DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (cont.): Following lunch, Dr. Miguel agreed to go with us to four of the outlying rural clinics to let me evaluate them. Cesar had arranged for his wife to go with us as our interpreter. I had viewed many similar clinics in the backcountry areas of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Cuba, and Haiti. As soon as I approached the clinic, I said to myself, Oh, my goodness. If I were to ever get sick or be in an accident, I wouldn’t want to come to this place!
The first clinic was Maria Auxihadora, which, I was told, means “Mary, the helper.” The clinic serves an extremely poor area, much like a favela or squatter’s area in Brazil. There is really nothing available for the people there even though I was informed that the facility is crowded with thirty to forty people every morning needing medical help.
The second clinic we visited was of special interest to me. In the heart of the old city of La Vega is an old, historic fortress complete with double sets of iron gates and battlement walls. On the back of the fortress lot is where the ancient prison is located. In fact, on the walls of the fortress prison are the remaining hooks where the prisoners were suspended when they became incorrigible or unruly.
Now, however, the old fortress has been given over to the fire department of La Vega. No budget money is allocated to the department, so of necessity it operates as a volunteer effort. Housed also within the facility is the bombero (fire brigade) paramedic clinic. In addition to all the fire calls, ambulance runs, and automobile accidents that the paramedic firemen handle, over five thousand people from the neighborhoods come to the fire station for medical assistance.
I shuddered as I thought of my fire-chief son, Jay, and all his buddies having to put up with the unbelievably atrocious conditions of the bombero fortress. The old, beat-up fire trucks are now parked in the old prison building. Two big trucks are totally inoperable. Two small “scat” trucks, used for quick dispatch on smaller fires or accidents, were sort of homemade, with plastic tanks strapped down in the back of two pickup trucks. The bunker gear the firemen are expected to wear to fight fires are ragtag uniforms from heaven only knows where. The clinic consists of two rooms containing almost nothing. The only flash of hope within the walls of the fortress is the thirty-one-year-old son of Cesar and Josephina Abreu, who has personally taken on the fire and paramedic project with a passion. He saved his own money and traveled to Texas A&M University to learn more about firefighting. He has qualified as a paramedic and is cramming in additional courses from the medical school. In many ways, he reminds me of my son Jay. I suggested to Cesar Jr. the possibility of getting acquainted with Jay, and he jumped at the chance. Perhaps something can be done to get them together in the future. What might happen if there was a Project C.U.R.E. for fire brigades?
Next Week: Dominican Republic Health Care
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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