When Becky learned of her diagnosis in January, she was filled with dread.
Her first brawl with breast cancer began nearly 30 years before but she remembered every round of the prodding and poking that followed as if they were bruising donnybrooks. This would be her third bout and she was already complaining about the pre-surgery trips to hospitals and clinics but she took comfort in knowing that the ordeal would, by necessity, allow time to catch up on some overdue reading.
She was a fastidious woman who was aware that cancer might knock her out someday, but not this day, she told herself. She still had a lot of fight in her and figured it was time, once again, to step into the ring.
Becky had lived in Cuenca for nearly ten years. She was drawn to the weather, a welcome change from upstate New York, and the low cost of healthcare and assumed the public option would suffice. She read that that many of the city’s best doctors studied in Cuba — one of the long-recognized gold standard of medical training in the world — and felt that she would be in very good hands getting through the bundle of exams, questions, blood draws and X-rays necessary to build a defense against her unseen enemy. If all went well, she thought, she could be recovering at home by the Ides of March.
The first delay, on March 3, seemed innocent enough. Her surgeon had to cancel their pre-operative review to attend to her child who woke up with a fever and would be staying home from school that day. The second delay, a couple of weeks later, was irritating. She was bumped from the queue just as she arrived for her appointment, only this time she was not given an explanation.
By mid-April, the world had become a harrowing place as the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly. Economic engines sputtered and died. Businesses froze midstride as if captured in amber. There was no escape and even less hope. Becky was becoming a nervous wreck, making daily trips to hospital administration offices trying to keep her surgery on track. But, the lines were becoming longer, the answers vaguer and the fog of virus was coming over the mountains.
It became apparent to her that hospital administrators were turning their backs on many patients in their panicky attempt to face the Covid-19 onslaught. They were delaying surgeries due to logistic concerns but, with little organization and scant resources available for referrals to neighboring facilities, options were narrowing for cases like Becky’s.
Her surgery was put on indefinite hold.
She was devastated.
For Becky and many others, it might as well have been the death knell itself; the somber peals tolling for limitless patience “in these unprecedented times.” Her strength was her faith in the medical care she counted on, and now it was being spirited away.
Becky grew increasingly despondent and isolated as the months slinked by. There was no word of encouragement, or any word, from the hospital staff charged with her case. The friends whose messages she no longer answered and the phone calls she never returned finally quit coming. She was wholly consumed by her fleeting mortality.
She became a forgotten old gringa no longer of value, moved to the back of the queue to make room for higher priorities, perhaps someone prettier, or “better connected.” It didn’t matter, really, she thought. Nothing mattered anymore.
And then, her life became simpler.
Laundry was no longer an issue for Becky because she wore the same robe over the same nightgown all day, every day. Showering was the hardest part for it required staring into the mirror. Breakfast was easiest because it was out of the question.
Lunch was a glass of Coke with lots of ice and a splash of cheap booze.
Dinner: a torn shred of cheese, perhaps a few crackers … and a smoky procession of cigarettes, vodka, cranberry juice and tears, until she returned to bed, besotted, and exhausted, like a nest of embers.
Becky returned to the war-torn landscape she once thought she fled forever — a homeland sagging under the weight of caseloads of grudges and imagined slights that would never be fully aired. Instead, they festered in the bog of hard-wired opinions that poisoned the kitchen table and everything else.
After never receiving the promised care that she built her life around, she realizes it is now too late. Her fate was sealed, her health irretrievable.
Soon, Becky will be cremated, joining the wildfire of those caught in the scorched earth pandemic that incinerated livelihoods and lives. In the ashes will lie the remains of dreams as well as the buzz-saw of good and bad days. For her, there will be no more spins of life’s wheel of fortune.
Hopsital and insurance offices in Cuenca and worldwide house legions of bureaucrats and administrators who make decisions that affect our lives. It is what they are paid to do.
Becky got caught in the web of bureaucracy, fear and fatigue.
She became expendable.