Monday, November 11, 2019

Roommates, Part 1

A year ago, I was sick with appendicitis, which was hard to diagnose and difficult to recover from! You can look through my "appendicitis" posts and read more about it.

There are a few more things I was going to share about my hospital stay, and one of those topics is my Russian hospital roommates. I had trouble finding the time to write this post because I had so many different roommates during my 2-week stay, so it will take some time to describe them all! I ended up having to split it into two posts.

Getting Admitted

As soon as I was admitted to the ward, I got that "summer camp" feeling. Let me explain: in my teen and young adult years I spent each summer in a Russian summer camp with American mission teams. And Russian hospital wards give me that same kind of feeling: the worn but crisply ironed bedding on the creaky mattress, the rules and daily schedule, the cafeteria food, and the communal environment!

I already explained a little bit about my 3 roommates when I first arrived on that Friday evening. One had been released "for the weekend," one was near to being released, and the other, Olga, had been sent there with a herniated disc because her ward did not have room.

Now, the room had 5 beds and one was empty. A 5th roommate arrived in the middle of that first night, sometime after I stopped wondering if surgery was imminent and had managed to fall asleep.

That was Friday. On Sunday was my operation.

And on Monday, my first day after surgery, 3 of the ladies were discharged, leaving me and Olga, who was in the bed next to me. When a nurse came in to do a count, we begged her to send us some ambulatory roommates. That way we would at least be able to eat. The cafeteria lady had come to check on us a few times, but it wasn't her job to remember who needed food delivered. We had to fend for ourselves.

The Young Ladies

In the middle of the night, we got our wish: 3 new young women. Younger than I was, anyway! The two on the other side of the room bonded and spent a lot of the next few days chatting. They were friendly, but didn't realize the shape I was in and didn't offer to do a lot, so I usually had Andrei get the food when he was there. When he wasn't, Olga would help me to the bathroom and wash my dishes out for me.

One of the two new arrivals had suspected appendicitis and they took her down for laparoscopic surgery. She was quite young and complained a lot after the surgery (which turned out to not reveal appendicitis). I did feel bad for her because she was in the hospital alone, with her parents evidently not able to get time off work. Sometimes she would get a phone call from what sounded like a younger sibling.

The woman in the bed next to her was probably a few years younger than me and also had a 2 year old, but she didn't seem concerned to be away from home at all! Although she needed minor surgery, she hung out for a few days and then decided to go home and schedule it for later as a paid procedure.

I wistfully observed their energy and autonomy, coming and going as they wanted, putting make-up on and looking cute in their pajamas, with the non-surgery girl lounging in her bed on her laptop. I sighed aloud that I wanted to curl up comfortably too. "You'll be up and about in no time," said Olga. And she was right, of course.

The third woman on our side of the room slept most of the time or played on her cell phone. I suppose she also had something wrong with her kidneys, gallbladder, pancreas, etc, as most people there. Perhaps a flare-up? There were a few attempts to place an IV, which failed. So after a few days of lying around without really getting any treatment, she was discharged.

Now we had a vacancy.

The Old Lady

Whenever we had a vacancy I selfishly found myself wishing for a friendly and able-bodied roommate. Olga and I got along well, but each person brought their own complications, and let's be honest, it is stressful to witness someone else's suffering when you aren't feeling well yourself.

I did want to offer moral support, but this was still early in the game, when I had constant nausea and a drainage bag sticking out of my open wound. To further explain, it was like I was still in shock from my own trauma and feeling panicked at the possibility of witnessing someone else in the same condition.

So my heart sank when a frail older woman shuffled into the room and placed her things on the empty bed. Minutes later, a surgeon came in and began to speak harshly to her. "ARE WE GOING TO OPERATE OR NOT?" She had appendicitis. They wanted to give her surgery under general anesthesia. Where I was in my mid-30s, she was something like 80 years old. She moaned softly about her weak heart.

Pretty soon the gurney came and they took her to the O.R.

Olga and I looked at each other. Our younger roommate was also recovering from surgery, the other girl would be checking out soon, and we were not bodily able to nurse someone after major surgery. Besides that, we simply could not imagine how the operation would go. It was a grim situation.

As it happened, our elderly roommate did not come back during my hospital stay. We kept listening for the gurney, and it never came...except for one time, which I'll explain later.

But her things remained on her bed. She was likely in the ICU, but she had to be alive or else someone would have come back and gotten her things.

To be continued...


  1. I gasped so loudly reading this just now that the secretary across the hall asked if I was OK. Honestly, this is just so hair-raising. I think I gasped at the revelation that your new roommate was 80 and being barked at. But for the rest of it I think I was kind-of laughing in a horrified way. Oh, my goodness.... That's all I can say. I could write some horror stories about Sergei's hospitalization...but oh, my, goodness.... They were prepared to FEED him!


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