I believe I am the first of this year’s Fulbrighters to see the Russian medical system from the inside. It’s some kind of status symbol that I never, ever wanted. I’m sure the rest of them will start joining the noble ranks of fallen Fulbrighters shortly– flu season is upon us. 

While some people spent their Mondays drinking coffee, complaining about the workweek, or rushing to get last-minute lesson plans or projects put together, I spent mine passing out and then being rushed to the poliklinika by Anna and Nathan. Anna, it turns out, had just returned from vacation (like, she was pulling into the station when we called her), and she had to leave the next morning for a conference in Moscow, but she still made time to call a taxi, ride with us to the doctor, interpret for me throughout the 2.5-hour visit, bring me sick-person food, and make me cranberry compote (the panacaea of Russian folk tradition). 

At first, she wanted us to call an ambulance. We assured her that wasn’t necessary. Then she wanted us to call the doctor for a house visit (the art of the house visit is not yet dead here). We requested that she please please please not make us do that, since it would require us to clean the entire apartment, and although I didn’t feel great, I was ready to be OUT OF THIS AWFUL YELLOW ROOM I’D SPENT 3 DAYS COOPED UP IN (disclaimer: our room is not awful unless you spend excessive amounts of time as its prisoner; only then do you realize that there are BARS OVER THE WINDOWS so you can’t even see outside properly). 

So here’s how it went down. 

Anna called her ex-doctor, who happens to be a friend, to see if she would see us without making us wait in line or schedule an appointment. She said that would be fine, just to go straight up to her office without checking in, passing go, or collecting 6295.34 rubles, so we hopped in the cab and drove over to Poliklinika № 1. 

Hospitals are depressing. There’s no way around it. In America, they try to cover it up with pictures of fish (live ones, not filets) and “cafes”, but even then, they’re the least pleasant place a law-abiding, modern citizen could possibly spend time. In Russia, exactly no effort is expended to make the place look more comfortable, and yet it’s no less comfortable than an American hospital. My takeaway from this is that hospital decorations are a lost cause.

So we went up to the office, and there were 3 people waiting outside our doctor’s office. They got into a rather heated argument with Anna, because Anna wanted me to go first (as the doctor had agreed), and these people, understandably, didn’t think that was fair (I didn’t think it was fair, either, but nobody complains about injustice in their favor). Anyway, they argued, I pretended not to speak Russian at all, and eventually we went in. 

We did the talky doctor thing for 30 minutes or so, and then I was sent off for a blood test to confirm that I had the flu. Anna and I visited three different offices that all said things like  “diagnostics,” “blood taken here,” and “medical analysis”, but the people in each kept sending us other places. Finally, they said to go through the airlock (!?), and that the people there would take care of us. There were no people through the airlock. We knocked, rang, hallooed, hollered, and finally gave up and camped out in another office until someone finally came, pricked my finger (ow), squeezed and tapped and huffed and puffed until the beaker was full, and then let us go.

The rest of the appointment mostly consisted of trying to get in touch with the doctor’s daughter, also a doctor, but who had studied in the US and spoke medical English. Unfortunately, the walls are so thick that it wound up taking at least 45 minutes to get in touch with her. 

I was prescribed the following things:

strong tea

cranberry compote

dried bread (they don’t have toast, so you buy dried bread in bags)

weak broth without skin in it (who puts skin in broth?)

“probiotics” taht were later revealed to be some kind of enzyme, not a bacteria at all.

very salty rice.

The doctor tried to convince me to stay in the hospital so they could watch my diet, to which I replied with an emphatic NO WAY JOSE. Then they tried to convince me to get an IV put in to take home with me.  I can’t imagine trying to get that home by taxi.