Xady, a HiperBarrio participant with the ConVerGentes group in La Loma, wrote and posted his family’s experience with medical service in Colombia: a far too common situation where doctors give you check-ups without touching you and then recommend over-the-counter analgesics for what are later discovered to be very serious maladies. The following is an English translation. You can read the original in Spanish.
On any normal given day, Margarita wakes up early (4:45 a.m.) to send out her husband to work and soon after her soon to school. On Thursday, she was doing her regular housework in the same way she does it every single day: the difference is that on that day she wasn’t feeling well enough to do all her tasks.
Margarita (my mother) is a housewife like many other mothers in Medellín. She works very hard every day so that we can live in a clean and welcoming place, besides, she makes the family relationships run smoothly and never break down or have problems. She could just be simply a housewife – I do my basic chores and then sit and watch soaps the rest of the day- nevertheless, my mother is convinced that her role should be of a moderator, a process facilitator. Learning isn´t acquired just by going to a class in any educational facility, but out of self love, attitude and the hope to have a better future.
While I was doing my regular routine of waking up, my mother was telling my father that her arm hurt, and I was attentively listening. She told us that her arm had a light tingling and she felt pain when she moved it suddently and besides, she had a sharp pain in her back. Later, she would try to make an appointment with a doctor our family knows.
My mother is well-known practically everywhere because she has become a teacher for children and teens who regularly go to the school, since many of them lack some skills and my mother tries to help them improve on them and develop their strengths for better personal and group development in the institution.
Whenever I come home from school I always find between 4 and 6 kids in my house, doing homework with her: she stands up, asks me how my day was and invites me to sit down for lunch.
This normal protocol is repeated daily.
Two days after she told us about her arm and back, she commented that her arm was back to normal, but that her back ached a lot, as if she had wind in her back.
She had been trying to ask for an appointment but first she needed a document that my father´s company gives him so that she can go to the appointment.
We spend several days pressing the company to send the document, so that we could then ask for the checkup for my mother. It was practically useless, since about 15 days later the paper still hadn’t appeared and my mother felt even more intense pain in her back. 23 days later the paper was sent to my house, and the check-up appointment was inmediately scheduled, and we requested for some medication to be sent to the house to at least control her pain. We were unable to get the appointment with the doctor who regularly sees her.
On the days prior to the appointment, the pain increased in her affected area (the arm and back) and household chores became a nightmare when she had to do them. The pain made the most basic tasks become impossible to perform, and it made her lose concentration during the activities with the kids and teens that came to see her for help in their homework.
On the day of the appointment, she woke up early, she sent us off and she got herself together to arrive at the 8am appointment. The doctor arrived at 8:40 am and only mentioned there had been bad traffic and his cellphone had been left at home and he had been unable to warn them he’d be late.
He sent my mother into the examination room and proceeded to examine. After 30 minutes inside the office, both left and said farewell, my mother thanked him and went to purchase the medications the doctor had prescribed (acetaminophen, tylenol. He said it was just a crick in the back, something normal). After my mother left, three more patients were left, – “I’ll be right back, I’ll go grab breakfast, I’ll return in a moment” – the doctor returned an hour later.
My mother still had the same pain, what he had prescribed was useless. Every day the pain increased and we had no ways to even calm it. A new appointment was requested at the “Leon XIII” clinic for her to be examined once again and to receive medications of some use. Five days later she went to the doctor’s appointment, and the doctor this time was even worse than the previous one. After less than 10 minutes examining her, he told her it was a normal pain, didn’t prescribe her anything and told her to make teas with tangerine and apple peels, that it would make her better, and if she didn´t notice any improvement she should take some Tylenol and ask for another appointment.
My mother immediately scheduled another appointment with a different doctor, and she wrote two notes before leaving, one she handed to the doctor’s secretary and the other she left in the suggestion box. She wrote about incompetence and the lack of the doctor’s humane skills.
The pain followed the same direction and got even more intense. My mother couldn’t sleep and neither could we, impotent and unable to do anything about this pain that had us worried due to the situation that we were living at the time. Each day it got stronger until she lost movility, stability, couldn´t feel her legs and we were incredibly worried. My father and an aunt were doing complex paperwork and stood in endless lines to ask for an urgent doctor’s appointment. (Years back, they had established a court order for a back operation, she’s already had two.) AS far as paperwork was concerned, things went a lot smoother since she had won that previous court order.
After lots of hard work, waking up very early, endless lines, fights and hunger, we managed to get our objective: to have my mother seen by a specialist.
-It isn´t air in your back, or any type of injury-
-So what is this pain then, doctor?
-You have a tumor in your spinal cord-
Faced with this answer, our whole world collapsed and it was very hard to get over the terrible news, at that moment my mother was hospitalized for the following 51 days in various clinics and hospitals in the city, and by her side, my father who sat with her throughouth the whole process. The thought that our mother would be absent from our lives, not for one day or two, but a lifetime. It made my grades in school drop and my morale was in shambles. We all thought that it was just a tumor in her spinal cord. After a rigorous check, they found the real problem behind my mother’s leg paralysis and the pain in her back: bone marrow cancer. This information was kept between the doctor and my mother, even though the doctors told her she wouldn’t walk again, there was a 70% chance that the risky surgery wouldn´t be successful. She was always hopeful she would walk again and would lead a normal and independent life like any other person.
The doctor who checked her said the same thing every eight days, he would also say that her condition was incurable.
-we will operate in 8 days-
Due to this problem, my father complained in administration and the following days he was substituted. The new doctor checked her out and immediately said that he would program the surgery for the next day.
Date: September 26, 2005
Time: 2:00 pm
At that time the surgery began, and it ended at 7:00 pm.
“Recovery would take more or less two years, two months after the surgery she would barely be moving her toes,” said the doctor. That was completely false, because one month and fifteen days later, on my birthday, she gave her first steps and from that moment on she hasn´t given in against this harsh trial.
At this moment, April 5th 2008 she is in rigorous control which began every two months and is now every six months due to her great and satisfactory recovery.
“Miracles exist” and “Stepping back not even to make a running start” are common quotes said by my mother, Margarita.