UA-31290512-1

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cuba Healthcare, Our Firsthand Experience

cruising life mariel hemingway marina doctor aboard
Doctor making "boat calls" in Mariel Hemingway
Marina aboard Journey.  Wayne is the patient.
“Where are you going to be in a month’s time to have those stitches removed?” asked Wayne’s concerned Jacksonville Florida dermatologist. It was late November.  She’d just spent several unscheduled hours carving out a cancerous hunk of Wayne’s flesh, a few inches below his left tit and was about to sew the incision closed.  Only a brief routine follow-up was scheduled that day.

“Cuba,” Wayne replied.

They decided dissolving catgut stitches was the best approach as they would not require removal; it would happen organically – in theory.

stitches mariel hemingway marina
Wayne's stitches, irritated, prior to their removal.
A month plus a few days later, the stitches had yet to dissolve and were irritating. 

When the doctor stopped by the marina to see how we were doing, Wayne inquired about getting the stitches removed.  Cuban visitors pay $3/person/day for Cuban health care coverage.  There would be no additional fee for the removal of the stitches.

An hour or so later a doctor arrived, carrying her two tools in a modest brown paper wrapper.  “Tranquilo, tranquilo,” she advised Wayne, as she set to the task of removing Wayne’s stitches, sterilizing her tools with the isopropol alcohol and pads Wayne provided.  I held onto Wayne's ankles, my feeble attempt to provide some comfort as it was clearly a painful process.

The doctor then explained Wayne needed to wash the area daily, but did not need to do anything else to the stitches, such as re-applying alcohol.  And then she left.

Did she take his pulse? Heartbeat? Temperature?  I asked, as I missed her arrival.  Nope, Wayne said she just got straight to work.  Later I asked Wayne if the stitched area felt better.  It did.

A few days earlier I talked to the hosts at the casa de particular we stayed at about the $5,000 US emergency visit for my broken wrist (click here if you’re curious about that); nearly half of the cost was for about 20 x-rays, which struck me as outrageously excessive.

“Here,” Pepe countered, “The doctor would just feel what’s broken and fix it.  No x-rays.  No cost.  Excellent medical care.”

Indeed, Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary film, Sicko, claims Cuba’s medical care is excellent, and that US health care, the most expensive in the world, ranks only 37th out of 191 countries.

wayne's stitches healing bocas del toro panama
Wayne's scar's healing nicely since the stitches were removed.
What would it take to “turn the clock back” to a time when US medicine was more simple, straightforward and affordable? Even if the doctors don’t dazzle us with the over-the-top soap opera star smile, like the one featured in Sicko.

What puzzled me was the number of Cubans we came across with poor dental care – yellowed or missing teeth.  Pepe, our casa de particular host claimed it occurred during the Cold War when America blocked Cuba’s access to the materials needed to provide proper dental care.  While I could tell he believed it, he sardonically observed that somehow Castro’s smile was unaffected by this issue.

My hunch is that it was politically astute for Castro to blame America for a service he may at the time have been unable to offer.  

If you’re able to shed light on the true circumstances, please share!

cruising destinations, panama to south pacific
Sunset from our anchorage looking across
at Almirante Port, "Chiquitas-ville."
Location Location

CUBA retrospective of January 3, 2015.  At the time, our boat was docked at Mariel Hemingway Marina, (N23.05.231 W82.29.972) CUBA.  We are currently in Panama.  This post was written in Almirante (N09.17.265 W82.23.146)about a 2 hour sail from Bocas del Toro and prescheduled for publication. Once we move(d) from this spot toward the San Blas, we're not sure what our internet access will be until we arrive in Shelter Cove Marina in Colon, Panama  in early February.  There we will prep and provision before we pass through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, for  our South Pacific adventure.