Doctor, Can I Give You a Hug?

Delia Proenza

Dr. Cira Delia
Dr. Cira Delia detected an abdominal tumor in a 13-year-old girl and was able to save her. (Photo: Delia Proenza / Escambray).

Cira Delia Valdivia Graña, an Integral General Medicine Specialist at the Polyclinic No. 1 of Cabaiguán, central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus, felt the suffering of the poor in Brazil where she left friends for whose fate she fears today

Her white skin and blue eyes resemble those of many inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul, the Brazilian State where she worked. This region, she says, was founded by German emigrants. There, the oldest ones know the German language, and most people live in great poverty. This reality disarmed the Cuban doctor since her arrival on December 10, 2015.

“I think it was more shocking for me than for them, because they had had a Cuban doctor before. I was very impressed with the system, knowing that there are so many modern things that are not available for the poor. The great majority lives in houses built by the governments of Lula and Dilma, but in very unfavorable conditions. They receive support from the social assistance program and almost every day went to our clinics to get something through us, even if it was only medicine”.

The experiences of Dr. Cira Delia Valdivia Graña, an Integral General Medicine Specialist at the Polyclinic No. 1 in the city of Cabaiguán, Sancti Spiritus, are very fresh. She returned to Cuba last November 15th in the first flight bringing Cuban health cooperators from Brasil after the announcement made by the Ministry of Public Health not to continue in the Más Médicos Program, due to the offensive statements by president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

“The first times were very difficult for me, because when there was a serious problem I had no means to solve it.  I was once called to see an underweight (1,500 grams) baby patient who had been discharged from hospital but had shortness of breath and jaundice. I had nowhere to refer him because there was no pediatrician in the area. After that, I convinced the municipal health secretary to give some solution to the serious cases”, she remembers.

She couldn’t help everyone but, for example, she saved Giovanna Machado, a teenager suffering from autism and mental retardation who had started with digestive bleeding and anemia. “Every day I sent her to the hospital. After a magnetic resonance scanning which was paid by the municipality an abdominal mass was discovered. The doctors had been treating her for years, but they had never touched her abdomen. When I left, her colostomy had been already reversed. Now she is 16 and she came to me when she was 13”, she said visibly moved.

Dr. Valdivia saw more than 40 patients a day. All of them went in search of the Cuban doctor “because you touch them, you check their blood pressure, you put your hand on their shoulders”, she specifies.  She illustrates the astonishment of those coming from the municipality of Cerro Largo, at more than 200 meters above sea level: “They asked me, ‘Doctor, can I give you a hug?’.  They cannot go to a Brazilian doctor and say that they have high blood pressure and a knee pain because it’s only one condition they can get treatment for, but we treated ten at a time”.

She lived only twenty-five minutes away from Argentina. It was very cold almost the whole year. However, in the town of Cerro Largo people keep as a relic the warmth of the solicitous and cordial doctor. At the time of her departure, they waited by hundreds outside her office not to get assistance, but to say good bye with the hug she gave them all.

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