The power cuts seriously affect the health system and neglect a vulnerable sector of the population: the ill. Although the regional and local authorities insist that they have provided the health centres with power plants since the first mega blackout, the fact is that many of them do not work and, as a result, priority services remain compromised
By Andrea Salas
Yamilex Álvarez had been asleep for eleven days in an induced coma. On March 25, just as the Coromoto Hospital medical team was about to extubate her, Maracaibo, the capital of the state of Zulia, was left in the shadows by the second general blackout that affected the whole country. Without the possibility of turning on the scanner to assess the progress of the surgery in which her brain tumor was removed, her awakening was postponed and complications ensued.
“She had lung bleeding from spending more time intubated than she had to and the only option was tracheostomy (...) When she finally came out of intensive care it was very exasperating because the power plant supplied only the most important areas, such as the pavilions, the ICU, the Burn Unit and Pediatrics. The room was dark. That first night we had to push the bed into the hallway to feel a little air coming through the windows. It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever had to face.” This is how her daughter Brenda Piñeiro narrates the chronicle of a nightmarish recovery.
Days with no end and sleepless nights. The mission of this 44-year-old patient’s family is titanic: to keep blowing air in her direction and bathing her as often as necessary. Although she has already been discharged, after three months in hospital, the ordeal continues because in the oil-producing state the collapse of the electrical supply worsens with excessive daily rationing, while in the rest of the country there are only momentary outages and Caracas is excluded from the so-called energy management plan.
Excessive sweating, hypotension and nausea are the symptoms shown by Yamilex, who endures, almost naked, the long days without electricity in a suffocating weather that can reach 40 degrees Celsius.
The residents of Jobo Alto, a community in Maracaibo, report that the power is cut for up to three days and returned only for a fleeting 20 minutes.
“We are tired of the abuse. We closed the road to protest and the Guard repressed us,” Derwin Áñez said.
Rest, a basic need, took a back seat for the citizens who walk the streets like automatons, with dark circles under their eyes revealing the bustle to which they have been subjected since last March 7, when the first national blackout, which lasted over 100 hours, took place.
Carlos Telles, 29, sweeps the roof of his house every night. That is now his family’s bedroom. With a small portable lamp, he projects a bit of light into this space that gives them a little more breeze. From the El Potente sector, on the south of Maracaibo, he says:
“What we’re going through is very distressing. Sometimes I feel like I’ll go crazy from overthinking. Children suffer; my 6-month-old nephew cries a lot. Zulia doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.”
The mosquitoes accompany them on nightly appointments, when falling asleep becomes a utopia for most. It is almost a collective insomnia, set in the new blackout beds: house fronts, balconies, patios and even public sidewalks. Wherever, people seek to rest their discomfort.
The consequences of this martyrdom are as long as the wait for those who yearn to return to normality. A very painful one befell Antonio González, who in a few months will be a century old. His niece, Roxana Moreno, claims that until recently he was very active, but his new routine of walking to the bathroom probing the walls took its toll: his head was broken in a fall. On the University Avenue, where he lives, they cut electrical power every day at 8:00 p.m. with the punctuality of a Swiss clock. It always returns at dawn.
Southern general hospital 50 hours off
The power cuts seriously affect the health system and neglect a vulnerable sector of the population: the ill. Although the regional and local authorities insist that they have provided the health centres with power plants since the first mega blackout, the fact is that many of them do not work and, as a result, priority services remain compromised.
This May 1, at 8:00 a.m., a new power failure left several sectors of southern Maracaibo in darkness, including Los Haticos, where the Southern General Hospital is located. There, the explosion of an underground cable resulted in 50 hours of chaos for the medical personnel who struggled to preserve the lives of their patients with medieval methods.
A nursing supervisor, who preferred to remain anonymous, denounces that the emergency rooms closed and the blood bank stopped working. “The only areas that were lit were the Respiratory Care Unit and Cardiology, where a group of patients were crammed together, others were discharged, but many were taken away by their relatives. In the hospitalization ward, they were left to their own devices.”
As an outcome of the contingency, hemodialysis treatments were cancelled. Fortunately, at the time, the ICU was closed as it was being sterilized. The director of the hospital, Alfredo Mogollón, stated in a press release that no deaths were registered due to the event and that two people who relied on ventilators were transferred to the University Hospital of Maracaibo (Servicio Autónomo Hospital Universitario de Maracaibo , Sahum).
The president of the Zulia branch of the Venezuelan Society of Surgery, Américo Espina, reports that the power plant of the Southern General Hospital — the second most important in the region — remains out of order, just like the ones in the Adolfo Pons and the Chiquinquirá hospitals. As for the Sahum’s, they “function with limitations”. On the contrary, in the Central Hospital, the operation is optimal. The doctor warns that elective procedures are suspended; only emergencies enter the operating room.
The congressman Juan Carlos Velasco claims that:
“85% of the operating rooms remain out of service and that, sometimes, the medical staff has no other option but to “complete surgeries using cell phones”. In the ICU, “doctors, nurses and even family members have to provide mechanical ventilation” to patients when there is a blackout.
“Health in Zulia is in agony,” he stresses, while pointing out that people bring private plants to medical centers to supply critical areas.
On top of that, “the laboratories are paralyzed due to a lack of calibration”. Not to mention the proliferation of hospital-acquired diseases derived from inappropriate HVAC.
Proof of these allegations is the case of Josselyn Guillén:
“My 5-year-old girl had a fever and severe ear pain during one of the general blackouts. I took her to the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security ( Instituto Venezolano de los Seguros Sociales, Ivss) in Sabaneta and she was attended with cell phone lights. To be able to diagnose her, I took her to a private clinic for lab tests. Luckily, everything went well.”
A similar case is that of Amada Ruiz, who spent more than 300 dollars in a single day to treat the diarrhea and vomiting that his two-year-old son developed during the blackout. “It was nerve-wracking. Almost all the pharmacies were closed and we had to pay for the medicines in dollars.”
For their part, those with kidney disease suffer the worst consequences of the situation: their treatments depend on the availability of power. Luis Carrasquero, only 22 years old, has missed several sessions at the Zulia Nephrological Center in Maracaibo.
“In April, he didn’t dialyze for six days in a row. He felt terrible; his blood pressure was very high from too much water retention, his belly was bloated, he drowned a lot... The worst thing is that we would run to the emergency rooms and they wouldn’t even have oxygen. They were sleepless days and nights. I felt a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration at not being able to help him,” recalls his wife Maybelín Torres.
Despite the fact that the Governor’s Office provided a power plant, the difficulty of procuring diesel oil is the new obstacle faced by the 41 kidney patients who live in the area. Their procedures were reduced to half the time required: two hours instead of four “so that everyone gets a chance,” which private institutions charge at $50.
Domestic discomfort is the complaint of Luis Acosta, one of the 138 patients of the Western Dialysis Centre (Centro de Diálisis de Occidente, CDO) in Maracaibo. “The heat is fatal” and, since he can only drink half a liter of water a day, he tries to fight the high temperatures and “cheat” thirst with an ice cube.
During the power cuts, the 65-year-old dips his feet in buckets of water or gets completely wet, clothes and everything, to cool off when he feels like he’s “burning inside.” After a sigh, he dreams aloud of coming home and turning on the air conditioner.
Tags: Venezuela, Zulia, Emergency, Human Rigths.
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