Carla has suffered from chronic depression since she was 22.I’ve been with her to see psychologists at support centers, to specialists at the Surgical Clinic and Calixto Garcia, spiritualism sessions, group therapy, alternative healing treatments and to Mazorra.
After Prozac, imipramine and trifluoperazine, the comprehensive indifference of the doctors and the shuttling around to the treatment centers, she was never diagnosed.Her faith in Cuban psychiatry ended with a visit to Mazorra. I went with her to be examined and—in going and coming home—she made the most important decision in her life: The treatment is over, the hospital is over, goodbye to the psychiatrists.She took her condition stoically and since then, when the crisis comes, she locks herself in her house to read like a madwoman and doesn’t miss a showing at the movies, and so overcomes her depression.
What we saw, I can’t deny it, left no room for half-measures.I remembered televised images of the hospital, with a group of high spirited old women wearing a lot of makeup—in a dream lobby filled with plants and chairs—reading novels or rehearsing a beautiful chorus.It was the only image I had of the famous hospital.
Just past the Admissions desk some twenty old people were cleaning the main path with straw brooms, wearing tattered clothes, their teeth black, turning over the weeds they’d swept up looking for cigarette ends.One berated me with a voice full of tears, asking me for one.When I gave it to him the other 19 rushed us.I left the box.
We went through almost the whole hospital until coming to a building where, we’d been told, the outlook was bleak. I couldn’t say who the crazy ones were, if it was those going in or those coming out, because to put a person with mental illness in a place as horrible as that is to condemn them to absolute alienation.I recognized some of the beggars who mill around on 23rd Street. It surprised me to see them in the same state of filth and half-nakedness; I had always thought that they had escaped the hospital and that when they were inside they were fed and clothed.
I waited for Carla for two hours sitting in the lobby of the pavilion, surrounded by the unbalanced, without having the least idea of what they suffered from, some seemed sad, others unhinged, and others moody.Some were bandaged, an old man sang horrendously; I thought back to the choirs on the newscast and felt like crying. The walls were black with soot, letting in almost no light, everything was bathed in shadows that highlighted the misery and filth.In a room next to me a nurse was talking with the family of one of the patients, the man wept disconsolately because he wanted to be let out—promising to behave and be good—the mother was begging that he stay in the hospital at least to the weekend and the nurse was saying something about the shortage of mattresses.
Returning home Carla and I said not one word, we were astounded.When I left her in her house she whispered: I’m never going back to the doctor, I’ll be the same anyway.
I would like to dedicate this post to the patients who died of hypothermia in the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, between the 9th and 12th of this month. Read the news here and here.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.