22 November 2006

I don't even know how to title this post, much less begin it. I guess I'll just have out with it: I got hit by a car on Monday night and broke my leg and now, after lying in a Russian hospital for just shy of 36 hours, I'm on my way home to have surgery and recover.

There's a lot more to the story than that, but I didn't want to keep you in unnecessary suspense. Now, let's continue, if you're interested in hearing more details.

So, Monday night Anya and I went to this AMAZING concert given by a folk orchestra from Yakutia that played both folk music and music composed for folk orchestra (two entirely different genres, as we found out). After the concert we decided to walk home, since the walk was only about 20 minutes through downtown and the buses are usually crowded. Right in the center of town, we stopped and waited to cross the street because the light was red. When the light turned (green for us, red for the cross traffic), I stepped out into the street. Here you need to understand Russian driving habits (and pedestrian habits) to understand my motivation. Russian drivers do not stop for pedestrians who are on the sidewalk waiting to cross; they only stop for pedestrians who step out in front of them. This is how you cross the street in Russia (especially where there's no traffic light) - you step out into traffic and wait for it to stop around you. Harrowing at first, but you adapt quickly. I guess I over-adapted, because I stepped out into the street even though one car for whom the light had turned red was still turning left and there was another car behind him. Unfortunately for me, the second car was not turning left and instead accelerated through the intersection and hit me. I remember all this quite distinctly. It went something like this:
Thought #1: They're not going to stop!
Thought #2: I'm on the hood! I'm not under the wheels!
Thought #3: Shit, I hit my head anyway. (Upon hitting the pavement when the car stopped.)
I also remember the thud my body made hitting the hood (an awful sound) and I remember feeling horror at the sound Anya made, although I don't remember what the sound was exactly. I think she yelled my name.

I sat up right away and also realized right away that I couldn't stand up, because my left leg really hurt. The driver and his wife got out of the car, other people got out of their cars and started yelling at the driver for running the red light, a woman started babbling at me in a completely unrecognizable language, and eventually I was put into the car that hit me and driven (with Anya) to a травмпункт (trauma point - a first-aid station). Friends were called, the driver's wife begged me not to file a police report, I was deposited on an x-ray table, etc. Laura, Mugi and Georgia showed up with my proof of insurance (and other such stuff that I technically should have been carrying with me) while, excuse the language, the quintessential asshole doctor x-rayed me:
Doctor, looking at x-ray: Господи! (God!)
Me: "Господи"?!? ("God"?!?)
Doctor: Ужас! (Awfulness!)
Me: Какой ужас? (What kind of awfulness?)
Doctor: Тихий ужас. (literally "Quiet awfulness", but I interpreted it to mean, "The "be quiet and don't get upset" kind of awfulness.")
He then left, leaving me stranded on the x-ray table with no information. No wonder he doesn't get to work in a real hospital.

So after waiting for an hour and a half for the ambulance (ironically called a скорая помощь - "fast help" - in Russian), during which time I learned that my knee was broken and that I would have to spend the night in a hospital, I got carted off to said hospital, where the real fun began.

Actually, I have next to nothing bad to say about the hospital. Everyone, both before and during this adventure, said that having to go to a Russian hospital is one of the worst things that can happen, but I can't say I see why. True, they are inefficient - I spent a lot of that night lying on stretchers in hallways waiting for stuff to happen - but everyone there was really, really nice and helpful. The doctors all did their best to make me understand exactly what was going on and repeatedly assured me that everything would be ok. I especially liked the guys who worked at night, wheeling me around and waiting with me as I lay in the aforementioned hallways on the aforementioned stretchers - they were fourth-year med students, about my age (med school starts right after high school in Russia), voluntarily working the night shift three times a week in addition to taking classes. They all liked to talk. I also liked the woman who cleaned my room, Albina. She was about sixty and knew more English than anyone else I met at the hospital. I asked her where she learned it and she told me, "In school I fooled around a lot. You see, I was a hooligan (Russians use this word - хулиган/khuligan - a lot more than we do). I had to sit through sixth grade twice. And I learned a lot of English those two years." I don't know if it's true, but at any rate she was quite funny. She popped in several times during my stay, apparently for no reason other than to try out her English skills on me.

