The man who has lived in hospital for 45 years

The man who has lived in hospital for 45 years

Paulo Henrique Machado has lived almost his entire life in hospital

Paulo Henrique Machado has lived almost his entire life in hospital. As a baby he suffered infantile paralysis brought on by polio, and he is still hooked up to an artificial respirator 24 hours a day.

But despite this, he has trained as a computer animator and is now creating a television series about his life.

The Brazilian’s first memories are of exploring the hospital he has lived in for 45 years by wheelchair.

“I explored up and down the corridors, going into the rooms of other children that were here – that is how I discovered my ‘universe’,” he says.

“For me, playing football or with normal toys wasn’t an option, so it was more about using my imagination.”

Machado’s mother died when he was two days old, and as a baby he contracted polio – the result of one of the last big outbreaks of the disease in Brazil.

Ligia Marcia Fizeto, Machado’s nursing assistant, began working in the hospital – Sao Paulo’s Clinicas – shortly after he arrived.

“It was very sad to see all those children, all lying there immobilised in their beds, or with very little movement,” she says.

With very limited mobility, Machado’s world formed around the friends he made on the ward.

“There was me, Eliana, Pedrinho, Anderson, Claudia, Luciana and Tania. They were here for a good length of time too, more than 10 years,” he says.

With the innocence of childhood, he never imagined that they would be parted. But by 1992, some of the children had begun to deteriorate – one by one, his friends began to die.

“It was difficult,” says Machado. “Each loss was like a dismembering, you know, physical… like a mutilation,” he says. “Now, there’s just two of us left – me and Eliana.”

Doctors don’t quite understand why the pair outlived their peers by so long, but now every day in the ward, Machado wakes up with his bed facing that of his remaining friend and lifelong neighbour, Eliana Zagui. He says their relationship is crucial. “Some people think we are like husband and wife, but we are more like brother and sister,” he says.

“Every day, when I wake up I have the certainty that my strength is over there – Eliana. And it’s reciprocated. I trust her and she trusts me.”

Despite this the two fight virtually every day, Machado says with a laugh. “I think that’s normal between brother and sisters or a couple. But it’s not an argument where one side feels offended, you end up reflecting and think, ‘OK, I forgive you’,” he says.