Thursday, June 26, 2014

In Russia, Elbow Sprains You

On my third day back in Russia, I headed out for a morning run but returned ten minutes later with a scraped knee, a scraped right elbow, and a very sore left elbow. It turns out my ability to leap over chain barricades is less than gazelle-like. I thought the left elbow was the least of my concerns, but by lunchtime I couldn’t even take off my coat without careful maneuvering and throbbing pain. When someone suggested I see a doctor, I caught myself thinking, “What's a doctor going to tell me?” This is my father’s mantra, and is always the first sign that one really ought to go to the doctor (see: that time he had a cancerous growth in his throat the size of a fist).

But by 5pm, my loss of mobility was alarming, and someone wiser than me took me to the nearest polyclinic. When the doctor saw that I could neither straighten nor bend my arm, he announced it may be broken. I was told to come in for X-rays the following morning and left with a prescription for painkillers and ointment. It would seem that doctors can tell you a lot more than your iatrophobic father, and can recommend non FDA-approved drugs.

First thing this morning, I set off for St. Petersburg to see a traumatologist. Though the doctor spoke some English, his X-ray technician did not. She didn’t bother testing my command of Russian and went straight to forcibly bending my arm into place and telling me to hold still. In the end, it turned out that my elbow was sprained, but so full of blood that it would need to be drained.

Since it didn’t look that swollen, I wasn’t sure there was much to remove, but I was soon proven wrong. After filling one vial with blood, the doctor grabbed a second and said, “I need bigger needle.” But the second vial and the bigger needle proved insufficient as well, so he settled on massaging my elbow until I finished bleeding out all over his hands, my arm, and the towel my arm was resting on. For the grand finale, he tossed the contents of the vials down the sink, which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t fly in the US.

Dr.: That was about 15 ml of blood.
Me: Oh. That’s not much, right?
Dr.: Big volume. Very big volume for small joint!

I’m now sporting a compression bandage and a sling – I feel like this is Russia’s way of telling me that I’m basically handicapped in this country. Pfft, that’s old news.

Sad selfie

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

White Nights and Jet Lag

My whirlwind tour of America came to a close on Saturday, which means I am back in Russia. During my brief return, I managed to hit Whidbey Island, Seattle (x2), Bellingham, Texas, and DC, and guaranteed that my body never figure out what time zone to align with.

Sushi reunion with Chelsea in Bellingham

Jessie and Toti do Dallas
On the road to Austin

Tea tasting with Alli in Seattle

Meeting my new cousin in Seattle (she loved her new matryoshka rattle)

Putin made a cameo in DC (as did Sasha)

I’m spending my summer near St. Petersburg, and have arrived at the height of the White Nights. Because it is so far north (the 60th parallel crosses North America in the Northwest Territories of Canada), the sun never really sets. Other than a brief twilight between midnight and 3am, it always feels like it’s the middle of the afternoon. Though this has been horrible for getting over my jet lag, I can watch True Blood by myself at night without getting scared of vampires.

My apartment for the summer is spacious, but it is in dire need of a remodel and looks like it was designed by a blind babushka. The kitchen is a confluence of lace, wallpaper, religious icons, and cat photographs. Most of the wallpaper has floral patterns in a rainbow of browns, but one wall of my bedroom is papered with a massive photograph of a birch forest and lake scene.  The wall opposite is covered in carpet, but it's not nearly as ridiculous as the wall carpeting in the entrance way—that one depicts a family of bears at play. The hot water heater is so complicated that I had to have it explained to me a second time before I managed to take a hot shower.  First, I turn on the gas using a wrench, then I light the heater with a match, turn on the kitchen sink, turn on the shower, turn down the flow at the kitchen sink, then run back to the bathroom and pray.

Other than that, I’ve mostly just been settling into small-town Russian life. The city I’m in has the most beautiful park and palace, both of which are utterly charming. I even told a ten-year-old kid how beautiful his city is, but in typical Russian fashion, he was less impressed: “It’s fine. It was prettier before the war.” Yes, that’s WWII he’s referring to.

A rainy Russian day at the palace

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back in the USSA

I am officially back on US soil. I had a farewell dinner with friends on Wednesday, packed my bags (leaving most of my belongings in Moscow to guarantee a swift return), and made the multi-leg journey back to Seattle on Thursday. Unfortunately, America didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms—my passport was flagged at JFK and I was taken aside for additional questioning. It turns out there’s a drug trafficker out there with a similar surname and until she’s apprehended, I’m going to be given extra scrutiny at border crossings. If this leads to body cavity searches when I return to Russia in two weeks, I’m not going to be happy.

On Friday, Stephie and I headed out to Whidbey Island for a camping trip with my three oldest friends. Against her better judgment, Stephie let me take the wheel for the first time in nine months—I managed not to drive off the ferry, but it’s probably a good thing this country doesn’t have dash cams.

Reunited with the Little One

When we got to our campsite, Lindsay and Stephie pitched our tent, and I pretended to help. They soon discovered that the tent had a broken zipper, so Lindsay and Stephie set about brainstorming a solution—in the end, Stephie spent the weekend duct taping us in and out of the tent. It’s a good thing I surround myself with people who have basic survival skills or I’d have died a long time ago.

Who needs street smarts when you have friends with street smarts?

Our campsite was situated on a heather-strewn bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The views were stunning and, as always happens after I return from a long stint abroad, I was reminded that Washington State is one of the greatest places on earth. It was the perfect setting for a weekend of hiking, sitting around a campfire, eating too much American junk food, catching up with friends, and laughing until I couldn’t breathe.

Even though Lindsay, Anna, Abbey, and I are all now adults, we still defaulted to the parents in our midst to take care of us. Lindsay’s mom cooked up meals from her trailer, and Abbey’s dad kept the drinks coming when he saw us empty-handed. Knowing I’d been in Russia, he gave me an extra large pour of wine and said, “This’ll put you in a USSR state of mind.” And that was even after he stopped Abbey from spiking it with vodka.

Since I still have the stuffed witch Anna gifted me on my sixth birthday, I was beyond thrilled by her reaction to the souvenir I brought her from Russia. She’s enamored of her Putin mug, and enjoyed her morning coffee in a cup adorned with photographs of Volodya in various macho poses – shirtless Putin astride a horse, bare-chested Putin crouched in a stream, and Putin perched in a tree in camouflage.

Anna: Do people in Russia actually find Putin attractive?
Me: Do people in America not?!

Her look of horror led me to believe that Russian sex appeal just doesn’t translate to America. Reacquainting myself with the US has been strange, especially since I’m off to Texas tomorrow. If that doesn’t bring on the culture shock, I don’t know what will.