Suspended lives, multiple supports

Manuel lived in a village near Portela do Fojo, about 17 km from Pampilhosa da Serra. Born in 1916, he was one of nine children born from a union between two inhabitants of the village. Some brothers still remained in the area, already with their families, others had left for Lisbon in search of better jobs. Manuel had become accustomed to the agriculture and pastoral work that was possible in small, rocky fields, but bathed by the Zêzere and Unhais rivers, so he ended up staying.


The religiosity of the village where he was born and grew up was mirrored both in the alminhas and cruises, which dotted the streets and paths of the village, and in the festivals and pilgrimages that made the people happy and made possible the coexistence of the youth that still abounded there. The Santa Bárbara party was undoubtedly one of the most popular and where boys and girls met, who, without knowing it, would be future spouses. Many, in love since planting or defoliating, renewed promises and intentions in full traditional bidding for corn at the door of that 17th century chapel.


It is not known how Manuel met his wife, and it is no longer possible to ask, but he ended up at home with Carmelinda, a young woman also from the village, and his dating story could have been like the ones we described earlier. In any case, through the archives of the Social Service of Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais (HCRP) it was possible to recover some aspects of their lives for almost a decade. Period in which the family was accompanied by that service, until the date when Manuel was discharged from the Hospital.


In January 1959, when Manuel was examined by the Mobile Brigade of the Hospital Colónia Rovisco Pais, at the Alvares Medical Post, the survey carried out by the social worker led to the conclusion that the family lived in “very precarious” economic conditions.


Second, the records made by the social worker, the couple lived in a rented house with four compartments, and paid 120 $ 00 annually. The shale house had no electricity or running water and had only three windows.


Manuel, aged 43, and his wife aged 42, were rural workers and earned an uncertain gain of 20 $ 00 and 9 $ 00, respectively. Both were in poor health.

The eldest son, aged 15, worked at Companhia Colonial de Navegação in Lisbon, earning 10 $ 00 a day. The youngest son, aged 14, was a seminarian at the Consolata Seminary in Fátima, and Manuel paid 100 $ 00 tuition fees per month.

Three months after the medical examination carried out by the Mobile Brigade, he was admitted to the HCRP in Tocha (April 24, 1959). Manuel suffered from Hansen’s disease and needed treatment. The sources of contagion were unknown, but it was known that one of the brothers, resident in Lisbon, was ill.


In May of the same year, Carmelinda, who needed to be operated on, was assisted by the social workers of HCRP, with the Mayor of Pampilhosa da Serra, to obtain the necessary guides and enter the Hospitals of the University of Coimbra, where she was submitted surgical intervention.


The family’s economic situation worsens even more, so, in addition to treating each other’s illness, it was also important to minimize the needs of the couple and children.


The HCRP Social Service had an active role in monitoring the situation of patients and their families, and Manuel’s case was no exception. The minimization of the psychological impact that isolation and the treatment of patients caused, as well as the economic needs of families, were areas of intervention by Social Service, which materialized in a very wide range of initiatives inside and outside the hospital. In this case, some of these initiatives are visible in the consulted documentation.

Thus, in July 1959, through intervention by the Social Service, Manuel requested, and obtained authorization to, with a special license, be able to accompany his wife home after discharge from the hospital and stay with her for a few days at their residence. In addition to medical assistance, the family received, through social workers, an aid of 1000$00 to pay off debts in the grocery store, and 400$00 of aid for family cooperation.


Manuel was facing a situation that from different perspectives was difficult to manage – his illness, that of his wife, the impossibility of earning a living and the difficulty of paying the tuition fees for the youngest son’s seminar.


In the HCRP, the Social Service was monitoring the whole situation and the documents show that they made several efforts to channel aid funds destined for this and other pressing purposes, either requesting subsidies from the administrator of the Hospital and the Institute of Support to Lepers, or from the Association Protection for Hansenians and Families.

In 1960, over several months, monetary aid amounting to 818 $ 00 was paid for the expenses of the seminar. In April, when Carmelinda received a home visit from an HCRP team, the social workers referred to “the wife due to a surgical intervention can only do light work. You have to pay whoever cultivates small properties that you bring in, you don’t get enough to support yourself. We saw that she had no food to eat at home …” So she was helped with the amount of 100$00 for payment to the grocery store, and with the purchase of groceries, worth 62$80.


However, the youngest son ended up having to leave the seminary and return to his father’s home. This fact, together with the progressive improvement of the parents, will also alleviate the situation. In the following year, the amounts of aid that the family received through the HCRP became smaller and less frequent.


Years later, registers of support for this family started to emerge again, in 1967, an aid of 250$00 was even granted to amortize the income of the room of the son who continued to work in Lisbon, and another of 400$00 granted by the Institute of Support to Lepers.


Manuel improved and in September 1967, he obtained an extendable license.


He returned to the Hospital in March 1969 to deal with his final discharge, and returned to his native village with assistance in paying for the trip.



(Based on documents from the HCRP Archive. Research and writing by Cristina Nogueira – CulturAge)