Post-Soviet Sojourn

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I heard one boy complain to the orphanage’s doctor that he was feeling under the weather, and the doctor replied, “Are you eating enough butter?” The same doctor helped us move into our accommodations when we arrived; he had converted the infirmary into a very nice sort of guest quarters for us.

He offered me some friendly advice: “You Americans eat too many vegetables. The Americans who came last year ate a lot of vegetables, and I told them the same thing I’ll tell you: You have to eat four kilograms of vegetables to get the same amount of vitamins as you get from one kilogram of meat.”

Another doctor instructed the orphanage’s psychologist to go barefoot all summer, which she did, so that she could “let all the harmful organisms in her body escape through the soles of her feet.”

The Rich Also Cry

The nurse at the orphanage seemed to treat all ailments with iodine. Lack of medical supplies was not the problem; we had brought great quantities. Still, when one young boy twisted his ankle, she painted the ankle with iodine, applied a loose bandage, and insisted he stand on it for an hour while she watched The Rich Also Cry, the 1970s Mexican soap opera that has gained a fanatical following in Russia (though most Russians appear to believe it’s an American show, and current, too).

But not all the doctors rely on folk remedies and traditions. Alexander, a doctor in the town’s infectious ward, was uniquely curious about Western medical and scientific techniques. The other medical personnel I had met didn’t express any interest, but Alexander often spoke to me of his desire to learn more. He craves knowledge and resources. When we met, he spoke to me of a worker at the orphanage who had lost the use of his arm in a motorcycle accident.

“The nerve was severed. In America they could fix that with microsurgery, but here such a thing doesn’t exist,” he lamented.

He wanted to learn about Western medical techniques, but had absolutely no idea where to find information. When I told him that the Journal of the American Medical Association now publishes a Russian version, he was astounded. He was likewise shocked when I let him know that The New York Times is available in Russian.

I tried to buy him subscriptions to these publications as gifts, but Russian bureaucracy made it impossible. One “periodicals bureau” controls all subscriptions in the country, and when I called they said that they only take subscriptions every six months, and that I had missed the cutoff for the next year. They suggested I call in the summer.

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