Ukraine is NOT a third world country. But, as my husband says, when you walk into the public hospitals, you step into the third world.
Most of our interactions with healthcare professionals have been great. We appreciate the work they do, especially because here, unlike in the States, working in medicine almost never pays well. I have tremendous respect for these men and women!
But as an institution, healthcare in Ukraine seriously lacks funding. Which obviously impacts the conditions in hospitals and clinics. As a result, dealing with health problems is my number one fear on the mission field, especially for my kids.
But it’s also a source of great stories.
Last week, my parents and husband and I (who are all missionaries), were visiting with guests from the States. They were asking about our experiences with healthcare. Ten minutes later, we’d moved past their shocked looks and were all in tears from laughing so hard.
So I thought I’d share with you a few of our wildest or funniest healthcare stories from the mission field.
A fellow missionary became violently sick on a train. He was removed along the route and admitted to the infectious disease hospital in our city. My dad got a call to come visit the guy. The hospital was complete with metal bars on every window, and patients were only allowed outside their rooms for about fifteen minutes a day.
When our friend learned he had food poisoning and no release date on the calendar, he begged my dad to break him out. The next day, during the approved fifteen minutes in the yard, a red VW van pulled up. The side door flew open, and one somewhat recovered patient jumped into the side of the moving vehicle, which made a quick retreat.
They called his poor doctor the next day to assure her the American had not been abducted or lost in the woods.
No Catheter Bag?
Josh and I were on our way to a consultation at a L’viv hospital. Another patient was taking a smoke break outside the doors. He was clearly on a catheter, but instead of a bag, the guy was carrying around an old beer bottle.
Here in Ukraine, patients bring everything to the hospital themselves. My guess is, this guy opted to recycle, instead of buying a catheter bag.
Strip Down, Dearie!
Privacy is not as big a deal in Ukraine as in the U.S. My sister and I have both had medical procedures where the nurses instructed us to strip and walk, naked, to the table where they would work on us.
In front of all the nurses and doctors who’d be doing the work.
It’s Gotta Be a Village Chicken
My parents were moving us to a new city in Ukraine. They’d gone ahead of me and my siblings to find an apartment. Just after securing an unfurnished four-room flat, my dad was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Surgery went smoothly, and in the post-op consultation, his doctor told my mom she should make him fresh bullion from a village chicken.
My mom says, “I didn’t even have a stove to cook on, let alone a pot to put the chicken in!” And being new in the city, she wasn’t sure where to get village poultry. So she snuck in some contraband food, under her coat.
Walk Slowly, Hon
My sister was sixteen when they removed her appendix. I will never forget walking her, two days after major abdominal surgery, down the long hallway to the one bathroom for the entire post-op ward. There was no toilet seat, so I held her poor, weak body as she tried to hover over the basin.
Put You Under? Nah.
We don’t use anesthesia, especially general anesthesia, nearly as much in Ukraine. My husband had an endoscopy and a biopsy with no pain killers at all. I’ve had local pain killers with two procedures that in the States often warrant general anesthesia. My dad went through lithotripsy (breaking up a kidney stone) with no pain killers; in the States that’s considered non-invasive surgery.
We’ve learned to ask questions before accepting the “Nah, this won’t hurt” recommendation.
What are your stories?
Sometimes healthcare on the field scares me; sometimes it makes me laugh. All the time, it gives me an opportunity to grow in faith!
What about you? Do you have any memorable stories about healthcare experiences, especially from travel or living abroad?