I finished my book, Finding Flow. In a way, I feel like I read it too fast and left behind too many dog-eared pages that need revisiting. But I was ready to move onto something else so I scanned the bookshelf and decided to dig back into The Heart that Bleeds: Latin America Now by Alma Guillermoprieto. I was first put onto Guillermoprieto by Georgia who gifted me her book Samba. The Heart that Bleeds is essentially a collection of her essays from the New Yorker from 1989 to 1993.
As it turns out, I had put the book back on my bookshelf right before the chapter on Medellín. It was written in 1991 and its contrast to the descriptions I heard last week of modern day Medellín are hard to believe. Here is the first paragraph:
Everyone here knows that if you get shot, run over, or knifed the place to go is the Policlínica, an emergency clinic run by the San Vicente de Paul Public Hospital: the surgeons and internes who staff it on weekend nights have intensive on-the-job practice and a reputation for performing miracles. Security is tight; there have been instances of frustrated murderers who finished off their victims in the recovery room, so now guards at the entry gate check to see that only the wounded and their relatives or friends go in. Standing at the gate on a recent Saturday at midnight, I watched a man emerge unaccompanied from a taxi, with blood seeping from a large hole in his chest. He could still walk. He needed to, because there are no hospital orderlies to help patients in at the gate, and although I saw five taxis screech to the entrance and deliver five severely wounded men in less than ten minutes, not a single ambulance arrived. Metal stretchers were wheeled out and operated by the victims’ friends or relatives, but the man with the chest wound was alone. “How about that?” the gatekeeper said, watching him stagger past. “Maybe he’ll survive.” He was not being cynical, he knew from experience, he told me, that on weekend nights about ninety such men appear at the Policlínica, and between twelve and twenty die. Another taxi pulled up, and the driver helped a hysterical woman drag out a young man with a gunshot wound through his back and haul him onto a stretcher. He appeared to be dead. The taxi-driver matter-of-factly mopped up a pool of blood on the back seat and drove away. The driver of the taxi that later took me home explained that picking up wounded passengers is part of the job. “How can we leave someone to die on the street like that?” he asked. “Most of the time, we lose the fares, because those people are in no position to pay, but we do it anyway, out of charity.”