Here's another Refried Flashback Friday for you. It was originally titled, "Would you like secondhand smoke with your gastrointestinal distress?" You'll notice that I changed the title. That's because when I started writing this flashback, I thought the cigarette smoke + vomit was the best part. It was only as I finished writing it that I remembered the part where I was accused of trying to kill my husband. Which I think we can all agree is the better story. The new title better reflects that reality. Originally published September 19, 2008.
We've reminisced about camping for the last three installments of Flashback Friday. Let's move on to another theme: stories from Russia.
My Russian driver's license. Somehow the photographer managed to make me look like a Young Pioneer of the Soviet Union.
Moscow, Russia, early 2002: President Vladimir Putin was busy impressing the world with his skills in judo, German, and non-smoking. September 11th having only recently occurred, the Russians were temporarily feeling love and sympathy for their American friends (they would get back to disliking and mistrusting us by the end of the year). The temperature outside was 20 degrees below zero, making the snow drifts so dry that to walk through them was like plowing through sand. The boogers in our noses froze immediately upon stepping out of doors. While walking around in the city, we not only had to keep a clear eye for icy patches on the "sidewalks," but also be aware of any large icicles falling down from the roof overhangs of nearby buildings. A few people every year are killed by large chunks of ice falling on them. Such is the treachery of a Russian winter.
So cold. So very, very cold.
Somewhere in the middle of this Muscovite winter were newlyweds Jeremy and Bridget. Jeremy was working at the US Embassy and I was working as a private tutor in different places around the city. One Saturday, after only about three weeks in the country, we went out exploring in Moscow. On the way home, Jeremy picked up some blini for a snack at a street stand. Remember that fact, because it becomes important when later that night, he started puking them up.
Of course, of course, it was the middle of the night by the time he was sick enough for us to realize that he needed to see a doctor. I didn't really know how to deal with a violently ill husband, much less a violently ill husband in a country whose language I didn't really speak yet. I ended up calling the embassy and talking to the medic on duty. He casually recommended I get a taxi and take Jeremy to a nearby medical center. His attitude was so nonchalant, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to venture out into this freezing Moscow winter night with a sick husband.
Still, I didn't really have a choice. Jeremy was very, very sick. So I called the reception desk of the building where we lived and asked them to call a cab for me. At the very least, I wouldn't have to wait for a random taxi to pick us up. We bundled up and I helped Jeremy downstairs and into the taxi. Jeremy told him where to go and we sped off into the night, the driver lighting a cigarette as we went. The smell was making me gag; I could hardly imagine how it was making Jeremy feel.
One of the other of us managed to get the driver to stop smoking. I think it helped when Jeremy basically threatened to vomit all over his car if he didn't. He dropped us off at the medical center and we hustled inside.
If there is something more unpleasant than having to submit to medical tests while you are throwing up, it is probably having to do so while also explaining your symptoms in a foreign language. Poor Jeremy had to think beyond his misery enough to remember how to say things like "my bowels hurt" and "no, I am not vomiting blood" in Russian. The doctor seemed vaguely incompetent, though that may have been because he kept trying to express himself in English and he wasn't very good at it.
Once he'd given Jeremy some medicine to calm his system down, the doctor started asking him questions about what might have caused this illness. At this point, I was in the hallway just outside the examination room, trying to get some rest on a few chairs I'd pushed together. While the doctor went through a brief list of possible causes, I heard him ask, "is there, perhaps, someone who you think would try to do this to you?" followed by an awkward, obvious look at me.
Yes, friends. I'd just been accused by a Russian doctor of trying to poison my husband. It was a low point in our 2.5 months of marriage.
By morning, with the help of an IV, Jeremy was feeling well enough to go home. They gave him a few prescriptions for some medicine that might help. I don't know what Jeremy did to offend the doctor, but it must have been bad because one of the prescriptions told him to take "one suppository per rectum." We think that was the doctor's passive-aggressive way of calling Jeremy...something not very nice.
It was good to be home and have the first emergency situation of our marriage behind us. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time one or both of us needed urgent care in a foreign country. In fact, now that I think about it, it wasn't even the last time we made a trip to that particular medical center, though the next time was many months later, and it was for me, and it was for pneumonia (at least the doctor - and it was the same one - couldn't accuse Jeremy of trying to kill me with that one).
And I even got out of there without the doctor using a medical prescription to call me a jerk.