Russia: Stories From a St. Petersburg Hospital

LJ user aneta-spb, a St. Petersburg journalist of Belarusian descent, is busy taking care of her 21-year-old son now, who is in the hospital with a broken spine. Below is the translation of some of aneta-spb‘s hospital notes (RUS) – taken in the city that, among other things, will be hosting a G8 Summit July 15-17.

Both aneta_spb and her son were in Minsk during the presidential election and the protests that followed, and she covered much of it on her blog and in other media.

April 30, 2006:

A person who was safe and sound after the March 19-25 events in Minsk, stumbles on a flat spot in St. Petersburg and gets a spine trauma. […]

He is in Maximilianovskaya [hospital], and it's necessary to visit him. Not that I'm needed there all the time – he gets tired himself, gets sleepy. So sad – he couldn't wait for spring and now he'll have to spend two weeks lying on his back and then two weeks lying on his stomach… This is what we've been told, though there's only been one x-ray done and a doctor on duty looked at it then, on Friday evening. Saturday, Sunday, Monday – there'll be no doctor. I don't understand how this can be – a spinal injury, three days is too long!

I made cutlets yesterday and went to visit him.

This is not the worst hospital. It doesn't stink in the room, at least…

A room for five people, one bed's empty. Gloomy men of various ages lie either with broken legs suspended or simply on their backs. In the room for those who can't move, there's no bell to summon the personnel. The door is wide open and this is understandable. First, to yell and be heard in case something happens (this, I guess, is problematic, however – the post is far away and the nurses’ room is all the way around the corner); second, it works like air conditioning. No way to open the window – because they can't move. And because one bed is underneath the window and the person there can catch a cold.

Mityay has just recovered from a severe cold, he has running nose and cough, and it hurts him to cough. I went to ask the nurse for some nasal drops and [a cough medicine]. I was ready to pay for this “service.” But they don't have any drops or syrups. They also don't have any camphora alcohol to prevent bedsores. But I've got it with me. As well as a cup, a spoon, toilet paper (thank God, they have sheets – in the children's hospital […] they once made us bring that, too).


What shocked me. I used to be a nurse in the neurosurgery department. […] Beds were the same, bedside tables were as inconvenient, there was the same lack of everything. Including the personnel – people worked in two places at the same time. But… In the mornings we were going from room to room (pardon me for being prosaic) with a jar of water with manganese solution […], washed the patients, wiped them to prevent bedsores. Nurses didn't relax at work, to smoke a quick cigarette in the bathroom was considered luck and rest. No one was giving me tips […], but my patients’ relatives, on departure, often gave me chocolates, sometimes a can of caviar, flowers – and I used to take it because it wasn't a bribe, it was real gratitude.

And here…

Still, while I worked in neurosurgery, I was also an intern in what's now called Mariinka. They had a different approach there. They didn't preoccupy themselves with bed sheets, for example. In Polenova we used to wash sheets at night (there were paralyzed people there, defecating right underneath themselves). In Kuibyshevka their principle was – if there are no clean sheets, they can do without clean sheets.

But now, I think, idleness has been given a complete carte blanche. No funding, small salaries – so they can sit around and do nothing. No funding – they can do without camphora alcohol and without doctors on weekends…

And the bedside table! A person who can't move will not be able to reach for its drawer to get what he needs!

Not long ago, our healthcare officials were saying on the radio that hospitals have all the medicines and if something's not available, the hospital will reimburse the patient's relatives if they bring a receipt…

I would have hung [those officials] on the first tree – or placed them in this [hospital] room…

But for now I have to work on Mityay's recovery. I feel helpless – what can I do – there's no doctor till May 2…

May 1, 2006 (1):

In the Soviet time, I was an in-patient at the traumatology department […]. In general, the hospital was no better. A drunk doctor, lazy nurses. In our room for people who couldn't move, an old woman with a broken hip died – she had bedsores, she rarely had visitors, it smelled bad in the room. The old woman lied dead for a few hours before my classmates came to visit me and went looking for the staff. I wanted to smoke very much, and when I did light up under the blanket, the other old women said, “Go on smoking, daughter, let there be human smell in here at least…”


Now we are told to bring not just our own cup but a SPOON, too. Why? Because if they were giving their own spoons, they'd have to WASH them afterwards. And now, theoretically, it's the patient's visitors who are doing this. But visitors aren't staying 24 hours in [the traumatology department] – the patients here aren't recovering from strokes… Relatives come at dinner time – and wash the spoon. And it'll stay unwashed for breakfast and for lunch.


May 1, 2006 (2) – in this entry, aneta_spb has posted pictures of her son and others in the hospital:

This is a hospital in the center of St. Petersburg. […] The patients’ sad faces – and it's not a hospice, it's people with broken legs or backs… Bedpan and a cup with urine test – next to the food products.

And the orange balloon that Mityay is blowing – it's not a revolutionary project. It's a recommendation of my Belarusian sister (she, of course, meant balloons of any color, but I didn't find the blue ones in nearby stores and bought some orange): it's necessary to blow balloons or rubber toys to ventilate the lungs to avoid hypostatic pneumonia.


May 2, 2006:


Yesterday, a male nurse, a pretty active one, by the way – he even enters rooms and advises relatives on what medicines to buy [the hospital does not provide medicines] – he said an amazing thing. I asked why [female] nurses wore dirty shirts over white robes and visited patients only if, according to these very nurses, “they pooped on themselves or called.” The male nurse said, “They are our golden reserves! If she quits, do you expect me to empty bedpans?..” (I think that this “golden reserve” – aged over 60 – can be easily intimidated by a perspective of losing her job.)

But here's what's really funny. He showed me a guy from our room and said: “He calls me at my post from his cell phone if he needs a nurse, and I go and look for the nurse, and then she takes away his bedpan…”

This is something, people. To call a stationary phone from your cell phone – you're spending your money on it (in addition to all other hospital expenses). The way it works: you call this male nurse from your cell. He looks for the nurse in a dirty shirt who sleeps or eats peacefully in some corner…


Thank you all for moral support.

Here's a moving story, by the way. Azerbaijanis from a store in our building basically forced me to take a carton of juice and dessert – for Mitya: “Such a good boy, here is from us to him. How can it be: some drunk fool falls and doesn't get hurt at all, and to the good ones such trouble happens…”

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