Witness: A doctor’s struggle to bring relief to dying patients
Guatemala’s red tape stops physicians from prescribing pain medication.28 May 2017
Dr. Eva Duarte has spent more than a decade helping people with advanced cancer through their final months. Even now she cries as she recalls how some of her patients spent their last days.
“There was a man, Carlos, I will never forget him,” she says. “His wife was pregnant all through his treatment. He had advanced colon cancer. In his last months, he taught her how to run the business, how to look after the money. He knew he would never see his son grow up. We cried a lot together. At the end, he looked at her and said, ‘Hug me I’m going.’ He just said goodbye and left. He was so brave.”
Carlos was one of her luckier patients. Although he was poor and could not afford pain medicine – the government only covers the costs for patients staying in government-funded hospitals – Duarte found a donor to pay for his opioids. This allowed him to function during those last few months, giving both his knowledge and his attention to his family.
Many of Duarte’s cancer patients aren’t so lucky. They pass their last weeks in terrible pain, unable to spend quality time with those they love most, forced to choose between being able to get pain relief in a hospital, often many miles from home, or staying with their families.
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