A brief history of health care in Jimena

This is about the development of health care in Jimena between 1952 and 2007 as remembered by Francisco Jiménez Jiménez, our good friend and fellow blogger Currini, who kindly allowed us to translate it. It is truly a personal story of how things used to be here and how much they've changed. It was originally published in JimenaPulse in October and November 2007.

I had to go to the medical centre in Jimena for the first time the other day. As I sat waiting, looking around at the cleanliness, the size of the place and the number of people being served in this modern facility, I remembered how public health used to be in the village where I was born and raised. My first memory was of the capacity for suffering we were handed down from our parents, not to mention the resignation we showed for those illnesses and accidents that beset us all little by little.

Every home had its own medicine 'chest', which at mine consisted of an enormous talega (bag, photo shows one for bread) hanging from a big nail in the wall. Inside were a lot of little bunches of herbs tied together with wool. Eucalyptus and poleo (pennyroyal) for colds, leaves of tilo (limetree), bitter orange and hierba luisa (lemon verbena) ‘for the nerves', manzanilla (chamomile), doradilla (?), arnica, romero (rosemary), tomillo (thyme), oregano, ruda (?) (which they used to pass across the eyes for the measles), rompepiedra (‘stone-breaker' for, you guessed it, kidney stones) and a whole lot more I forget now. What I do remember, though is that on another nail beside the first one, hung a long red rubber tube with a sort of tap, black, on one end and a green tin at the other. Yes, this was for the famous lavativa (enema it would be called today) that we got when we overdid the chumbos (prickly or cactus pears). There was another smaller lavativa, too, called pera de goma (rubber pear), but that was for the ears.

Our parents had a lot of these remedies, which, and even if they really did cure you they made you suffer even more. Opening my mouth my mother would say, "Your tongue's white" and off she'd go to fetch the classical laxative that came in a variety of tastes, including ‘chocolate', or Agua de Carabaña, which tasted awful, or little papers known as Panacea. If you had a temperature they'd put cold cloths on your forehead or slices of potato; if you trembled with cold from the fever you'd get a hot brick wrapped in a cloth at your feet. For spots and insect bites there was usually a pot with a bálsamo (balsam) plant (I think my Aunt Encarna still has one) and this was rubbed endlessly on the proper place; the spots or bites were probably cured out of boredom.

My Grandmother Isabel used to cure her sore throats and coughs with the slime of large snails, which she put in a glass, adding two spoonfuls of sugar. When our parents thought our thin legs and knobbly knees looked worse than usual, out came the aceite de hígado de bacalao (cod's liver oil).

I once had a grano de sangre (‘blood boil') on my behind: I was in bed face down for eight days while my mother put everything on it the neighbours told her to: hot towels, slices of onion, great chunks of bread rubbed with saffron and san pedro (?) leaves. It was interminable but the idea was for the boil to ‘mature'. On the eighth day my Uncle José ‘Hormigo' came in from the campo and announced that the boil had indeed matured. "Shall I squeeze it?" he asked. The heavens had opened for my mother, who went about preparing cloths and hot water. My uncle began the torture of squeezing out all the evil the wretched thing contained until the blood came out its natural red. A little trapito (rag) was carefully held by some sticky tape and in no time I was outside in the street. My own heaven.

All of us kids went through the usual illnesses: you know, paperas (mumps), sarampión (measles), escarlatina (scarlet fever), varicela (chicken pox), rubéola (German measles), anginas (tonsillitis), sarna (scabies), uñeros (whitlow) and such. And we had innumerable accidents, of course. All of these were cured at home because, among other things, there was no money at home and a visit to the doctor, who had to be paid, was only made out of absolute necessity. Very few people had el Seguro (‘the Insurance') in those days, but I'll talk about that later.

There was also an intermediate stage between medicine from the talega and proper medicine. This was the world of the curanderos and curanderas (healers). I don't know anything about these things but as a child I had something on my nose they called dicipela (?), which would not disappear no matter how much cream you put on it, and it was getting worse. In the end my sister took me to an elderly lady who said some prayers over my head. But the good lady had to say these prayers for seven days, during which I must not get wet. As I said, I know nothing about it, but the thing gradually went away. There were people who specialized in curing the culebrinas (shingles) with prayers, although they also put on poultices with oil and gunpowder. In this area we can also include other specialists such as el hombre de los parches (‘the man with the patches'). I can see him now, well dressed in his jacket and hat. He was from Olvera and came to Jimena every week to his ‘surgery'. There were also el tío de los huesos (‘the bone guy') in Montejaque, who mended broken bones, and the man in Arriate who cured mal de ojos (the evil eye).

