Saturday, February 27, in the emergency room. A doctor explained to me –looking at a CAT scan –the severe pulmonary deterioration my brother had. “Quick feet and a cool head. The next few hours are crucial,” she told me. I took a deep breath and dove into my phone to search for the required medicines.
Soon enough, I heard “who is this dead man in the scan?” and was startled. It was another specialist looking at the results. “My brother,” I said. A mix of anger, disgust and fear ran through my body. She looked away and then walked away. I also left the place and burst into tears. Her “question” felt like a death sentence for my brother.
Lesson #1: Words can soothe like a balm or cut like a dagger. We should be careful using them. Saying “there’s not much to be done” or “we’ll do everything we can” is very different, even if deep down they can refer to the same thing.
In the early days of March, friends and acquaintances got word that my brother and my father were in the hospital with coronavirus, the former in intensive care. I was flooded with messages of support, but also the odd “you know, with my husband’s sister-in-law’s cousin was just like that, he was getting better and then all of a sudden… he died.” Maybe the tales were true, but they were of no help. Some human beings, even if it does not come from a bad place, have 0 empathy and -1 common sense even in the toughest hours.
Lesson #2: If we have nothing valuable to say, staying silent is the way to go.
My father went into intensive care after the Covid-19 medication triggered a psychotic episode. When we left him in the emergency room, he was unconscious. We couldn’t say goodbye nor explain his diagnosis to him. I did my best, biosecurity measures be damned, but he could not grasp what was going on. Suddenly, many hours later, he woke up in isolation with no familiar faces around him. Drugs, confusion and total loneliness made his head burst.
The stress –and all the blows he tried to land on medical personnel– caused an ulcer which generated tremendous blood loss and his hemoglobin came crashing down. The first step to recovery was a bunch of blood transfusions. I thought it would be impossible to find donors with the pandemic running wild, but –just like there are people with no empathy –there are others whose solidarity knows no bounds, always ready to help. When they saw me, almost all said the same thing: “We have no money, but blood we do.” That warmth overwhelmed me. “There’s a queue of people to donate blood, mom. Lots of friends,” I wrote to my mother. “Thank God. Nobody like Venezuelans,” she replied. I cried and smiled at the same time.
Lesson #3: We should love our country even amidst all these troubles, but above all we should love and trust our equals, those who might lose everything but not their solidarity.
After getting my dad’s hemoglobin back up, the next step was taking him out of that psychotic scenario. I thought seeing me would be enough, but when I got close he tried to choke me, bite me, pull my hair. My old man did not recognize me. “I want to go home, you evil woman,” he screamed. To bring him back to reality we exercised every tool and trick we could. We also got in touch with one of the country’s top psychiatrists. There are very few of those left, and they are for the most part languishing in public hospitals. After lots of effort, my father finally started to come back. We had made it, but when happiness seemed set to rein, the medical insurance struck a near-deadly blow: it would not cover therapy nor any expense related to mental issues. Just like that. There was no appealing it. We had to sell some stuff to settle our debt with the clinic.
Lesson #4: The pandemic has had a brutal psychological impact and has come to show how big a mistake it is to underestimate mental health and leave it beyond medical coverage. More than that, this was another reminder that there’s nothing more heartless than medical insurers, always looking to boost profits from people’s misfortunes.
After the medical release, I had to scramble to find oxygen concentrators. The cost of renting one ranged from 180 to 500 dollars a week alongside a massive $1000 deposit “in case something happens to the equipment.” This guarantee, it must be said, only applies to those living on the west side of Caracas, which is to say the area where poor and suspicious people live. The only ones –in their eyes –who run a risk of damaging the equipment. On the other hand, buying a concentrator costs $3000, and these prices go up by the day. Medical oxygen has become a great business in Venezuela. In the midst of my desperation, there was no shortage of idiots telling me to “go ask Maduro” or clarifying that “given its a scarce product, these are the prices because the free market bla bla bla.”
Lesson #5: If you see someone dying and instead of reaching out you choose to show your political colors, then you are a disgraceful bastard. And if you talk about an oxygen concentrator like you would a box of Pringles, you may know a lot about economics but very little about life’s worth.
A few days ago, a friend was diagnosed with Covid-19. I wrote him “let me know if there’s anything I can help with.” “Just make me laugh for a while” was his reply. As he toiled under the disease, he taught me a crucial lesson: the tiny details can make a world of difference under these circumstances. Let us be mindful of others so that nobody feels alone and much less stigmatized. Let us be kind and solidarious. The struggle continues.
Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig'Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.