Rationing of everything was a staple of daily life in Romania. We could only have so much before we turned into burgeois society and we had to be kept under control by the dreaded financial police. Nobody was allowed to get ahead in any way and, if there were appearances that a family had acquired something extra, the neighborhood spies would report them to the economic police. What would these neighborhood spies get in return for their service? Usually the right to shop at the communist party stores, with no lines, better food, more variety, and better service. They were given about $150 per month as well. Once the police started the investigation, the family had to prove where and how they obtained the money to buy certain things, usually in excess of the identical salaries, barely scraping by, people earned. This was by design to satisfy the utopian communist ideal that everybody had to be equal except the oligarchy in power. They earned more money, shopped at their own stores, had their own doctors, hospitals, hotels, overseas vacations, Swiss bank accounts, and summer resorts with five star hotels and maid service.
Everyone lived in the same drab, concrete block apartments, the size of a studio apartment in the west. Often times two families had to share a two bedroom apartment with only one kitchen and one bathroom. The spartan conditions extended to medical care as well. By definition, everything was free. Trying to actually get the care, cost quite a bit of money, more than most families earned. There were bribes to see the doctor, bribes to see the nurse, bribes to see the pharmacist, the lab and X-ray technicians. There were bribes for the cleaning lady when the patient was in the hospital. A family member had to stay with the patient 24/7 and take care of everything otherwise the patient was not fed, changed, attended to when in distress, bandages changed, etc. The doctor and the nurse sometimes did not show up for days. A patient would be hospitalized for weeks and would not see a doctor almost the entire time unless bribes were given: bottles of wine, money, foreign chocolate, foreign cigarettes, stockings, shampoo, foreign soap, U.S. dollars, jewelry, etc. Doctors made the same low salaries as any worker and they compensated by violating their Hyppocratic oath and refusing to treat someone unless bribes were given.
The quality of doctors was very questionable since medical school graduates had no practical experience on patients whatsoever only theoretical knowledge. Medical school took six years to complete with no residency requirements. Most patients took their lives into their own hands when they agreed to have elective surgery. When an emergency arose, the outcome was mostly dire. Even simple operations ended in disaster, nipped colons during appendectomies, nipped voice boxes during thyroidectomies, cut blood vessels, ruptured and nicked organs, instruments and bandages left inside the patient, etc. There was no ethical or moral accountability for the death of any human being. Life was worth zero and nobody punished any doctor for malpractice. They were all working for the government, who was the family going to sue for the death of their loved one? The government?
The sanitary conditions were horrible. Bandages were washed,rewashed and reused, needles were boiled in rusty metal pans and so were the glass and metal syringes. Nothing was disposable. When I was in high school, the entire school received injections with the same three needles and syringes. Every morning they were boiled in a pan and the same were used all day until the next morning when they were boiled again. I do mean boiled, they were not autoclaved. I was lucky because my last name started with A so I was the first to get any shot. The rest of my school mates had gotten hepatitis from dirty needles. We were lucky that there was no HIV epidemic yet.
The hospital wards were very dirty and in bad need of repairs and painting. Each ward had anywhere from twenty to thirty metal beds with mattresses stained of blood and other bodily fluids of endless patients who had used the hospitals. The family had to bring sheets and blankets for the patient. The floors were not usually mopped and caked blood and other stains were present. Food was not provided by the hospital and family members had to take turns to bring nourishment and water to the patient every day. No IV fluids were provided.
Each hospital had one ambulance that was equipped with nothing to save lives and did not have an EMT on board. A driver would supplement his salary on the way to an emergency by giving rides to hitchhikers. Most ambulances arrived too late to save someone's life. However, if the patient had non-life threatening emergency, they were lucky to survive the long, uncomfortable, and arduous trip to the hospital in an empty ambulance.
Dental care was non-existent. Nobody was allowed to clean their teeth at the dentist, it was too expensive and too capitalist. The only time we were allowed to make an appointment, if we were lucky, was when someone needed their teeth pulled or a root canal. I still remember the dentist who talked and spit in my mouth when I was 15. He was doing a root canal without any anesthetic, oblivious to my screams of pain and the dripping blood on my clothes. He had nicked the inside of my mouth with the drill. The treatment was stretched over a period of three months. I cannot begin to tell you the pain that this man subjected me to unnecessarily. People tried to avoid the dentist like the plague and did their best to brush their teeth if they could find toothbrushes and toothpaste. Both items were in constant shortage.
There were no such things as tampons or pads. Women had to use rags from old clothes or purchase bags of folded cotton which was also very hard to find. It was considered a pharmaceutical item and in very short supply. It was not uncommon to see women bleed down their legs in public. It was embarassing and mortifying but those were the economic conditions.
Pharmacies compounded most drugs if they had the ingredients; there were a few drugs that were already pre-made in pill form or powder which had to be mixed with water or poured into large paper capsules that were very difficult to swallow. Meds were always in short supply and people had to bribe pharmacists even for vitamins although technically, they were free. When medicine was available, people did not need prescriptions, they could get whatever drugs they thought might cure their pain. There was no such thing as a controlled substance. The government did not care whether people lived or died. We were all considered a burden on society.
The government did care about the number of babies born. Because people died at such a young age due to poor nutrition, hard life in general, and lack of proper medical care, the replacement value of the population was not there. There were more people deceased than there were babies born. Ceausescu's regime decided to reward motherhood with stipends per live born baby and, at the same time, forbade any abortion, period. It became a felony for both the patient and the doctor if a pregnancy ended in abortion, whether it was a spontaneous one or a medical one.
If people could not afford the newborn, the government gladly took them and placed them in state orphanages where they were promptly neglected and barely cared for as human beings. Many women who were raped resorted to back alley abortions and lost their lives as a result. If they went to the emergency room as a result of a botched abortion or a spontaneous one, the law forbade the doctor to give proper treatment without police being present and investigating first. Often women would bleed to death before police arrived or did their criminal investigation. Antibiotics were refused if the woman did not testify who performed the abortion.
My own grandfather and grandmother were victims of the lack of proper medical care. My grandfather had surgery to repair a hernia and they nicked his colon - he died of gangrene in hurendous pain. My grandmother had an ulcer and the village medic gave her aspirin for pain. She bled to death.
My best friend had a tonsillectomy and the doctor cut her voice box - her voice was never the same, she talked like an old man.