EUTHANASIA OF PAIN Stela’s Purgatory – the arrest, the cancer and the insolence of staying alive
In a country like the US, Stela Neagu would have been a millionaire by now. She would have enjoyed her last years of life in wealth and would expect to die peacefully knowing her children’s and grandchildren’s had a secured future.
In Romania, Stela Neagu cannot afford consulting a doctor to get the right diagnosis and know how much longer she will live. She would like to survive one more year, so she can see her grand-son in kindergarten – the youngest, that she spends all her time looking after.
Stela’s last health investigations were made while she was in the Rahova prison hospital, where she had been operated of gastric cancer. Since then she has no more stomach. More precisely, she has a new organ rebuilt from part of her intestine, and this is replacing, as much as it can, her stomach. This means a very strict diet and money to afford the proper diet. And since money is so scarce… Stela lost about 40-50 kg over the last year. Her dress makes her look a little chubby, but it only hides her many lumps – most probably the tumours that appeared in her body, especially in her abdomen, or the many blood clots that did not reabsorb after so many internal bleedings.
Stela was operated in the prison hospital, because her disease began while she was arrested. “On September 3rd 2010 I had a SWAT team knocking on my door. First they took me to the DIICOT (n.t. Direction for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism). Then to the Court of Law, where they decided on my arresting and they held me till late after midnight. Finally I was taken to the Police station of the capital (n.t. Bucharest), where I suddenly felt sick. I vomited blood first, then it turned dark browny like coffee ground colour. For days and days the doctors and nurses of the prison did not want to see me, as they said I was pretending. And even more, they punished me and set up the other inmates against me, by making me share their room and cutting back their calm-down drugs. One of them got really angry, a gipsy woman, she could not sleep without phenobarbital and she threaten she’d kill me, as if my state wasn’t awful enough; I couldn’t eat anything, didn’t want anything, just to be left alone and fight my pain that was getting really dreadful. Eventually, after I fainted in the toilet, some women made a big fuss at the morning call and so the doctors accepted to see me. Suddenly they realised I was not just pretending. Then they called an ambulance and took me to the Municipal Hospital for investigations. At that time I had fallen unconscious, I only remember glimpses of what was going on around. I remember an instant when I fell down in pain and in my mind I was convinced I’d fallen in a deep water pit and I was suffocating…”
On September 29th 2010 Stela Neagu was operated. On November 1st she was discharged from hospital and the judges decided the investigation could be continued with her in liberty. “The case attorney did not agree, he said I was public enemy number one”. This year the “public enemy number one” was finally released from criminal prosecution. She had been suspected for involvement in an organized fraud group, for tax evasion and money laundering. The charges pressed against her had been based on a power of attorney that Stela Neagu had signed. Based on that document a supposedly illegal transaction had been made. Many others were arrested and charged in the same case (14 persons), and from all the evidence it was clear from the very beginnings that Stela Neagu did not have any involvement in the operations targeted by the attorneys. However, it took two years and a half for her innocence to be officialized.
Meanwhile, the disease relapsed. On November 15th 2010 Stela received the results of the biopsy and the confirmation of her worst fears: cancer (malignant tumour). Since then and until the last year she had no investigations and no treatments, except algocalmin (n.t. low pain control drug containing metamizol) – for pain that was worsening and becoming stronger, along with the growth of many lumps in her body. No investigations and no treatment, not because she refused them, but because she could not aford them. „I don’t have a health insurance. I haven’t paid it for the past 15 years, since I lost my stable job. I was lucky that my disease set off while I was in prison. Had I been in liberty, nobody would have operated me. I was told the operation could have been around 3000 euro. And I couldn’t have raised 300 euro…”
The point is that in America or any other Western country, Stela Neagu would have been a millionaire by now. A skilled lawyer could have pressed charges against the state and „squeezed” it to recover damages for abusive arrestment and ill-treatment. In Romania, Stela is happy to have been arrested, for she knows that otherwise she would have been dead and burried by now…
Stela has no bad feelings. No curses, never feelings of revenge. She was relieved when the attorney finally changed his attitude and dropped the criminal charges against her.
As a mother of five children, Stela „took a punch” in her stomach from her fate and from democracy (she did not confess this, but the remark is worth mentioning). She worked nearly two decades as draftsman at IPTANA (Institute for design in Automotive, Navy and Air Transport), but her place was made redundant shortly after the Revolution (n.t. 1989). Since then she only had low qualification jobs: cleaner, babysitter…
Since 1995 she has been raising her children alone. „My husband kicked me out of our home, with all the children. My little girl was a newborn. Since then we have been living in rented places, here and there.”
I was telling you that Stela has no bad feelings. She said no harsh words about her husband – they are still married, he does not want the divorce, and she never had enough money for a lawyer. As I insisted, she told me about a an episode when it was winter and bitter cold outside; the crazy man locked her youngest daughter on the terrace, as the children were visiting their dad; When Stela came to take the children, she found her daughter half frozen. A lillte later would have been too late…
With all the hardships, the children grew up and found their ways in life. The elderly are married and moved to their own homes, some not too bad, others still struggling. Today Stela lives in a rented flat in Berceni (n.t. a neighborhood in Bucharest), with two of her daughters and a son-in-law. The youngest girl is still in high-school. „She is a vice-chairperson in her school, one of the best, she was even rewarded by the City Council with a trip to Italy. Only 9 and 10 marks in school (n.t. best marks in Romanian schools). Only once did she get a 4 and confessed it wouldn’t feel like being in school without at least once getting a bad mark…”
A year ago, one of Stela’s daughters who is nurse told her about Hospice Casa Sperantei (n.t. „House of Hope” Hospice).
„I called the hospice centre and the very next day a doctor and a nurse came to see me. I told them my story, from the very beginnings, my whole story, as I am telling it to you now, I have nothing to hide. And they agreed to help me”.
Since that day, Stela’s quality of life improved considerably. The hospice doctor and nurse are visiting Stela weekly to bring her drugs to control her pain and relieve the effects of her disease. She is active and mobile, she can look after her little two-and-a-half year old grandson. With the help of the social workers from Hospice Casa Sperantei Stela Neagu received her rights to a 2nd-degree disability monthly allowance of 474 lei (n.t. about 105 euro). The right to the allowance was granted in April 2013 but the first payment only came in September. The Hospice also helped her otaining the rights for the health insurance, but the file is still under assessment. Until it is approved, if at all approved, Stela can have no further medical investigations. However, she does not accept my help, to try asking about the file at the Pensions Agency, in case the clerks there might be urged if the media shows interest… „Forget it, she said, I don’t want anyone to begrudge me”.
I asked if she was happy about her life ahead. „This is no happiness. This is insolence. I’ve had so much suffering in life that it’s only by insolence I feel I can carry on. I force myself not to have any bad thoughts. I must be strong, for the sake of my grand-children”.
Has she ever has suicidal thoughts?
„Never. I’m an Orthodox, I live in the spirit of God. He will never let me down when life is hard. Where would I be now, if I hand’t been arrested? All worse is for the better, isn’t is?! You know how we say, God’s paths are so unexpected… I am at peace of mind now, for being listened to. I can talk freely to the doctor or the nurse and they advise me, and I feel it’s getting better if I follow their advice. I only eat cold food to avoid internal bleedings, as it happened last month…”
From now on, whenever I cross the Podul Grant Bridge (n.t. in Bucharest), I will always remember that Stela Neagu from IPTANA was one of the designers.
EUTHANASIA OF PAIN is a voluntary media campaign from Select News to support palliative care in Romania.
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