Vítor, memories, medicine and radiology

Dr. Vítor Carvalheiro is from a village in the municipality of Montemor-o-Velho, Bunhosa, near the Tocha. Its origin ended up being decisive in the connection to the Hospital Rovisco Pais as it shared in the beginning of our conversation: “I had a great connection to all that, even today I have a great affection for the Hospital”.


He finished his medical course at the University of Coimbra in 1978, then “performed the public health and service to the periphery, which luckily happened in Arganil” (1980 and 1981). I was at the beginning of my career. The specialty exam followed, but at that very moment they were interrupted.


When in 1982, Dr. Vítor went to Hospital Rovisco Pais we were going through “a difficult time… I had to wait three or four years to be able to take the specialty exam. I arrived at P5 (polyclinic), which was unthinkable! ”.


He recalls, “there were still hospitalized patients but they were mainly social cases with the active disease. They were medicated with all possible medications. “It was not curative therapy but palliative”.
Regarding inpatients and hospital facilities, he says: “I remember Mrs. Olinda, Mr. Domingos and all those who still lived there, some of them in the peripheral houses of the family center. That was of an extraordinary dimension … Only Creche and Preventório were able to do a high school, so that was brutal ”.


Dr. Vítor said that they lived in community: “We were in those houses in the neighborhood of the employees, we had food from the hospital and telephone and if necessary we would rush to any emergency that existed inside the hospital or in the houses – sometimes a flu, a pneumonia, a fall, etc … And I even did a brigade or two”.


He can not forget the many friendships made for life with all the employees who lived there, Pais Alves family, Mr. Pereira, Guilherme as well as Father Afonso that Dr. Vítor remembers, with longing: “(…) it was an important person for all of us and in the institution. It was funny … If we were going to have fun he would go with us, but always with an exemplary behavior and we, in play, called him Engineer Reis. He was an amazing man … Well, dedicated and always available to help everyone!”


In the field of clinical activity, Dr. Vítor shared how he became involved in the field of radiology, where he then undertook the specialty exam. “While there, I took a specialty exam, got into radiology, started the radiology service. Radiology was made possible. The development of the x-ray was manual with regulator and fixator and in vats. It was all done by us, by hand. When I left the hospital everything was working, a little obsolete, but it was possible to make ends of the body … Because that disease, besides the destruction that the bacillus caused, had other coexisting comorbidities, and other infections, such as the so-called “plantar perforating evil” which sometimes led to minor amputations, in an attempt to help the sick. Dr. Aguiar de Melo did many and I also helped him a few times. Therefore, it was necessary to make a certain control over the disease and its manifestations and that is why we still did a lot of radiology there”.



In the context of the disease, Dr. Vítor shared some episodes related to the patients, who had contact, inside and outside the hospital. “That from a height was a brutal stigma … It was total isolation! (…) In my village there were at least four or five people who suffered from this disease. I still remember one of the ladies that I went to see at the request of her daughter with a visible and serious cancer situation and who did not go to the doctor … But the stigma … Just going to a doctor, going to a hospital, because she was a leper … I stopped everything, do you understand? Later they came to me to help them because they knew that I knew about the disease … (…) But for a long time, playing cards, in the cafe, was not “authorized” … only much later”.


Trying to understand this phenomenon better, Dr. Vítor explained: “The stigma was reciprocal. They withdrew and the community did not accept them either because they were afraid. Essentially out of fear … That was the big problem with leprosy … it was contagion. It was all separate dishes. In the house itself, everything was separate, they could not change what belonged to others”.


Another aspect mentioned was the lack of compliance with the treatments: “Once I went to a brigade, the pig was brown and shiny because they gave him the medication – so they didn’t take it and gave it to the pig! I remember several cases. Looking back, they were dismissed and it was natural for them to have a certain revolt”.


On what is at the basis of the stigma, and on the issue of contagion, Dr. Vítor added: “Nowadays with these new diseases, I don’t know what will become of COVID… But for example when AIDS appeared, tuberculosis, and in the meantime leprosy reappeared. We have a lot of leprosy again in Africa. This is a drama. That is a bacillus, it is a living being that is transmitted and therefore we can never forget these cycles of small organisms. We know that there are several ways of contagion. At least the papules and wounds transmitted, the runny nose and mouth as well, the blood, and nowadays it is thought that even the tears also… In fact, it was something we had taken care of at the time – Dr. Américo Barbosa, who was the clinical director, said to us: – you be careful with the tear! ” As Dr. Vítor explained: “When patients were hit on the face, the skin receded as if it were a burn, then there was also the retraction of the lacrimal sac and, therefore, almost all patients were tearing up”.


In 1993, when Dr. Vítor left the Hospital, it had not yet been reconverted: “It was said, at the time, that a second Alcoitão (Rehabilitation Center) was needed and that is what happened”.

From these and other memories, Dr. Vítor’s journey was made at the Hospital Rovisco Pais: “at a time in my life when I was growing, my career was evolving”.




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