People helped each other, too, by passing on things they had learned from their family. Most of this knowledge had no scientific basis: for instance, you might get told to pass a large iron key across your mouth, in the morning for three days, to cure a cold sore. Or to grab a handful of cobwebs and put it in a poultice on a wound. Or to rub your eye with a fly to heal a sty.

There were two doctors in Jimena around 1954: Don José Montero and Don Juan Marina. The former lived and had his surgery across the street from el Pósito (‘depósito', i.e. storage rooms, where the Casa de la Cultura at the top of the village is today and was at one time the village's first discothèque). He also owned the summer cinema next to his house, where a market was later installed. Don José was asthmatic but he could be seen every day slowly walking up the streets carrying his little black bag, to visit his patients. The other doctor was Don Juan Marina Bocanegra, whose surgery and home was where the new Hotel is now. He was much younger than Don José and further advanced in his medicinal knowledge. He loved shooting and owned the town's electricity (I remember having electric lights only at nights and never in the daytime). It was Don Juan who started ‘the Insurance' but the service was so bad that one had in the end to succumb to cash payment. Among other things, the prescriptions never seemed to be covered by it

There was also the local official partera (midwife), named Rosario, with her green eyes, her hair in a bun and a large black dog that was always looking out of the postigo (shutter or little window in a door). However, most of the women called in the neighbours who had always assisted at births even if they didn't have a certificate to prove it.

Then there were the practicantes (‘nurses'). Don José Malagón and Don Miguel Cuenca would always be seen with their little shiny boxes that contained the dreaded syringes steeped in alcohol. They went from house to house all too often. The doctors and the practicantes all reeked of medicine and you could smell them coming a mile away.

The only chemist's was that of Don José Sánchez de Medina (I think that was his name). He was a canary fancier and from him I bought everything my parents ordered me to.

Veterinary medicine was covered by Don Domingo Casas in Estación and Don Teodoro in Jimena.

I remember nothing at all about Tesorillo but in San Pablo we had Don Antonio, the practicante-cum-dentist, who was in competition with the doctors because he practiced medicine with the same dexterity as a fully-fledged Doctor and had a similar cure rate to theirs.

Don Juan Trillo (later to become Jimena's Mayor) arrived soon after the death of Don José Montero, and with Don Juan Marina were the first members of staff of what is today the Health Centre. However, there was neither night duty nor overtime for them. If you fell ill outside their comfortable working hours, you were either on your own or you had to pay up.

National Health care began to creep into effect, I think, in about 1967 for I remember there was talk about Seguridad Social (Social Security), originally called Instituto Nacional de Previsión. The nearest thing to a hospital was the ambulatorio (out patients) in Algeciras, with Don Federico Sierra Piñero as the District Medical Inspector. The nearest proper hospital was in Cadiz.

There was a lot of trouble with Social Security in Jimena in 1966-67 when an inspector from the Instituto Nacional de Previsión in Cadiz turned up and played havoc because he de-registered half the village population, most of whom were on the agrarian version of the scheme: according to the Law rural workers were classed as autónomo ('autonomous' or self-employed) and thus not entitled under the health scheme. In the end, though, and after tiring of Jimena, he threw away his pencils and announced he was not doing any more registering and left town. So nothing really changed after the Mayor asked me to re-register all those whom the inspector had taken off.

Little by little health care in Jimena began to improve. Soon enough a new chemists opened under the aegis of someone called Mata (I can't remember his first name but he was a well known composer from Málaga as well as a chemist), which was later bought by the Regueira brothers José (now retired and Jimena's Official Chronicler, as well as an Adoptive Son of Jimena and father to the two chemists of today, Víctor and Héctor, l. and r. in family photo) and Ramón.

© Alberto Bullrich 2010. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No reproduction of this work may be carried out by any reproduction method whatsoever without the author’s written permission.