September 8, 2008

Sprained on the First Day

Well, Amsterdam and Paris went off without so much as hitch, but due to some family curse, I sprained my ankle my first day in St. Petersburg. Unlike my mother when she sprained her ankle in Petersburg, I cried like a baby.* Luckily, my host parents are both doctors and Mom took great care of me in the hotel. We even managed to track down some crutches from an аптека (“apteka,” drugstore) using my elementary vocabulary.

My arrival to my new home on Suvorovsky Prospekt went smoothly. Mom and I had чай (“chai,” tea) with the Chernykhs (my host family) and we all managed to tell an absurd amount of stories—quite a feat considering the language barrier. The vast majority somehow had something to do with shooting guns, beer, and cowboys—an occupational hazard of Texans abroad. By the time we finished saying our goodbyes to Mom, it was already late and time to go to bed. Before going to sleep, though, Andrei (my host father) gave me shots of some form of pain medicine for my sprained ankle in my butt. The mystery of Russia begins… The next morning Natalya (my host mother) and Andrei took me to the hospital for x-rays, to check to see if I had a fracture.

Bizarre experience.

Both the hospital interior and exterior seemed to be made entirely of marble with 30 ft ceilings, creating a mausoleum atmosphere. You could hear a pin drop. That meant that every hobbled step I took across the huge foyer annoyed everyone waiting.  The reception area was nearly empty except for two other patients who looked like they had been waiting for an eternity. I felt eyes piercing into the back of my head when I was called before them. (This was probably a result of the Monopoly-style “skip the line” pass I somehow got because I am American with American insurance.) The wait was still pretty long, though, with lots of paperwork. Every page of the patient questionnaire had to be stamped in the corner with an official insignia and signed by some bureaucrat. I guess hospitals everywhere suffer from this phenomenon. There just seemed to be a lot more stamping than usual. It was borderline comical.

Once I was finally taken into the exam room, I was not greeted by the usual puppies or smiling children that seem to live on hospital walls. No, the walls here all had eerily abstracted photographs of organs, intestines, etc. all taken with a macro lens. Someone’s attempt at abstract art for a hospital, I suppose. I would have much rather preferred the cheesiness of kittens over dark closeups of brains as I sat and waited for my x-ray по-русский (“po-Russkiy,” Russian-style). Luckily, I’m excellent at charades and we finished up around noon. I was finally able to meet up with the rest of the Vassar group for a bus tour of the city.

The rest of the day was pretty typical except for our outstanding supper. So much food! So much conversation! My first pickle as a vodka chaser! Yes, that is a milestone. No turning back now. It was a blast and I enjoyed getting to meet all the new faces who are joining me in this crazy adventure. We’ll start classes Tuesday so I’m sure there will be much more to write about then.

P.S. No fracture.


*My mom sprained her ankle in Russia circa 1993. Not speaking the language, she just laced up her boots really tightly and smiled through the pain. Thus, the lack of sympathy from Mom.