Caracas.– Around mid-morning, when we reached the Dr. Alcides Rodríguez Comprehensive Diagnostic Center (CDI) in the parish of Valle Coche, a group of patients was patiently waiting for medical treatment. Although the row of persons seated included a wide variety of individuals, older adults, children, young women, they all shared a look of serenity, reflecting the expectation that they would surely receive help within the clinic's doors.
No one was surprised when we asked to take some pictures. The children, as usual, were the most enthusiastic about our visit, and the chance to answer a question.
Something else the group shared was their evident humility, the kind that would never move a doctor trained to serve an elite clientele.
The professionals who work in this CDI have a different philosophy, viewing themselves as community workers. Cubans and Venezuelans on the staff have joined forces to help.
This clinic is affiliated with what is known here as an Integrated Community Health Area (ASIC), an organizational structure that serves a defined geographical zone, called Los Cedros, with a total of 20 doctors' offices, a rehabilitation center, and 13 dental clinics. More than 51,000 residents are able to access these services.
Registered nurse Alexander Centurión Batista, a 41 year old Cuban, has been leading the staff here since January 12, this year, beginning his second mission in the country.
"The area we attend," he explains, "is mostly hills, which is a challenge since we need to reach places that are geographically difficult. Not to mention the danger that also affects us, although they take care of us Cubans. We are very much welcomed by the entire population."
Centurión, from the province of Granma, reports that Venezuelans are very grateful for Cuban solidarity, saying, "They take advantage of our attention, especially during these difficult times."
Like every one of Cuba's international collaborators, he left his loved ones behind on the island: his parents, wife, children - including a little one-year-old. He keeps his family informed about the disturbing situation in Venezuela, explaining, "I don't deceive them; I tell them about every moment experienced here."
What Centurión modestly avoids addressing is his equanimity, the same serenity noted in the faces of all the collaborators who have gathered in the CDI's community room, to talk with us. At one point, he shares a heartfelt definition of his colleagues and himself:
"We hold very dearly the internationalism inculcated by our Comandante en Jefe Fidel. We feel very useful helping this people during a complicated time; and here we are, here we Cubans are, trying to give our all in hopes of helping this country feel supported in the area of health."
We asked the university trained nurse if he had an idea how long he would stay in Venezuela. His admirable, firmly expressed response was one we have heard many times, "I will be here representing my country as long as the Revolution needs me."
LOVING THE WORK
In a small office within the CDI, fulfilling her responsibilities and completing paperwork, is Venezuelan Dr. Zoveida Arias Pinto, 48, who is proud to have studied Comprehensive Community Medicine with the Cuban Medical Mission in her country.
Talking about her Cuban professors, Dr. Arias says, "They left us this different legacy and feeling about what traditional medicine was. We are representing a new conception of public medicine."
Dr. Arias graduated three years ago and has been completing her residency in Public Health. She explains that the ASIC, in addition to organizing all the services available, is responsible for linking health institutions with sports and cultural entities in the neighborhood, "with everything that has life" in the zone, she says.
Working with Cubans is very good, she reports, recalling the early days of her training, "When I started medical school, I said to myself: As a Venezuelan I have the right to this opportunity. President Chávez assumed the task that Comandante Fidel Castro had proposed to him, and this project to train Comprehensive Community Medicine doctors was launched. As I studied, I began to understand this type of medicine. It is something completely different from what we Venezuelans had. When we work in the field, door to door, when we are close to the people who truly need a doctor, who don't have the resources to pay for an appointment, we become more sensitive, we begin to fall in love with the career we chose."
Dr. Arias recalls that by the time she graduated, she was a different person. When she began her rotations through several hospitals she felt the rejection of medical students from other universities that took a traditional approach. Her colleagues would say she was no good as a professional.
"We are different," she says," in the sense that when someone arrives in shock, I am very concerned about the person, about what they need, and I want to find it for them despite all the difficulties. I saw them, my colleagues from other universities, being very dry, even in the way we interacted among ourselves. Hopefully someday, they will fall in love with this philosophy of ours."
There are already more than 20,000 Comprehensive Community Medicine doctors who have graduated in Venezuela, she notes, "There are lots of us now who are taking on the fight, who are supporting this Revolution. When a patient says to you: No doctor has ever told me these things you are telling me, I respond with pride; it's that I am a Comprehensive Community Medicine doctor, and I believe in education, and prevention."
The testimony of Dr. Arias helped us understand that Comprehensive Community Medicine has made Cubans and Venezuelans brothers and sisters. She continued, "When you are faced with a bedridden patient who looks you in the eye and raises his or her hand to take yours, and say: Thank you, Doctor; you remember that there is nothing more gratifying than our training."
From the little office where she is spending a few minutes, consumed by some detail that will surely resolve a human problem, this Comprehensive Community Medicine doctor describes her work as a privilege, "Knowing you didn't make a mistake choosing a career, that you are immersed in what Comandante Chávez thought and sowed… such a good man."
And as if the doctor had no more words left this morning, she concluded, "one of a kind."