Monday, May 30, 2011

A tragedy befalls my friend Nadjie

It has been four weeks since I last posted in this blog. I feel like so much has happened in those four weeks, and that in many ways, my life here has been much altered.
The two days following our day trip to Tahankut were vacation days from the library. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I enjoyed some time at my house, getting caught up on household chores, taking walks up into the forest and hills. I came back to work at the library, prepared to help Nadjie with preparations for our upcoming two-day SPA (Peace Corps grant program) sponsored project. However, Thursday morning as I was teaching my English class at the library, tragedy struck. I hadn’t even seen Nadjie that morning—she was out running errands for the seminar—but then we got a call that she had fallen and was at the emergency hospital. Over the course of the day, we learned that she had broken her hip. I was afraid that with my limited English I would be in the way if I immediately went over to the hospital, so I called her and promised to come the next day. I found out later that it was me she wanted to come to the hospital that day, so I regretted that decision.
A word about health care in Ukraine. Though the government says that there is free health care as there was during Soviet Union time, in reality there is little that is free. I don’t thoroughly understand it, but you have to pay for all kinds of things—bandages, medicines, operations, treatments. These aren’t “official” charges, but if you want to have an operation, for example, you are going to need to give the surgeon some money. Some people tell me that if you are truly desperate, they will do the operation for free, but otherwise payment is expected. And given the fact that doctors make so little money here—only $150 to $200 a month—it isn’t surprising. So when Nadjie was told that she would need an operation, I knew she had no money and immediately sent out an appeal to my friends back in America and the Peace Corps Volunteers here who know her.
As I expected, my friends were amazingly generous, and I collected over $2000 to help pay for Nadjie’s medical bills, a large sum in Ukraine. However, she decided not to have an operation because the doctor (who only would talk with her once he learned that she would be able to pay for an operation) told her that an operation had only a 50% chance of having a good outcome. The other alternative was to have a toe to waist cast put on her broken hip and go home and lay in bed for three months. Which, unfortunately she chose, despite my assurances that I could raise whatever money was needed. In the end, it wasn’t so much the money, but the 50% prognosis and her desire to get the hell out of that hospital. Which I certainly understood once I saw the cramped condition of her room (four patients in a very small space) and the lack of nursing care.
So now she is back in her little home, which fortunate for me, is only two blocks from the library. I go to see her often and have gotten to know her 38-year-old daughter and two-year-old grandson who have moved in with her. I hate to see her lying on her bed, unable to move, but I also treasure the time it has given us to just sit and talk, which we seem to be able to do, despite my poor Russian. And her spirits remain amazingly (at least to me) good, despite the fact that she must know in her heart she will probably never be able to walk normal again. For a long time, I despaired of her ever returning to the library, but now I think her energy and love of life will carry her through. We are already talking about what we are going to do when she returns to the library in the fall, what projects we will work on together. And because she does live so close, I have continued to be able to involve her in my work here, especially as the library decided not to postpone our planned seminar but to proceed without her direct guidance. I will write about the seminar in a later blog post.
When I visited her in the hospital and she understood that she would not be returning to the library for a long time, if ever, she said to me, “Don’t forget me.” I responded instantly, “Hekogda (never)!” As is so often the case, the loss of someone in your life makes your realize how precious they are to you, and so is the case with Nadjie and me. Over the past two years, I have come to love her and recognize her as a true friend in my life here. I have resolved to help her in any way I can and to truly “not forget her.”

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