Antero, the workshops and mechanics at the Hospital

Mr. Antero Melo started working at the Facilities and Equipment Service at Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais (HCRP) in January 1966, he was 23 years old. At the time, Dr. Viriato Namora was an administrator.


His father had previously done some mechanical work for the hospital and had taken him there to watch cinema outdoors. Mr. Antero recalls that “I should have been 10 or 12 years old when I went to see a film at the Hospital -“(…) we were in the car watching, it was not convenient to walk among the patients. ” Later, as an employee, “I went to pick up the film reels at the Figueira da Foz train station. The reels were placed by the electricians Américo Carvalheiro and Manuel Zananar on the projection machine, which is still displayed on the Hospital grounds today… in a kind of museum. But they ended up stopping these sessions when the televisions came to the rooms of the various pavilions, in 1972 or 1973.”


The service where he went to work covered several areas and carpenters, electricians, stoves, mechanics, etc. worked in it. Mr. Antero’s main functions were in the area of mechanics, but he also performed other types of tasks. The mechanic workshops were located next to the building known as Conventinho, where the HCRP administration functioned. There, they repaired all the automobiles of the Hospital, as well as the motorcycles and wasps that were used in the mobile brigades, which, at that time, had already covered almost all districts, from the north to the south of the country.


Regarding the volume of work, Mr. Antero recalls: “we arrived and have 10 or 12 motorcycles to work” so that nurses, distributed by regions, could accompany the outpatients in their homes – “they gave medication, gave injections and they made dressings. Each of them did about 160/190 km, with the motorcycle within a radius of 70 km, per day. In the beginning, they went with motorcycle, but then scooters were found and they were more confident because they didn’t have a chain, and they had a spare tire. Every fifteen days, the nurses returned to the Hospital, when we checked the scooters and they supplied themselves with some necessary material or medication.”


The automobiles were used by the director and administrator and by the various existing Mobile Brigades. As the interviewee described: “There was a Social Service Brigade, made up of social workers from the Hospital who went out to visit outpatients or their families, who were given support, as well as to transport patients who were on leave, or to pick them up, them when it was time and return. Then there was the Medical Brigade, made up of a doctor, a nurse and a laboratory preparer. At first the cars had their own boxes of material, but then they became three Mercedes cars without special structures. They went around the country and left almost always on the first Monday of the month. Sometimes two or three cars would leave on the same day, traveling through previously determined regions, in tours that could take place every three months. They often went out to the area of Pombal, where there were many patients … And sometimes they traveled in areas where a car had never been before!”


Later, there was also an ambulance that was offered by the Hansen Patients’ Association and a mini bus to transport children from Preventory to the Cantanhede and Figueira da Foz Schools.


Built to be self-sustaining and to enable rehabilitation of patients, also through ergotherapy, HCRP had workshops for patients. On this aspect, Mr. Antero recalls that “(…) next to the workshops where he worked, a little further down, on the left, in the line of the Santa Luzia Asylum, there were large trees and a forest and it was there that large sheds with the workshops of the patients. Among the patients there were pavers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, gardeners, shoemakers … The patients who were in the pavilions at work were nurses’ helpers, but they also helped in agriculture, specifically in pigsties. The patients’ workshops were well arranged and the facilities were very good. There was even a barber salon with a pedal chair! They had everything they needed, the evil… it was, they had the disease!”


When Mr. Antero went to work for the hospital, there were still about 800 patients. Of these, as he said: “There were many who liked to be there. But there were others who, when they went to the Hospital, were new and left the family, and the children … these were already more revolted. Sometimes they drank or fought among themselves and sometimes it was even necessary to call the GNR to control the situation.”


The April 25, 1974 ended up changing the state of things, and, in the long run, the changes were felt at the Hospital. In the post-revolution period, there were some episodes, which Mr. Antero shared: “At the HCRP nothing special happened because they had everything they needed… but there was one patient or another who was more demanding and how it happened revolution also wanted to manifest themselves. A while later, the patients closed the gates and only allowed a few employees to enter. First, they let the kitchen ones in, because they had to eat … Then the nurses because they had to do the dressings and take care of them … I went in too, because they needed us to fix their houses.” In this same sense, Mr. Antero also added: “that was a kind of village, but the good ones! On Saturdays and Sundays there was a sound in the street to liven up… The houses had a wood stove and were very tidy … It was what there was good at the time, and many of them would not have those conditions in their homes. ”


Second, Mr. Antero, the reasons for these initiatives in the post-revolution were related to the fact that “(…) they started to feel that they had freedom, and since they had to obey certain rules until then, they wanted to mark their position. During this period, the MFA of Figueira da Foz still visited the Hospital a few times, but then they ended up leaving…” 


In an attempt to understand the impact of this political situation at the Hospital, Mr. Antero also clarified: “It does not mean that soldiers heal the sick, but from then on, everything started to be different and even the brigades were stopped and, more later, home nursing. On the other hand, as there was now a way to treat them without long hospital stays, many patients ended up being discharged. Still, some patients wanted to stay for personal and family reasons. Others, even some of the most “demanding”, left, but returned shortly afterwards because they did not get along outside … As they said “this was their home.”


In 1977, the State initiated measures for an effective decentralization in the assistance to Hansen’s disease, as a way to optimize and rationalize resources and costs. First-line surveillance of these patients is now provided by the Health Centers, whose creation and development resulted from the reform of the Portuguese health system in 1971. 

Mr. Antero recalls that “in 1976 and 1977 the director Dr. Américo Barbosa, and members of the social service, a nurse and a driver traveled through the Centers and Health from north to south to“pass the testimony” and train their teams , transmitting the necessary norms for the monitoring of Hansen’s patients. The Health Centers received the medicines made at the Hospital, depending on the request that was made, and reported any new cases or that needed special assistance to the Hospital.”


About what he liked most at work at Hospital, where he worked until 2002, Mr. Antero said: “Everything he did. I did it with pleasure.”

In his memoirs there are still moments with the Administrator Dr. Pedroso de Lima, who according to him “(…) implanted a 25 de Abril before the revolution in the Hospital” by promoting parties with employees from the different departments of the Hospital and patients, gatherings and “visits like the one where they went to Serra da Estrela, and had lunch at the Espariz Recovery Center.”


From his Administration, he remembers, in detail, the episode that led him to live with his wife to employees neighborhood, until then reserved for doctors and nurses. One day he made the request and the next he obtained authorization, as follows: “On that day there was a meeting of the Board of Directors with Professor Bissaya Barreto, at the end of the same they both followed in the car back to Coimbra when, next to the workshops, they honked their horns and Dr. Pedroso Lima called me and said: – The Professor has already deliberated, so when you want to change things you can change.” And so, as Mr. Antero says, they went to that neighborhood that “was a garden with beautiful hedges, clean and tidy… but today it is abandoned!”



(Text based on oral testimony, in 2020, validated by the interviewee. Interview and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge)