Isla Raton, Venezuela.— After graduating, Dr. Yorlenis Arbelo had believed that he would never again experience such a long and stressful period as that of his final exams.
Having officially graduated – yet fully aware of the steep learning curve ahead of him – feeling positive and looking forward to the challenge ahead, the young doctor from Songo La Maya, Santiago de Cuba left to offer his services to communities in the mountains in the east of the island. One year later, equally enthusiastic and with a little more experience, he arrived in Venezuela’s Amazon rainforest.
“Bro, now I’ve really graduated!” was the first thing he said to us upon our arrival at Isla Ratón’s dock, capital of the municipality of Autana, located right in the heart of the wide Orinoco River.
The boat was also carrying food for several days, the sight of which made Arbelo’s eyes light up. “Powdered milk, fantastic! Everything is hard in the jungle, and even more so on an island,” stated the young doctor in regards to the various shortages he faces daily.
His tired eyes reveal the extent of his work, and give the impression that every now and then he comes down to the dock to relax and watch the river. “You’ve got to give this guy a medal. He was the only doctor for a long time, and did everything,” states Professor Dixán Mojena, Cuban collaborator with the country’s educational mission. If it weren’t for Mojena, the modest Arbelo wouldn’t have told us a thing.
“Yes, up until recently I was the only doctor on the island, because my colleagues were all on vacation and the Venezuelan doctors hadn’t arrived yet.
I was doing guard duty for three days straight, and I would take one day off to rest. But, I came here as a physiatrist and I have my patients to care for – personally giving them their prescribed therapeutic treatments. So I would come off guard duty at 8am and go to the rehabilitation ward and do exercises with them, because until recently we didn’t have a rehabilitation technician.”
I also remember a situation that occurred at around 4pm and meant that I couldn’t take my scheduled afternoon off.
“A woman arrived in a state of advanced labor. I identified a fetal stool in the anatomic fluid which meant that we had to work fast to get the baby out, and also because we had no power.
We worked into the night. However, when the baby was born she didn’t cry, and was unresponsive for several minutes. The parents, and even Berenice the chiropodist who was assisting me as a nurse, began to cry. There was no electricity which meant we couldn’t use the ventilator and I was the only doctor. I had to do something.
“I grabbed the baby and asked Berenice to carry the ventilator. I ran to the only house that I knew had a generator. The family agreed to help, but then the motor wouldn’t start, and the ventilator cable didn’t reach, and all the while the baby girl’s condition was deteriorating. The only thing I could think was that I couldn’t let this little girl die in my arms. I continued trying to resuscitate her until the generator finally started, we hooked her up to the ventilator and she responded. Look, we all cried with relief.”
According to Arbelo after that episode, he feels more confident, given “all the experience I acquired working in the jungle, and elsewhere, such as Maroa where I was stationed for 11 months, Manapiare, where I worked for two and Río Negro for one. cI have grown a lot as a professional and an individual; this will be the best thing I will take with me from Venezuela.”
Almost every day the parents of the little girl he saved come to thank him for his efforts, and even asked him to choose a name for their daughter. After a quick consultation with Berenice, Arbelo, sweating and with his heart still in his throat, announced: Milagros (Miracle).
“But she also needs a middle name to be registered,” stated the girl’s mother. Then in a flash, the young doctor Arbelo thought back to Cuba, to Santiago and the modest church of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity), located in El Cobre a short distance from his home town, “Caridad, she should be named Milagros de la Caridad.”