“I am afraid of losing my other eye”
Jhoan Manuel Arias Santana
“On Monday 2nd May I finished labelling the lids of the radiators of a motorcycle in red vinyl. My brother Jhocer and I did it. We earned thirty six thousand bolivars in cash. Inside my son’s preschool backpack I carried a heat pistol, a felt pallet, a blade, an extension, a container with alcohol and a sock to clean: my tools.
The day before, at the march to the Palace of Justice, I ran into a client and he commissioned it. I was short on cash and needed the job.
On the way back home, the GNB stopped the bus in the Valencia-Campo de Carabobo highway, an officer warned us that they were setting cars and tyres on fire ahead: there was no way through. The driver turned around and said ‘this is as far as I go’.
A group of seven passengers decided we would continue by foot telling each other stories, while we watched the tear gas from afar. Los Caobos, my house, was only two kilometres ahead.
We ran into a GNB picket line and a guard who wasn’t wearing a helmet or a mask told us: ‘be careful because the highway is dangerous today’.
We told him about the bus and continued walking right in the middle of the highway so they wouldn’t confuse us with the protesters. There was fire, smoke and debris until we ran into about forty officers of the PNB, with shields, motorcycles and marks. And a lot of gunshots, stones and bombs, too.
—Run! What are you doing here guarimberos?!
—Brother, we are coming back from work.
—Get out of here, what you deserve is to be shot, that’s why you get killed!
—Let us through, we are coming back from work.
—You have to run!
—Why do we have to run?
—Ah, you won’t run? You are bold?
The PNB stopped shooting to the air. He aimed at me. He shot me. I felt an electric current through my body and a whistle. It was one o’clock.
We ran while I told Jhocer: ‘they shot me, don’t stop’.
I pulled a lead pellet out of my arm because it hadn’t gone through entirely. The three of us left riding the motorcycle and arrived home, but I didn’t want my children and my wife to see me like that. My body was covered with blood and red dots. I went to my mother’s house, where a Cuban doctor from the CDI put Betadine on me and a ophthalmological solution on my right eye. I had a pellet inside.
‘I can’t do anything else, you need to go to a health center’.
I was very nervous. I thought I’d lose my eye.
I had a total of fifty four pellets in my body, twelve in the face, and one in the eye. The Central Hospital of Valencia was crowded with GNB and the order was to clean the wounds and then doctors had to surrender the patients. Who would believe that I label motocross motorcycles, own a hot dog cart, have two children, wasn’t protesting and was coming back from work?
I didn’t dare to go.
A doctor who’s a friend of mine, in his house, extracted seventeen pellets with a scalpel. Although I am afraid of needles, I let him put me on anesthesia. At eleven in the evening, with a neighbour, we went to the Red Cross field hospital at Bolivar Avenue in Valencia. A doctor was waiting for me, but the road was blocked. We didn’t get there. Manholes were drawn up, GNB picket lines, burning tires, roads blocked. We went out again at six in the morning on Wednesday. They assisted me, cleaned me, and a surgeon told me: ‘you need to see a retinologyst urgently, a specialist, the eye is draining’.
I saw as if I was looking through a yellow bag.
From there I went to a private clinic, then to the Urology Teaching Center, where they told me: ‘This requires surgery. Go downstairs so they can give you an estimate’.
2.150.000 bolívares, including a waiver for doctors’ fees.
There is nothing I can sell that could cover that amount. I don’t have health insurance. I only saw through half my eye. The upper half was black.
I lied down, because the doctor told me to rest.
When I woke up I could only see a small strip on the lower half. The rest was black.
That night I lost my visión on the right eye.
I threw myself to the floor. I got depressed. My mother had to come to console me. I had an estimate for the surgery and that same day I lost my sight.
That Friday I started a campaign on Twitter but I received very vague answers from some politicians. They offered me medicines but I needed surgery. A doctor from Pérez Carreño hospital, anonymously, offered to help me. We went to Caracas on Monday. I say we because my wife Desiree has been with me through this ordeal. We stayed at a relative’s house in El Observatorio, where gunshots wouldn’t let us sleep. We are not used to that.
On Tuesday, at minor surgery, they extracted the pellet and put in four stitches. The doctor offered to do the big surgery at the hospital. It had been a week since I was shot. The surgery was scheduled for Friday 19 May.
I organised a bingo around my neighborhood to collect money and pay for what they requested: a silicone worth 370.000 bolivars and three steroid injections to decrease the swelling from the surgery, worth 48.000 bolivars. All the neighbours collaborated, I bought everything.
On May 16 they told me that the equipment used for the surgery broke down. It’s still not working.
The real problem and the reason for the surgery is to avoid losing the eye because it was drying up and it would disfigure my face. It has decreased in size.
I’ve been talking to a foundation of ophthalmologists in Caracas to help those of us who can’t. They don’t charge fees but they do charge hospital costs. I have to organise a bigger bingo because these days I also have to buy my children’s (13 and 9) school supplies, uniforms and shoes.
Now I bum pinto door frames, with people on the street. If something is thrown at me, I can’t catch it and when people say hi to me I can’t give a handshake properly. I can’t be out under the sun at noon, because it makes my eye hurt, even though it can’t see. My wife wants me to see a psychologist because I cry during the night.
I am a father and the one who shot me must be one too. They don’t think like one does. At the hospital they told me I would never get my eyesight back, but I have faith. May 1st was the last march I went to. I am afraid of losing my other eye. If the price for the freedom of Venezuela, is an eye, then I already paid”.
Jhoan Manuel Arias Santana, 35, graphic design and hot dog salesman.