Friday, May 13, 2016

A trip to the Russian trauma center

Last month, we had a church retreat. Amidst heightened emotions, some discussions were started that prompted church-wide prayer meetings to be held the following week.

I attended one of the prayer meetings, and found many prayers being lifted up for the elders of the church (Andrei et al) and their families. Prayers for protection against sickness, discouragement, and temptation. I was touched because I guess I don't often think of our family in terms of spiritual warfare. When we face challenges, to me it's more of a opportunity for personal spiritual growth, and I don't always think of it being a threat to our ministry. But of course much of what God does starts right in our own homes with our own families and roommates.

Let's see how that works...

The next day, David and I were sitting at the kitchen table watching a kids' show so that Andrei could do some work for a radio ministry. One minute we were sitting side by side, and the next minute David was suddenly under the table! He slipped on the chair's soft cover and slid right down. He has actually fallen several times, but this time he collided with the table's wooden pedestal, very hard and sharp-edged. He could have cracked his head open, but came up holding his shoulder.

I knew there could be a serious injury, but he stopped crying within a few minutes. And there was no blood! To me it was a miracle that his head and neck were okay. I had to think about the prayer covering and this a challenge to our family's ministry? Or a reminder that angels are watching over us? He's only 3.5, but there have been many times when he could have been hurt worse.

It was really hard to determine the extent of David's injuries because he is normally hyper-aware of his body. Another time he had fallen (from the same chair!) and gotten a scratch on his pinky. He was so scared when he saw a little blood! And he favored that finger for days, holding it up in the air. So here we thought that anyone would be a little sore after a similar fall. I even made him some Play-Dough to take his mind off it, and he used both arms/hands, but would periodically start crying, "my arm still hurts!" And he moped about. But then he would be fine for a while.

We got ready for bed, but in the middle of the night he woke up crying that it hurt to lie in a certain position, and he couldn't really turn over by himself. So we knew that we'd be headed to the doctor in the morning.

The hunt for a doctor

A lot of private clinics have cropped up in St. Petersburg over the last several years. It can be quite convenient to just look up the closest one and call and make an appointment. However, I'd been counting extended hours as one of the perks of private medical care, but we've been finding that in some cases the specialists actually work FEWER hours. We were all excited about the fancy new western-style clinic down the street, but a few times now it hasn't had appointments available when we've needed them. Here Andrei spent quite a bit of time calling around to area hospitals. The fancy new clinic gave us an appointment at the trauma center, but then admitted that there were no pediatric specialists on duty. Another was closed. Finally Andrei found a trauma center near us that could admit us quickly.

I remembered breaking my collarbone at age 7, and one of the worst parts was getting a turtleneck over my head to do the x-rays. So we carefully dressed David in a button-down shirt and sweater.

When the doctor on duty called us into the room, David was very quiet at first. The doctor moved his arm around, and everything was fine! David said that it didn't hurt. But then we found the trouble spot, and the doctor said that the collarbone was suspect. An x-ray confirmed a small fracture.

I wasn't too worried about the collarbone as I'd had the same injury! There was no displacement, and children's bones heal quickly, as the doctor also mentioned. I pictured a soft sling as I'd worn in my day. But the doctor wasn't a pediatrician and wouldn't even bind David's arm (which we respected). He gave us a referral to a prolific (state-run) children's hospital in order to get a second opinion.

Next stop of the day

Visiting the neighborhood trauma center was convenient, but now we had to get to the center of the city to the hospital. We could have taken a taxi, but I honestly wouldn't have wanted to torture David with car seat straps in his condition. We were already at the metro anyway and Nina had come to join us. I will say that the situation in the metro was a bit discouraging, as no one wanted to give up their seat. We had a pregnant woman, older woman, and small child. But everyone sits there staring at the floor or pretending to be asleep. Finally I unzipped my jacket, went over, and stuck my stomach in the face of some young adults who were sitting down listening to music on each other's earphones. One of them got up and I was feeling emboldened, so asked if the other could get up, too. Made room for Nina and then David sat with us and fell asleep.

Andrei carried the sleeping patient in his arms all the way to the hospital. Nina went and scouted everything out. David doesn't have an insurance card, so is a paying patient, so that meant going in a special line. Nina was in there for hours and I thought she was just waiting to pre-pay. But it turned out that there were actually separate examination rooms, so after you paid they sent the doctor in. David took a nice long nap while we were waiting.

This time I had coached him a bit to actually show the doctor where it hurt. "This arm is good, and this arm is bad! This one hurts...this one DOESN'T hurt," he said in Russian. The doctor took some gauze and started wrapping it around David's chest so that the arm was pinned to his stomach. Then we were supposed to go for x-rays every 5 days and change the bandage every 7 days, or something.

After the first night, David's collarbone seemed to not bother him at all. He did seem a little bit traumatized after the event, and even a little sick. We all were traumatized, to be honest. The funny thing was that as soon as we told David to be careful, he turned into a rough-and-tumble kid! Climbing on furniture, bouncing on (and falling off of) exercise balls, etc. Sometimes we let the injured hand peek out, and he went right into doing things with two hands. And insisting that he do things himself. Just took an injury to get the motivation!

Having skin wrapped against skin didn't end up being a good situation, as that site got very irritated, and was starting to form sores within a few days. With the gauze unraveling, we finally just took off the bandage, did another version as best we could, and headed to another trauma center for the follow-up x-ray.


Not so fast...another opinion! This doctor advised against x-rays (unnecessary exposure), and presented a whole new way of immobilizing the collarbone: a device that in the U.S. is known as a "figure-8" brace. It kind of holds the shoulders up and back. He sent us off to buy one but we were torn as to whether it was the right choice or not. Even emailed with a pediatrician in the U.S. who said small children normally didn't like being restrained anyway. We ended up getting one, but felt that the bone might have healed without it.

For the final check, we decided to go back where we started, with the trauma doctor we had liked. He was shocked that the other doctor had refused to do an x-ray! We did an x-ray and he said there was even a slight angle, maybe due to the figure-8 brace, but that it would heal fine. We wore the brace a few more days and were done.

It's hard to believe that it's been slightly over a month since David first broke his collarbone, as life is already back to normal. He never really favored his injured side, so no problems readapting. Children really do heal quickly!


  1. Well, that sounds like an adventure! Not one I'd care to experience, though. Monica's latest injury was dropping a family-sized can of tuna on her bare toe. Most accidents do happen at home, I guess.

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