By Yosdany Morejón Ortega – May 9, 2021
The plane took off and a lump tightened in her throat as she evoked the figure of a son who had said goodbye to her minutes before. She was 27 years old and, until that moment, the separation between herself and her family would be limited to a few days; but this time it would be very different.
She thought of birthdays that she would not be celebrating, dinners where her presence would be a mere evocation, empty cutlery at the end of the table, laughter, hugs and tears that would dissolve into the nothingness of a prolonged absence.
She thought and thought until her soul was reduced to pieces, then an idea allowed her to overcome her sorrow: as a mother she would be paving the way of life for the new offspring; she would go from house to house assisting those most in need.
With such speculations, Dr. Isiliurkis Milián Cantillo landed in Venezuela in February 2017. “I came here as a community doctor and I confess that it was very difficult to leave my family, my son. However, when I saw the humility of this town, I got over it right away and gave myself to work,” she says with emotion.
She had doubts like any human being, fears in the face of the challenge of facing the culture of a different country in body; but not in soul—if I may use the expression.
She was excited by the idea of leaving the hospital to reach the most remote corners of the communities. To walk in pursuit of well-being of the citizens, she would tell herself.
“The reception I received in the community was magnificent,” says the woman from Santiago de Cuba. “We have different cultures, but they accepted us because they knew that it was a Cuban doctor and they bring light to the people, they have the greatest professionalism in the world,” she explains.
From her experience, Isiliurkis recalls visits to bedridden patients and pregnant women whose delivery was in danger because they simply could not travel to a health center. She took a smile and a helping hand to all of them. Readers of these lines will surely think: “Cuban medicine for all and for the good of all.” And I would add: Cuban heart for all and for the good of humanity.
“We reach the remotest communities, check their health, and irrespective of financial resources, their origin, or the distance from big cities, we diagnose them free of charge and prescribe treatment,” she continues.
“Ciudadela de Sucre” is the name of the modest public clinic in Caracas, from where the doctor attends a population of over 2000 people.
Throughout this time, the clinic has been characterized by timely diagnosis of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, bronchial asthma and obesity. From there, the clinical monitoring of pathologies keeps her busy everyday.
The presence of Cubadebate in the community arouses curiosity, so the Venezuelan Maritza Isabel Guzmán, a patient of Dr. Isiliurkis, approaches me, and without thinking twice asks me if she could tell Cuba and the world: “I want everyone to know that the doctor, and other Cuban specialists like her, have an excellent way with this people, especially with the children. We love her very much for her charisma and affection, we are very happy to have her here with us.”
The words gushed out like spring water from her mouth, no one forced her to give the Cuban doctors a certificate for the world to see. In fact, in the presence of the journalist, many came forward to speak about the achievements of the Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela. That sums up a lot.
As goes the grandmother’s saying, for a quick learner…
Although nostalgia fills the spaces, you save lives.
No one doubts that medicine is a profession of infinite love. Good doctors not only heal wounds, but also the soul. Perhaps that is why being a community doctor demands something extra that one does not feel until one lives the experience and it fills one to the core.
Community doctors need high therapeutic, research and innovation skills for diagnoses. Comprehensive medical care through promotion, prevention and rehabilitation actions, including for families or entire communities, is required of them.
This work demands a deep social focus because the doctors have to be bearers of ethical, humanistic and solidarity values. “I have grown as a human being and as a professional,” continues the young doctor. “I have faced many diseases about which I had only read in the scientific literature, and this has been a real challenge for me. For Venezuela, Cuban doctors are like gods or titans who come to save lives, even at the expense of their own.” This is how the young woman expresses what she feels.
And it cannot be different when one has grown up with the values of such universal beings like Martí and Fidel; when the Cuban medical school is governed by Che’s precepts, when the economy of an entire country is made available to fight a pandemic.
Sometimes a human being may doubt their intellectual capacities, says Isiliurkis, they may limit themselves, but the truth is, when it comes to working for others, one grows, and in the soul the capacity and the necessary tools are born to overcome any obstacle, whether they are scientific, academic or personal.
That is why the human spirit rises from the humility of the office of a small public clinic that does not exceed 20 square meters, but whose miles of love and altruism exceed an entire galaxy. “I try to give love and trust to my patients, apart from taking care of their physical well-being, and that is putting into practice what my teachers taught me in Cuba,” says Dr. Isiliurkis.
Today she is a better person thanks to her daily life with the Venezuelan people. Sometimes the bare bricks of the space that serves as a doctor’s office reveal a deep look behind the mask.
Other times the gaze is lost and one can sense that she is back home with her little one. “If it were not for social media, I would be shocked by how much my son has grown when I return home. Fortunately I can see him, through the screen, every day. I miss him so much that sometimes I feel like I’m going to die, but my country gave me this mission and I try to fulfill it with dignity.”
The restrictions that COVID-19 imposed on the world’s airlines also apply in Venezuela, which has delayed the much longed-for reunion. Finally Isiliurkis gave up her annual vacation to continue in the community with the patients. She is a mother who sacrifices herself for mothers.
“I have not been able to touch, kiss, or hug my son for two years.” Tears spring to her eyes now and I feel an infinite longing in her words. “But I know that my mother (her son’s grandmother) takes care of him as if he were I. I can overcome my sorrow because here I am helping other mothers so that they have a safe pregnancy and eventually a healthy child, which is the wish of all the doctors in the world.”
The doctor separated from her son when he was 7 years old, and today at 11, he is about to enroll in junior high school. That is why she is surprised by how quickly he has grown, how much he has matured and, above all, how much he understands his mother’s decision.
“I am a Cuban doctor, and as such I am susceptible to the pain of others, to the simplicity of this wonderful town, the cry of a child or the plea of a pregnant woman crying out for the life of her baby. I’ll continue here as long as they need me,” emphasizes the doctor.
Featured image: Isiliurkis Milián Cantillo has won the affection of an entire community in Venezuela through her dedication to patients. Photo: Yosdany Morejón
Translated by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.