Mac Engel

Chirinos’ struggle to find medicine underscores chaos in Venezuela

Blue and red can both agree that healthcare in the United States is an embarrassing mess, but we have nothing on the state of things in Venezuela. Or the hell Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos had to go through to get some pills for his dad.

His father had suffered a stroke in December, and in his native Venezuela finding access to the necessary medicine was not as simple as seeing the doctor. As a major league baseball player, Chirinos is royalty in Venezuela. But even Chirinos, who makes well over seven figures, could not find the medicine.

Back on Jan. 2, faced with dwindling alternatives, Chirinos sent a message to his nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter, saying he urgently needed an antibiotic.

“I put that message out to the whole country,” Chirinos said.

One day after posting this message, a pair of large media companies posted a press release with Chirinos’ request for help. Shortly thereafter, he received a direct message from a follower. The person knew how to find the standard antibiotic that is, in modern countries, not terribly difficult to obtain.

“He sent me a phone number and we were able to get it,” Chirinos said. “Thank God we were able to get it.”

A little more than three weeks later, he again had to go to Twitter with another urgent message.

Again he was able to find the medicine. Today, Chirinos’ father is 66 and his health is improving.

The World Baseball Classic does not move the needle in the U.S., but in places like Venezuela this is a major point of interest and pride. As dysfunctional as our home is, Chirinos’ story is the humble reminder that many places are considerably worse.

He is playing for Team Venezuela, which late Monday was in a tiebreaker with Italy to advance to the next stage.

The U.S. advanced to this next stage, and few noticed. If Venezuela makes it, it’s an event. These games have become a three-hour break from what has become an exceedingly difficult life.

“Right now ... everything is just tough right now,” Chirinos said. “My personal experience, it’s not only the government, but it’s the whole people of Venezuela. It’s a little bit of everything. The people who run the country, they forget about the people. When I went back to play in the offseason there, I had never seen the country the way I saw it this year. It was sad to see so many people who don’t have anything to live.”

Despite being in a country with a wealth of natural resources and status as one of the world’s top oil-producing countries, 32.1 percent of the Venezuelan population lives below the poverty line.

“People go to the store, and the food is there, but the people can’t afford it. They don’t have the money to buy it because they are too expensive,” Chirinos said. “It’s sad.”

In many Venezuelan hospitals, doctors routinely struggle to find the basic medicines. Because of routine power shortages, doctors often perform surgery by the lights on their cellphones. The wait list for a surgery can be three months.

In 1961, Venezuela was reported as the first malaria-free nation. Now there are hundreds of thousands of cases reported each year.

The reasons are many for the deteriorating conditions in Venezuela, but Chirinos is not alone in the sentiment that the state of his country was better when its polarizing leader, and noted U.S. irritant, Hugo Chavez was alive and in power.

Chavez died in May 2013, when he was just 58.

“When he was alive, it really was not that bad,” Chirinos said. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

With four years of service as a major league player, Chirinos is secure enough that he hopes and plans to bring his father to the United States this year. His father is living with Chirinos’ mother and his brothers. He said his dad is walking “a little bit” and that his speech is improving as well.

“We’re doing everything we can to provide to him to get better,” he said.

Perhaps in the future he won’t have to turn to Twitter the next time he needs medicine.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof

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