David Ford’s Life Saved in Moscow
David Ford has been in Russia for four normal years, and 2010. He has a Russian fiancée, Tanya, and works as an interior designer and builder. Habitues of the British Business Club know David through his active participation in various events such as the village fete, Trafalgar Ball and not least, making mince pies. This winter a wall collapsed on him, and he was taken to a number of Russian hospitals for treatment. He is still alive if not yet quite kicking and typically jovial when recounting the tale:
The Passport Interview: John Harrison talks to David Ford,
Moscow resident, Yorkshireman, builder and survivor
14 January 2010. We were doing a ‘remont’ out in Kurkina, taking down a solid concrete partition wall: 30cm thick, 2.5m high and 6m long. We started really well. It had all the necessary rebar [reinforcement bars] and mesh reinforcements. We got to the last metre, and there was nothing there, no rebar, no reinforcement, nothing. It was held in by foam filler. As soon as we hit it, it all fell down. Being a big guy, I wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way, so a moment later I was laid under five tons of concrete, conscious. My head had split wide open and my foot was smashed and pierced by a piece of rebar. Luckily it didn’t break any bones. My labourer was in the next room, so he wasn’t hit. He almost fainted when he saw me, but ripped my shirt and bandaged my head with it. I phoned Tania, my better half. She told me afterwards that I said: “I’m sorry love, I’ve had an accident.” She thought I was joking, and told me she wasn’t in the mood. I passed out. Six minutes later, I could hear Tanya shouting: “David, David”. Then Stanislav my labourer spoke to her. It was instinct to phone her first. She told him to phone an ambulance, which I did. I told Stanislav not to move anything in case any bones were broken. The ambulance crew came in and I just burst out laughing. I said “Look at the ambulance crew! Two small women. How in God’s name are you going to move all this concrete and get me out from the third floor?” I’m no lightweight. But the girls were really efficient. I gave Stanislav money to go outside and get more help.
How long did you have to wait for the ambulance?
It was quite good, under 20 minutes. They were so efficient, and were straight in with morphine. All the skin had pulled away where the concrete hit me. I did have a hat on, not a hard one obviously. I didn’t know I had split my skull, my foot was hurting worse. They pulled the bar out of my foot, it was agony, but eased once they had removed it. Then my head started hurting. I remember one of them saying “you’ve just been through a trauma, and you’re still quite humorous”. They got this big inflatable rubber thing, I remember asking if I was going rafting. They rolled me to one side then the other, and it’s getting tighter and tighter on me. Then they put the poles through the thing; I couldn’t move. It was like a cocoon, I was there, rigid, oozing with blood. Stanislav came up with four big men, one of whom was sick when he saw me there.
This is the first time that I’ve ever had any medical problems. I am not insured for Russia. You hear so many stories about how bad the medical services are. Botkinskaya hospital is one of the oldest here. It was originally a paupers hospital, and my first impression wasn’t very good either. As hospitals go, I can’t say I’ve seen worse. You’re laying on your back and you see the ceiling is falling down, the walls are terrible and cockroaches roam the floor, but the treatment was excellent. They gave me a brain scan (found nowt) and x-rayed me, then Tanya arrived at the hospital in tears. I was in a ward with lot of young Georgians with neurological problems. I remember a doctor measured the wound in my head with a ruler.
You are saying that the medical treatment was first class, despite all the primitive techniques?
They took me to the theatre where they injected novocaine into my head, plated it and sewed it up. An Asian doctor could speak a little English. He told me exactly what he was doing. The operating theatre was spotless, a bit primitive, but they did their job. Tanya took two weeks off work. She was my angel, she was there from 9am to 9pm every day. She brought me food, super. All they did with my foot was put some blue liquid over it to seal and dry the wound, as we were in the neurological department and they don’t ‘do’ feet.
