Photos: Pilar Guerra
The diagnosis was precise: “You need dialysis and a kidney transplant.”
Jossmary González heard nephrologist Asdrúbal Romero’s sentence. “What will happen to my projects?” she thought. “Will my body resist? Will I see my children grow? Will I grow old with my husband?”
“Will I die soon?”
That day of August, 2013, Jossmary reached the ER of the Coromoto Hospital in her native San Carlos, a city in the Venezuelan Western plains. Because she couldn’t pee, a catheter was inserted in her. The labs came back showing that her urea and creatinine levels were high, leading to a renal ultrasound. Her kidneys weren’t working as they should.
After the diagnosis, she felt calm. At least she knew what it was: renal insufficiency. She’d been in pain since 2012, and the hospital often brought her no explanations. She now thought about getting her husband tested, to see if their kidneys matched. Their friends could certainly help them raise money for the transplant, they just had to get organized.
She started dialysis and, a month and a half later, her health improved: her urea and creatinine levels dropped. Specialists said it wasn’t necessary to continue with dialysis and discharged her.
However, she had to eat well and be rigorous with her treatment.
“It’s either you or your baby”
Jossmary is an agro-industrial engineer and used to teach at the Universidad Nacional Experimental de los Llanos Ezequiel Zamora (Unellez) in San Carlos, where her husband, Edwing, also taught.
There was a time when they were both known in the university, not only as professors but as political activists: Edwing and Jossmary fervently supported Hugo Chávez. Defending the revolution in their space, they said, was part of their responsibility with the nation.
Maybe that’s why, in late 2014, Edwing was appointed as Unellez’ vice-rector. In 2000, the government took over experimental universities and the University Education Ministry, with the PSUV’s endorsement, started appointing authorities. Being chavista was a must in order to occupy the high ranks.
His new responsibilities made Edwing spend less time at home. He wouldn’t help with the chores, he was always busy, his schedule was always packed. Jossmary felt alone and sad. Sure enough, her renal symptoms came back, along with news that made it all more preoccupying: She was pregnant.
She was happy, yes, but also scared. With two children, she told herself she couldn’t die because they were still small and they needed her. Thoughts about ending the pregnancy appeared, but one day, while getting a sonogram, something happened:
“Look, the baby’s saying hi,” the doctor said. “Dad, mom, say hi to your baby.”
Her guilt fought against her cardiologist’s firm warnings: “You’re going to die. Interrupt the pregnancy. You’ll die or the baby will. Your uterus can explode.”
Still concerned about her fate, Jossmary was determined to give birth. Venecia was born, healthy, on October 21st, 2015.
Caring for a newborn and a home made her too busy to care for herself: she abandoned the diet and stopped taking her treatment. A year later, she could barely walk. With strong suspicions about what was going on, she went to the nephrologist. Sure enough, she had high urea and creatinine, and those toxins and excess water had to be purged from the blood. She had to get dialysis.
But an option they had ruled out was also back: The kidney transplant. They thought, again, that it’d be easy to get the money to cover the procedure. Going over their list of friends, a product of Edwing’s position, they felt optimistic.
There were few messages of support.
Actually, as soon as the couple spoke about Jossmary’s illness, the comments became scorn, particularly after Edwing stopped being a university authority, in 2017.
Alone and devastated, Jossmary wondered where all those contacts she had built for so long in the Unellez were. Why this indifference? She remembered, with painful clarity, how fiercely Edwing defended the revolution while being a vice-rector, discriminating and calling everyone who opposed the chavista ideals an escuálido.
Of that, only regret remains, and she questions herself for supporting that cruel stance. She’s disappointed in everything she once believed in, suffering in her own flesh the decay of a once prosperous nation. “It was a lie, a hoax,” she says. With their salaries, they can’t even afford food. In the Cojedes nephrology center, she sees in the faces of the 70 dialysis patients a reflection—her own—of desperation and anguish. With them, she faces the battles for electricity, water and two rooms closing down for lack of machines and personnel.
These patients, this suffering, are now her companions.
“To me, having been a chavista is like a sin. I can’t stop wondering, ‘God, what happened to me?’ This is a mark that I don’t know how to undo.”
Maybe trying to fix her past, she’s made public her opposition to the Bolivarian Revolution: she’s attended opposition marches and criticized Nicolás Maduro’s regime. But not everyone believes in her conversion. .
Her psychologist has helped her with the guilt and to focus on the money for the transplant. In February 2019, she created a campaign online, hoping for the help of strangers. “Help me live,” she says. “I’m Jossmary González. I’m 39 years old and two years ago I was diagnosed with chronic renal insufficiency because my kidneys don’t work. I have to be hooked to a machine three times a week to filter my blood. Today, I need help so I can see my children grow, I have a kidney donor but I can’t afford the expenses of the operation. My goal is to reach $25,000 so I can have a normal life and see my three children grow. Thank you in advance for your solidarity. God bless those who give with joy.”
This piece, originally published in Spanish in La Vida de Nos, was produced in the workshop La Vida de Nos Itinerante, where many authors all around Venezuela learn how to collect and write real-life stories.