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


  1. Ah, the joys of a Russian clinic. There's always an uncomfortable amount of biohazards. I hope you feel better (and if you go back to your village life, have enough mobility to finagle your hot water on!)

    1. Thanks! I'm doing much better, though the whole town had its running water shut off for 24 hours, making my mobility (or lack thereof) irrelevant. Oh Russia...