My other favorite thing about the hospital was my pillowcase. It was white with a green crisscrossing vine pattern on it, and within the vines, every few inches or so, was printed МИНЗДРАВ - the acronym for the Russian Ministry of Health. I just found that really funny, so funny that I wanted to take it with me. But I didn't.

So anyway, I spent all of yesterday lying in my hospital bed in a single room (they gave me a single room, of course, because I am an American and therefore a celebrity) with a plaster cast on my leg. Throughout the day, as calls from the consulate and embassy poured in, I went from hoping I could just stay in Russia, to hoping I could get the surgery done in Russia and just go home for a few weeks for recovery, to being resigned to going home to get the surgery done and only returning after recovery. This was foisted on me by the consulate/embassy/Washington (I almost fell out of bed when the woman at the embassy said, "I'm going to call Washington and see what they think and then get back to you" - I had brief visions of the direct line from the Kremlin to the Oval Office), all of whom are, in my opinion, completely overreacting, showcasing the tiresomely typical "there's nothing good in Russia/Russia is dangerously backwards" mentality. But then, my friends all also thought I should go home for the surgery, so maybe I'm just biased because I liked the Russian doctors so much. (One good thing that came out of this, though, is that it has convinced me absolutely that I don't want to take the Foreign Service Exam and go into the Embassy/Consular section. My god, what bureaucracy.)

The surgery, incidentally, doesn't sound too bad. I have a plateau tibia fracture (I think that's what it's called), which means my tibia is broken right at the joint with the knee. There are two breaks that come together to form a V, and the reason surgery is required is because this type of fracture usually causes the bone to crumble to some extent, leading to a loss of bone volume that has to be replaced somehow. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, it hardly hurts at all, although it hurt a LOT when they drained the fluid out.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at 6 am, sore all over and tired of sleeping on my back, and called my mother, who filled me in on the fact that I would be leaving Vladivostok in 7 hours. After this a flurry of activity ensued, which involved packing by phone (that is, calling Laura and telling her what to pack me) and leaving in a rush with a lot of loose ends (e.g. my rent, the Institute of Foreign Languages possibly not knowing that I'm gone) untied. I don't know when I'm going back. I hope I am going back, and not just because I left a lot of my possessions there. To be honest, I'm pretty put out about the fact that I had to leave at all, and I hope to return as soon as possible after Christmas. Until then, if any of my readership is anywhere near north central Ohio, I expect a visit. I am an invalid, you know, and Norwalk is boring.

Incidentally, although I suspect no one actually read this far, my friends Anya, Laura, Mugi, Georgia and Celine all deserve many thanks for doing absolutely EVERYTHING for me, from bringing me food and water and books and clothes and toilet paper to packing for me to getting my insurance info to talking to the formidable LP to buying me a phone card to lending me their phones overnight because I couldn't call my parents on mine. Thanks, guys. I'll miss you all while I'm gone. Please eat the contents of my fridge and watch as many of my DVDs as you want!


Katie said...

Well, sorry that this is how you're coming home, but welcome home! I'm sure they will let you go back, and in the mean time, just think of all the family and American friends you'll get to see!
With much love, and high hopes for a quick and full recovery!

Jessica said...

oh man! what an unpleasant event, but at least a good story came out of it? I hope the pain of fluid draining is the worst of it, and that you get to get back to your adopted home soon.

Rosa said...

Yikes! I'm sorry, Leslie! But at least you'll be home for the holidays? I hope you feel better and get well soon!

Love, Rosa

Lisa said...

Leslie! Hope you're OK & recovering well @ home. So sorry that you had this happen. If you're looking for visitors in mid-Dec, let me know & I'll fly out there. :) Otherwise, you may (hypothetically, hehe) have a gift en route (now I don't feel so bad for sending it so early) which I hope will cheer you up. *HUGS* Feel better!

<3, L

Bolot said...

Hi, Leslie.

Hope you're doing well now.

I am from Yakutia.

You wrote, "Monday night Anya and I went to this AMAZING concert given by a folk orchestra from Yakutia that played both folk music and music composed for folk orchestra (two entirely different genres, as we found out)."

I wonder whether you remember the name of the folk orchestra from region.

Leslie said...

I think it was just called Государственный оркестр Якутии.

Bolot said...

Leslie, thanks and for your comment on my blog as well.