone. And I thought to myself; please don’t let me be on the floor. I had passed out and woke up with all my marine ecology professors and my classmates standing around me. No sooner than they got me sitting up in the desk, two of my professors took me to the Polyclinico, which is one step up from the neighborhood doctor’s office and one step down from the hospital in the Cuban medical hierarchy. Once I arrived there, they instantly rushed me in to see the doctor ahead of some lady that had been patiently waiting. The doctor took my blood pressure and then sent me to get blood work done. Personally I am not a fan of needles, apparently I made the one nurse nervous and he went to get someone else to draw my blood. They were going to send me home to wait for the results but the doctor insisted that I wait in the waiting room so that if something else were to happen he was close by. Again, the practice of preventive medicine emerges. My blood sugar levels ended up being normal, but my blood pressure was low. They sent me home, but said I could come back in the afternoon for more tests if I wanted to. The Cubans are very good at making sure they find out the root of the problem or making sure that you are stable enough to continue on with your day.
Later that day, I saw the hotel doctor who gave me a homeopathic remedy that was not very tasty but ended up helping me feel better and ultimately reduce some of the dizziness. She was very friendly and I still see her around the hotel. She always makes a point to go out of her way to ask how I am feeling and how I am adapting to the Cuban lifestyle. They are still unsure as to why I fainted, but they postulated that it was a combination of a new environment, new foods with strange ingredients and nutrients, and new sleep habits that resulted in me fainting. I’m not really sure what caused it, but that had never happened to me before.
Overall the Cuban health care system appears to be very efficient and helpful to the population. Having doctors who know you by name and frequently check in on you to ensure that you are in good health is a positive attribute. Hopefully, I will not have any other run-ins with the medical system during our stay here in Cuba.