Mário, from kid to nurse

Mário Bexiga memories go back to his childhood, when he lived near the hospital and jumped over the fence to watch the open-air cinema that was shown to patients. 


Fate reserved him to be nurse at that health unit. He entered the Hospital in 1970 and the first place where he worked was the pavilion for infectious diseases, where there were patients who also had tuberculosis.


It holds thousands of memories of more than thirty years of service at that hospital. He readily shares some that he experienced when he was doing Medical Brigades, traveling long routes in the country to track and accompany patients and family members. It recalls threatening situations on the part of patients and how the team managed to manage these conflict situations, later obtaining cooperation in the treatments, and even building lasting relationships of trust with the patients treated on an outpatient basis, through these brigades.


He recalls that some patients traveled several kilometers on mules to go to the Medical Brigades, preferring in this way to keep their health condition confidential and to avoid stigma and exclusion in the communities where they lived or worked.

One occasion, when he was part of a Medical Brigade team in the districts of Guarda and Castelo Branco, they were intercepted by a man who positioned himself in the middle of the road, near Mação. Asking for description and anonymity, he introduced himself as a businessman, and said that he was bleeding recurrently on his back, especially after bathing, and therefore, fearing he had leprosy, he asked to be harvested for analysis. The nurse collected the sample and delivered it to the hospital’s laboratory, fulfilled what was promised and kept confidentiality about the person concerned. The result revealed that it was indeed a Hansen’s disease, so the patient was followed up and underwent treatment, always without knowing his condition, in the place where he lived, as he had requested.


At the hospital, he says that the patients had living conditions that were much better than the families and the portuguese population at the time. That there was a great spirit of camaraderie, even when there were competitions between the three football teams of inmates, or in garden contests between the various pavilions.


The environment was one of mutual learning for both patients and employees, with colleagues from various backgrounds, even from Indonesia. Many patients worked as nurses’ assistants, in the office or in cleaning.

There were restrictions and rules but a certain order had to be maintained and despite the challenge that sometimes existed, through a survey carried out in 1985, it was possible to conclude that most of the former patients who remained at the Hospital acknowledged having had an impact his admission to the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais was positive.

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