So I typed this post while we were in Russia and I just came across it today. I originally journaled these thoughts because it was a weird experience and I wanted to record it to Charlie someday, I think teenage Charlie will get a chuckle out of it. That and if he ever says "you never do anything for me!" At this point I would pull up this post and say "oh yeah kid....read this."
We arrived in St. Petersburg on Sunday afternoon at 3:45. Of course, we were exhausted as not have slept on the plane at all or for the last 24 hours for that matter. We had a soup broth and ravioli supper at the apartment in St. Pete around 4:30. Our host didn’t have any beverages in the house, so we only had hot tea after supper, and you can’t drink the water out of the faucet, so we were thirsty! Then our translator says we must fast for our medical exams tomorrow, including no water (what kinda fast is this?). Well by 3:00am (as I lie wide awake in bed) my mouth felt like the desert. In my head I am quite unhappy at the “no water” rule. I think this is false medical advice, as I remember thinking “isn’t my body like 70% water?” To me it was like saying “you can’t breathe oxygen until your medical exam” Ridiculous. If there was water in the house I definitely would have rebelled against this rule, but alas, bad water and the thought of eminent death if I partook of the water outweighed by desire to drink or bend the rules to prove a point.
So the next day we leave the house at 7:00am and drive to the Medical Institute of St. Petersburg, a sort of teaching hospital as I understand it. Apparently, it was built by Americans, so they told us we should feel at home. Notsomuch. It was a foreign concept- to be poked and prodded by people you don’t understand and don’t understand you. 8 different people to be exact.
So we arrive at the Institute and check our coats at the door. The funny thing about being in a different place is that the people familiar to these types of situations take for granted that you have no idea what’s going on. You just do what they do and hope you are right. Anyway, coat checking, foreign concept, but follow their lead. (We were driven by a new guy in a van there, accompanied by our facilitator, her son, (who was very sick and wanted to see the doctor), our translator, who was there, well, to translate but also hoped to be examined for her chronic nose problems and allergies. Our regular driver was there when we got there. He is always “mysteriously” showing up places, making the way smooth for us. He is a guy who “knows guys”. So here we are, an unlikely brood, two Americans (one giant sized and one for some reason people like to stop and stare at, in any case, not the most popular kids on the block these days) a tiny Russian lady, an artsy translator with a runny nose, a sick pre-teen with a Mohawk, and a driver with connections. They hand us these tiny blue plastic foot covers for our shoes. I guess checking your shoes is too much to ask.
Our driver we'll call him "Vinny" informs us that they will accept our American medical exams we had done before we left including blood work for sexually transmitted diseases, EKG, chest x-rays and we won’t have to do them again. We are ushered by Vinny to a large office, no windows (an important part of the story for later) There is a man with a coat and tie inside, no blue shoes. He invites us to his tea party set up. We are so happy- finally drinks! As we are getting ready for tea, the doctor asks “where are your beliruben results?”Excuse me? He says I see all the other tests- HIV, Hep A,B,C, Syphilis, but no beliruben? We weren’t told about that. Our translator is confused. I am trying to explain what beliruben is, except, I don’t really know either. I know I have it and I think it has to do with my liver. He says “sorry you will need to get blood work done again and must continue to fast.” I am more upset about not being able to drink rather than getting poked with needles in a foreign country. That’s how thirsty I was.
He continues his interview, a man and two women walk in and sit next to us. Who are these people? Are they doctors? He continues to ask us questions about our fertility and if we have ever been to Africa. Apparently there is no HIPAA in Russia.
The couple next to us starts having tea and eating cookies. I don’t know who they are but I instantly dislike them for drinking in front of us.
We go to the blood room. It is stark and the nurse looks like she could totally take Chad in a fight. Hands down. After we are drained of the appropriate amount of blood, an attractive brunette walks in. We are told to walk with her, she is the neurologist. All of the conversations with all of the doctors start like this “Would you like to tell us about any health problems you have?” Kinda vague, right? By the end I wanted to say “no” and see what happened. But I refrained. We were ushered back and forth between several rooms with several doctors. All the rooms looked exactly the same except for two. The psychologist’s office had white puffy cloud wallpaper. He was done talking to me in 5 minutes. He had a heyday with Chad and his parent’s divorce when he was little. Lots of “how did that make you feel?” and all of that quacky stuff. The only weird thing he asked me was a follow up question to if I was a good girl growing up. I said yes, good grades, stayed out of trouble, all that jazz. He asked me “Why were you good?” That was like asking a tiger why it has stripes…Uhhh….because I wanted to? Our translator kept smiling at me the whole time, like at any moment she was just going to burst into laughter. But we couldn’t….this guy took himself VERY, VERY seriously.
The last stop was a room with a huge open window facing the street and neighboring apartment buildings. The only room with a window. The room where we undressed. Awesome. It was also the most crowded room to add to the awkwardness- us, our translator, and three lady doctors- cardiologist, dermatologist, and oncologist. I will spare you the details of all the touching and feeling that went on in this room. I just kept thinking- I can see people out there, I am pretty sure they can see me. When they asked “do you have any health problems?” that scene from National Lampoons Christmas runs through my head. “Yup….I got a metal plate in my head and when Katherine runs the microwave I pee my pants and forget who I am for 30 minutes” I think it was just the naked awkwardness that makes your brain think of silly things to keep you from thinking about the situation at hand.
We finally make it to the end of our exams after about 3 hours. We can finally have tea and cookies. They tell us our beliruben was just fine as were our blood sugar levels. (Of course they are BECAUSE I AM STARVING TO DEATH!) We meet with the head doctor, a pleasant plump lovely lady that is a dead ringer for Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith show. The other people walk in too. Turns out they are a Finnish couple adopting a boy and a girl from St. Petersburg. They say it was only a 40 minute flight and I kinda dislike them all over again. Despite that, they were actually really nice people. They said Torry Hansen’s actions affected them as well, slowed down their process quite a bit; it’s been almost a two year process for them as well. They will make 3 more trips before their adoptions are finalized. They hope to have their son and daughter home before March. Aunt Bea is very sweet and kind, of course…she gives us a postcard as a souvenir so that we will always remember our time here. I smile and nod, but want to say, trust me, this is an experience I will never EVER forget. We pay an absorbent amount of money, sign some papers in Russian that we have NO IDEA what they say (maybe they can make clones of us?) and they give us a paper to take to court stamped with a hundred seals, stating simply that we are perfect specimens of the human form and are in satisfactory health to raise Charlie. Good thing I didn’t say the joke about the metal plate.