A nurse wheeled me across the road to another building in the snow for a scan on the 15th. I thought I was going home. But it was ten days before I could even sit up. Even now, if I sit up suddenly, my head spins. I left the hospital on the 27th January. I was beginning to get a bit of pain in my foot. On the 4th February, my foot started swelling. At the local polyclinic the surgeon took one look at my foot and said that I’d got an infection. The polyclinic was spotless, I was very impressed. The surgeon injected my foot with novocaine and started cleaning out my foot. Tanya was absolutely sick. There was a hole the size of a golf ball when the doctor had cut out all the puss. I had to go back there every two days, at Rb.7000 each visit, for more dressings and injections.
Was it a smooth recovery?
No! It started to look better, but on 6th March my whole leg swelled double size from my thigh downward, and my temperature hit 39o. We went to the local hospital, Federal no. 82, where the doctor said I should go into hospital. We said we can’t afford it, having already spent Rb.80,000, using up all our savings. So the doctor said that we could try it for a week at home. Tanya said she injected her dog and cat, so she could do those! Instead of getting up at 7am for work, she nursed me from 6am, came home at 9.30pm and not to bed before 11pm. She did everything, gave me blanket baths which I enjoyed, she was an angel. We had to go back for a scan, which showed that I had deep vein thrombosis in my leg caused by the trauma, which is why my foot wasn’t healing. The blood clot was floating. I’ve only got one lung, and the doctor said to me that I must go into hospital. You cannot walk or go to the toilet. Under any stress this clot could have a champagne bottle effect and go straight to the heart or lung and kill me. Next we found out that they couldn’t accept foreigners because it’s a Federal hospital. The only option was back to Botkinskoe. No! He said that there is a diplomatic department there. Why wasn’t I told that the first time?
Once there, they said I must have an operation, but not there, because the diplomatic section is under renovation. Tanya hinted that we have the papers to show that there was something wrong with their treatment last time, which scared them. They couldn’t do the operation, so we started to phone around and we were still there at 11.30pm. Then a doctor said that an ambulance is going to take you to the Sklifosovsky hospital. By then I was in quite a lot of agony. The ambulance crew were very good. They gave me an injection to stop me going to the toilet, and strapped my legs together so that I couldn’t move them. My legs looked as though they belonged to two different bodies. The vascular surgeon, Dr. Yevgeny Kungurtsev was absolutely superb and spoke a bit of English. They operated on me the next day.
A corner of Botkinskaya hospital
‘The Skif’ is absolutely first class. Spotless. I was made to feel so welcome. The nursing staff, were all so friendly. They all tried to speak a bit of English. Tanya couldn’t take any more time off work, but she was there every morning and evening. The surgeon asked me if I was ready. I said “yes, just put me to sleep and let’s go”. He said “oh no, you’re not going to sleep. We need you awake to help”. A beautiful nurse injected me five times in the base of my spine. I felt the numbness working up my body and going numb. It was quite strange. The operation to remove the clot lasted about one hour and twenty minutes. Then he wiggled this thing in front of me, honest to God, it was eleven centimetres long, jet black and as thick as my finger. I said put it in a jar and I’ll have it later. Yevgeny said that it could have shot up to my heart at any moment, and I would have been dead within minutes, and that would have been that. He had saved my life.
Again, money was a worry, but David Morley borrowed Rb.60,000 to pay for the hospital straight away, and then a whip round at the British Business Club raised the money to pay that back, so I found out later. The morning before I was due to leave, I felt a tremendous pain in my heart. The doctor told me I had pneumonia. With only one lung this was serious. So, another five days, with antibiotics up the backside.
I left the Skif finally on the 30th March. I’ve got another three months on all sorts of tablets. But I know that I’m on the mend, and in a while I’ll be able to start work again. I’m incredibly grateful to Tanya and to all the people I know and I don’t know who have helped me through this. The Russian hospitals were great. I would use Russian medicine again. I cannot praise the staff of these places enough. The Skif medical staff were unbelievable. I wouldn’t have any hesitation, apart from the awful food: you can’t eat the mashed potato with a fork. It’s kasha for breakfast, kasha for tea.