Call an Ambulance – No, Don’t!

I woke up feeling quite normal that Friday recently in October, excited about the men’s retreat I was at in a quiet suburb of the city (Father School, which originally came out of Korea). Normal wouldn’t last long, though. Soon after I got to the morning prayer meeting the small of my back gave, and it suddenly hurt to just sit. I even needed help walking back to my room afterwards. By mid-morning, it was getting hard to sit still, and they got me a cot to lie on. I didn’t tell Diana when she and I spoke that morning, because I figured she’d want me to come home or go to the doctor or something silly like that. I was on a retreat!

It took two guys to help me go to the bathroom though I could manage the act itself. By the end of lunch, I couldn’t even walk with help, and so I knew I had to confess to Diana. Calling her was a watershed – literally. I just started to cry like a baby, not even sure why. Of course she was a wonderful encouragement, but I knew I had to leave and get help. The gu
ys gathered around my cot, all 50 or so of them, and they prayed for me through the pleas of a wise old Korean who was a father figure in this movement. I wept some more, still wondering why.
My ride arrived for me, but I couldn’t even get up with help. So instead, six pall bearers took me to the van and did their best to transfer me in, but it was torture. I laugh at the memory of their pathetic but noble efforts.

The van was pastor Igor Sokolov’s, which his wife Angela had brought for me, and they now were taking me back to the city. At first it seemed I would just go to a western clinic, but we started debating the options, particularly considering how much more expensive foreign hospitals are here than the local ones. I made calls, Angela made calls, and we settled on a plan that Angela’s friend at [the Russian version of] 911 said would work:
We stopped near our apartment, but we couldn’t go in (not only because I couldn’t move, but because ambulance rules wouldn’t allow) to call for an ambulance from the street. Despite the fact that there is a dispatch center literally across the street from our house, it was 15-20 minutes before one arrived, since the one closest to us doesn’t serve our area. We couldn’t not get am ambulance, as Russian hospitals won’t take you from anything else. (!)
Now the team of 2, a man and woman, take their time trying to figure out how to transfer me to the ambulance while shivering from the cold is making my back tense up and send excruciating pain all around. They finally decided that drugs were their best bet, which cost me 5 more minutes while they waited for them to kick in. It was still torture to move me, which took them (the driver of course didn’t care to help) as well as Igor and Angela and Diana. I protested that the drugs weren’t working. The medic said the proof that they were was in the fact that I made it.
So now I freeze in the ambu
lance while they and Igor argue over where to take me and wait for directions from their superiors. My teammate, Bill, meanwhile, is also calling, pleading with me to not let them take me to a Russian hospital. I lost my cool at that point, unwilling to go back. My die was cast. A hospital was chosen, but not the one that the operator had promised that supposedly dealt with foreigners. So we finally left for a 45 minute putter through rush-hour traffic.
Once there I had a very nice impression of the ceilings, but Diana later told me that the rest of the interior caused the blood to leave her face. But lo and behold, almost immediately a doc came in and announced that they were transferring me to another hospital that would take my western insurance. Then another medic came in, transfered me yet again to another gurney and yet again into another ambulance, and we were off for another 45 minute ride to another part of town.
We had called for help about noon, and I finally settled into my final resting place by about 8pm that evening. But talk about a contrast: this was a super nice facility called EuroMed. I didn’t get to experience the joys of Russian medical care, so everything went well from here out. It actually was a wonderful time for me. Except for my family visiting once, I was alone for the next two days, and I relished in the peace. I just prayed and relaxed, even after (on the 2nd day) I could start to move again.
Oh, and what was it? 2 herniated disks in my lower back. They stopped the pain and reduced the inflammation. Their recommendation: massage, swimming, and/or acupuncture. I think I’ll try all three!
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