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Health Special

Medical Treatment
Geoffrey Cox OBE

uring my 16 years living in Moscow, I enjoyed a number of interesting experiences with the Russian medical services.

The first I remember was in 1993 and not all that encouraging. I was taken to the eye hospital by Russian colleagues and being the only foreigner there was moved immediately to the front of the queue. I tried to explain to the doctor that I thought it was only a cold that I had. “I am the doctor,” he replied, “and I shall decide what is wrong with you.” After he had examined my eye, I was given some liquid in an already used medicine bottle plugged with what looked suspiciously like a cork from a wine bottle, with instructions to bathe my eye in the purple contents.

A while later, a scan was organised for me at the hospital patronised at that time by Mr Yeltsin. When I was actually in the room with the equipment being prepared for the scan, a smart looking Russian lady was brought in. She did not appear too pleased to see me and after a short discussion with my doctor, he told me that I should have to wait until she had had her scan first as she had paid more than me!

My next contact came much later, sometime around the beginning of the century. I needed my hip and knees xrayed. So I went to the clinic in the hospital at Octyabersky Poli, reporting at 10 o’clock in the morning, that being the time advertised for the commencement of x-rays. A short discussion with the receptionist revealed that I would need to have five x-rays taken. The price quoted was the rouble equivalent of £5. I went immediately to the cashier at the next desk and paid this sum, whereupon the nurse led me to the x-ray suite. There, a number of other patients were waiting who obviously came from the hospital itself. Nevertheless I was immediately invited into the x-ray room where the five x-rays were taken. I was then asked to wait outside. However, very quickly I was summoned in to see the bone specialist who showed me what was wrong with my hip and the consequent arthritis in my knees on the x-rays and handed me a handwritten report on my condition, in Russian naturally, together with the x-rays to take away with me. When I got back to my car afterwards I was amazed to discover that only 40 minutes had elapsed since my arrival at the clinic. I still have the 5% discount card I was given by the clinic on that occasion.

On another visit to the clinic for a heart consultation, the very beautiful red-headed consultant stood so close in listening to my heartbeats that she very nearly spoiled everything by giving me palpitations! When I warned her of this, she replied with a knowing smile, saying, “My husband is also a parachutist.” I still have a recommendation for a pacemaker which they could not supply.

Several years later when my artificial hip was giving me serious trouble, a friend organised an appointment with the leading traumatologist who looked after the Russian national ice hockey team. This took place in the aptly named Number 1 Hospital. He was a remarkably kind and thoughtful person, though alas there appeared to be no satisfactory solution to my problem. However, returning from showing the x-ray to the consultant in charge of the medical school there, he did ask if the professor could keep the x-rays on my artificial hip to show his students as they had never seen such an old hip replacement before. I had been fitted with it in 1983 when I left the Army. It was their parting gift to compensate for a parachute accident sustained when jumping with French Special Forces in 1976.

Alas, the condition of my hip replacement and my arthritic knees has now reduced me to using elbow crutches. So now I live a quiet life in rural Dorset, but maintaining my Russian contacts as best I can. The picture shows me attending the Russian victory Day celebration held on 9 May this year on HMS Belfast, the cruiser which escorted the first convoy to Murmansk in 1941.

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