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Four batteries and a tape

This is a not so uncommon story about the plight of an impoverished elderly man in the public health system in a country that is one step away from joining the exclusive club of the OECD.

The other day, kids started shouting outside my home crying for help. An elderly man, about 70, was lying face down on the sidewalk. Several boys gathered around him and we all tried to figure out if he was drunk or had suffered some sort of attack.

The man barely lifted his head and asked one of the boys to get an inhalator that was in his knapsack, which had fallen a few feet away. The man began inhaling and another boy rushed from a house with a glass of water so he could take a few drops of medicine he had with him.

They helped him get up and the old man explained: the day before, he had been hospitalized and submitted to a series of exams prior to replacing his pacemaker. But the hospital needed his bed because beds in public hospitals are always scarce and so he was asked to kindly surrender it.

Besides, there was one more exam to go, a halter test, but they couldn’t go ahead with it until the patient brought with him a 90-minute cassette and four double-A batteries. He didn’t have them, and he didn’t have money to buy them either.

So this elderly man we found lying on the street had crossed town to our neighborhood and had been walking the streets for hours in search of any odd job that could make him enough money to buy the tape and batteries. Perhaps fortunately, no one accepted his offer to clean up yards, sweep or whatever, because he would have probably collapsed even worse.

I gave him a virgin tape I had at home in a box full of old and new tapes and we went around the corner to a store and bought him the batteries. Such common and simple things to have around, and such sacrifice the man was going through to get them.

He refused to accept money to take a bus home. He said he would walk the many kilometers back home, because at least now, he had a tape and four double-A batteries. Now all he has to do is wait for someone else in the hospital to surrender a bed and hope he makes it there before his old pacemaker begins to fail.