I have lived in a country with a form of Economic Populism for the past twenty years. In that time I have learned through personal experience how this type of economy and its related government work, or perhaps I should say - don't work. I've seen with my own eyes people who have died waiting for proper and promised free health care. One of my own sons has a crooked little finger, the result of a poorly set bone in a public clinic. Below is the story of trying to find help for a new born baby in the city of Fortaleza sometime in the year 2000.
A recent convert in our congregation went to the local maternity hospital to have her second baby sometime in the summer of 2000. Just after the birth of the baby I went to visit and found things in chaos. The baby was born with both of its little legs broken. The birth had been very prolonged and difficult. The mother had suffered quite a bit and there had been a lot of tearing. Finally if I remember correctly the baby has been taken in an emergency C-section.
Right after the birth the doctor promptly disappeared from the hospital and could not be reached by phone. (Doctors frequently "give" some of their time to public hospitals. They are paid by the government for their "community service." Women go to a maternity hospital or their more local neighborhood clinic for pre-natal care. Then when it's time for a delivery or scheduled c-section, a woman goes to the preset hospital and hopes "her" doctor that she should have met at least a few times during her pre-natal care is there on the right day.) Nurses were scurrying around as I asked to speak with the hospital manager. She was a little hard to find but here was a well dressed lady with a strange accent asking for answers about a newborn with broken legs. Some one found her.
The poor woman insisted she knew nothing about the delivery or surgery or how the baby's legs were broken. I assured her that all we wanted was to know what would be done now to help the little baby. She told me that there was no X-ray machine at that hospital and he would have to be taken to the general hospital nearby after an ambulance was arranged to do so. "Great, how long will that take?" I asked and my American mind was thinking in hours and minutes. The reply involved days.
Here I was fresh and revolutionary and new to the local health scene. I asked for permission to take the baby THAT day to the hospital in my own private car. Again with my American thinking that taking that step would fix everything. We did receive special permission to take the baby the next morning. The baby's legs were temporarily wrapped and he was given special care. We still hoped to find out what had happened to cause this situation. Blame for faulty care on the part of the delivery doctor was spreading around the hospital. The mother was not allowed to leave the maternity, just the baby.
Next day I arrived good and early with two of the church member's sisters to help and go along and someone to help me with Baby Greyson. He was only four months old and nursing. Off we went to the nearby "big" hospital - what a sight we must have been. When we arrived and found the X-ray lab, the line to get in line for attendance was a mile long. But hey, we had a special paper from the maternity and a new born baby to get back to its mother and her milk. We were told to have a seat and take a number. We waited for more than an hour, than another and then another. What about special circumstances and we needed to hurry and couldn't we be next! Everyone sitting there had the same thoughts. Every case was important. And then the poor hurt baby started crying! I had just about had it and now was wondering why in the world I had brought Greyson with us, and thought this would be soooo easy. The girl who had come to help me with Greyson tried to stay outside of the hospital as much as possible to keep him away from all the germs.
And what about the one day old now crying? We decided to shut the dear thing up with some of my milk, but just before that I had an idea. Let the baby cry! I started louding telling the story of the little baby and got up to do it standing closer to the "magic" door of the X-ray lab. The door where every eye was resting and waiting to see who would go in next. Quite a few people were crowding around the door and would try to push in before their turn. No one complained, it was all part of the game. I like games and had been paying attention to learn the rules of this one. People were listening now to my crazy story. "Oh, you should move closer in! Try to get in." They said. The next time that door opened and closed again. I stuck my foot in the way. Then I squeezed in, and proclaimed that this baby would be next as I flashed my important papers on the desk. I was asked to move back outside and wait my turn. I did but stayed right outside the door. Part of the game - don't budge once you have gotten close. We were next!
Now we had to wait for the X-ray and go back to the first desk to get a ticket to be let into the office for a doctor to decide what should be done - casting, surgery, whatever. We were at that hospital for most of the day but left with a baby with legs set in two little casts and requisitions for appointments and possible surgery at the city children's hospital in so many weeks.
I accompanied that little baby for all of his appointments for the first months of his little life. Later it was discovered that he was born with OI - Osteogenesis imperfecta - which causes brittle bones. The poor maternity doctor had not been at fault in any way. The mother and I worked hard to make sure he got the right treatment and medicine through the Socialistic System. We spent many hours in lines - praying, hoping and waiting. We refused to be turned away - but often we were. We went back again and again and did what we could. It was hard, sweaty and often disparaging work. The little baby ended up breaking every bone in his body before he was five years old. I don't know what became of him after 2010... but know that I helped as I could.
What about the hundreds and thousands who have no crazy American missionary aunt willing to put in foot in the door? Waiting and waiting in lines, told to go home, told there is no medicine today - come back tomorrow. Wake up, American friends! Economic populism means Communist Socialism. And if you ask anyone in Brazil about the public health care system - S.U.S. - they will not give it any great praise.
Things to know to get what you want in a Communistic society:
Dress for success - high heels, big pocketbook, lipstick
Carry a clipboard or briefcase
Know some important names to throw into conversations
Take lots of important calls on your cell phone speaking of important people
Take water and a snack or two in case all the other tips don't help
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY