Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Flashback Friday: Escape from a Russian Hospital

Sorry, kids - Refried Flashback Friday again this week. Fortunately, it's a good one: Escape from a Russian Hospital, originally published October 17, 2008.

This Friday's flashback is actually a guest post from my brother-in-law. Last week we had a story from Jeremy on his mission; this week we have one of his brother, Scott, also on his mission, also in Russia. It's one of my all-time favorite mission stories, so I'm happy to have it featured here today. Here is his flashback in his own words, marking the first time the word "crap" has appeared as a verb on My Adventures in Tucson, at least to my knowledge.

"Below is the story of how I contracted food poisoning in Russia, visited a Russian hospital, and ultimately escaped from that hospital. This story is not for the faint of heart: graphic portrayals of the body attempting to cleanse itself of that which never should be eaten follow. Consider yourself warned.

"One November afternoon at an open-air Russian market in the city of Orenburg, my friend and I were buying groceries. Before heading home, we decided to get a bite to eat. I was craving shish kebabs. After much searching in the cold November air, we came across a vendor with a few shish kebabs remaining. The only problem was that they looked old. And there were flies. I didn’t care then. I was ready to eat. So I did.

"No signs of sickness surfaced until later that evening, when the vomiting and diarrhea came (often at the same time). I was up all night vomiting and crapping. I was too sick to do anything the next day, including eating or drinking. I tried a number of American and Russian remedies, but none of them offered any relief.

"After 30 hours without any fluids, I resolved to get help. I first attempted to phone an American doctor stationed in Moscow, but he was out of the country and unreachable. After consulting the missionary health manual and discussing my condition with friends, I decided to seek local medical attention.

"Upon arrival at the local hospital, I was admitted to a triage room. After 30 minutes of waiting, a doctor called me back to an examination room and promptly told me to bend over because he was going to do what I refer to as “check my oil.” Up to that time, I had never had my oil checked and I vowed right then and there for obvious reasons never to have it checked again. After that procedure, and after I explained my symptoms, the doctor decided to admit me to the hospital as a patient. At that point, my Russian friend and my missionary friend who had accompanied me bid me farewell and I was on my own, which is a strange feeling for an LDS missionary, because we are always with at least one other person.

"After saying goodbye, a nurse directed me to my room on the second floor. Being the ignorant American that I am, I expected to have my own private room. In that I was disappointed. I was led to a cold, green-tiled shared room with about 17 other Russian men. They were lying in metal beds along either side of the room. Many of them looked seriously ill or injured (several were sporting major bandages); all of them appeared utterly shocked at my presence. I had been conversing with the nurse on the way into the room and the Russians immediately picked up on my accent (which I never even got close to mastering). All eyes were on me. The nurse instructed me to undress down to my underwear and to climb onto the gurney that had been placed in the middle of the room. I complied except that, when I climbed onto the gurney, it collapsed.

"After successfully fixing and then mounting the gurney, I lay there in my underwear for all to observe until a couple of other nurses came in to wheel me into what looked like an operating room. In that room, about seven other nurses and one man in a white overcoat were waiting for me. Once inside, the man explained that he was going to “have a look inside me,” as he was pulling a black snake-like cable out of a briefcase. A nurse gave me a plastic doughnut-shaped device for my mouth, and the man started to slide the black cable apparatus down my throat. When the end of the apparatus touched the back of my throat, and then on each successive push of the hose, I puked, hard. The first time I puked, I grabbed the snake and tried to pull it out, only to have the nurses rush to my side and hold my arms down. I remember distinctly thinking that I had never had it worse in my life.

"The doctor found nothing and I returned to my shared room. This time I had a bed. Throughout the night, nurses attended to me and requested various samples. First it was a urine sample. Later, at about 2:00 a.m., it was a stool sample. For the latter, a nurse brought in a cup that was slightly smaller than a shot glass. I reluctantly complied and got up from my bed to visit the men’s room down the hall. A nurse intercepted me in the hallway and demanded that I provide the stool sample from my own bed. At this point I had almost had enough. I recited to her the laundry list of humiliations that I had already gone through that night and I made it clear to her that under no circumstances was I going to provide a stool sample in a shot glass in my bed in front of 17 other Russian men who had seemingly stayed up late so as not to miss a second of my performance. After delivering the stool sample—in the men’s room—I made no extra effort to wipe the shot glass clean.

"Upon my return to the room, another doctor was there waiting to upset my vow made only hours before against having my oil checked. This dipstick returned once again.

"After that, the dark cloud thinned. I had brought with me to the hospital a liter box of apple juice and, at about 3:00 am, I was starting to hold it down. I started myself on a controlled regiment of gradually increased amounts of juice and, by 5:30, I was feeling better.

"At 7:00 am, I was startled when a nurse placed a pillow over my head and a row of ultra-violet lights on either side of the room was turned on for a 10-minute period. The other patients had dark goggles.

"At 8:00, I was summoned to an examination room, in which I encountered a line of about six Russians waiting to have their blood drawn. Although using clean needles for each patient, the nurse wore no gloves, and she was visibly getting blood on her hands. She would wipe that blood off on a towel and then call for the next patient. When it was my turn, I asked the nurse what was going to happen to me next. She was uncertain, but she indicated that my stomach would most likely be examined again. This meant that I would be reacquainted with the black snake. It was then I decided to escape from the hospital.

"I grabbed my only possessions—my slippers, a toothbrush, and my glasses, and I started looking for an escape route. My room was located near a small stairwell, and, after checking down both sides of the hallway to see if I was clear, I made a dash for it. The hallway led to a courtyard in the back of the hospital. I could see no one out there, so I proceeded outside. Luckily, the courtyard was not fenced in, and it led around to the front. There, I hailed a cab (which, in Russia, consists of virtually any private driver), and was driven back to my apartment. I didn’t tell the driver that I had no money.

"Once I was at my apartment, I told the driver that I had escaped from the hospital and had no money but that my friend had plenty upstairs. He reluctantly agreed to wait while I went upstairs for the fare. The door was locked. I sheepishly returned to the cab and promised him that, if he returned later in the day, I would have his fare. By now the driver had lost his trust in me, so he uttered a few choice Russian curse words and drove away.

"I was left to sit in the dark, cold stairwell until my friend returned. He did about an hour later and my long, dark night had at last come to an end."

Thanks, Scott! I hope you can take comfort in the fact that years later, we all got a good laugh at the expense of your misery.

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Idaho to Oregon