Américo, the electrician at the Hospital

Américo Carvalheiro was born in 1932, in a small house close to the place where the Arcada hotel and the Hospital are now located. He has known the Fonte Quente farm since he was a kid, when he used to play and swim with his colleagues in the lagoon. Later, he drank water from the spring, where hot water flowed all year. And he told us the story of the foundation of the Tocha by the Galician João Garcia Bacelar and how the Crosiers owned the farm before the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais (HCRP) was built.


When he was just 12 years old, he started working as an electrician’s assistant on the HCRP construction works, earning five escudos a day and “helping to pull the wires”. It is recalled that the stone for the construction was transported in ox carts and that, later, a contractor came with a coal-fired truck. He explained that at that time, because of the war, there was no diesel, and that food was rationed (such as sugar, coffee or bread) and that the Hospital was opened when he was 14 years old.


Later, his professional life passed through the Eletromecânica de Cantanhede and the coal mines of Cabo Mondego, in Figueira da Foz. In 1955 he returned to the HCRP as an electrician’s assistant, earning 600$00 a month. But when the 25th of April took place, he was already earning 2.900$00, an amount that he explained was the result of the kindness “of Marcelo Caetano who gave us 500$00!”


He married in 1960 and his wife, Maria Dalila, also worked there, first as a seamstress at the Preventório and after 25 de Abril, at the Hospital.

When Mr. Américo returned to work at the Hospital, the buildings were full. “There were more people here than certain parishes! There were more than 1.000 patients here, 15 buildings… it was like a village!” The construction of three pavilions, the 7, 8 and 9, took place after the inauguration because “there was no room for everyone”. “In a place like this, there was always work to be done: repairing faults, replacing light bulbs, repairing sewing machines, which were electric…” And when Professor Bissaya Barreto operated, “there always had to be an electrician, in case something went wrong. …”


Mr. Américo, clarified that the Hospital was the first place to have electric light in the Tocha. He added that a few years later Mr. Francisco Guimaro, who was Brazilian, asked for the extension of high voltage to his house, but that it was only in 1952 that electric light was installed in the village of Tocha.


The interview began with a visit to the new Museological Center of the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais and on that occasion Mr. Américo recognized the cinema machine, which he was maneuvering. He told us that he often went to the railway stations in Lamede, Arazede or Figueira da Foz to get the film reels that the Hospital rented. “They were chosen by the sisters, they could not be mean and often they were about religion, so the sick are not always interested in them. They complained and I listened to them!” He also shared that, when the camera broke down, it was taken to “AB Duarte or Telbicor in Coimbra” and that at a later stage the film sessions were no longer outdoors, as Dr. Pedroso de Lima (HCRP administrator) ordered to arrange a room for this purpose in an already unoccupied Workers’ House.

At the end of the 1950s, televisions were acquired, one for each building – in the living rooms and in the family nuclei, in a small room in the main man’s house. “There was a person in charge who turned on the televisions daily and we sometimes went there to watch football!”


On the journey he lived in the service of the HCRP, Mr. Américo also recalled an accident that could have taken his life: “I was on top of a pole next to a large well. The pole broke and my friend was lucky to have pulled the rope, preventing me from falling into the well and drowning. I landed on the floor and broke three ribs!” He well remembers the joy with which the “old women of the Asilo” welcomed him after the accident – “they told me that they had prayed the rosary a lot for me to save myself!”


And he couldn’t contain his emotion when he recalled saying goodbye to the sick at the time of retirement – “they hugged me… That made me happy!”


Texto baseado em testemunho oral, em 2022. Validado pelo entrevistado. Entrevista e redação por Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge