Children’s Hospitals In The Soviet Union

Some time ago, a fellow blogger mentioned staying in the hospital with her son, who got severe burns. I commented that I remember how I was coming to the children’s hospital every day when Igor had his eyes surgeries. I felt that a short comment was not enough to describe the difference and thought I should write more about this story.

Igor had severe nearsightedness from birth, and when he was four, the ophthalmologist told me he needs scleraplastic surgery. Even now, I can’t tell whether it was necessary. Here in the US, nobody heard about this surgery. But I was told that he absolutely has to have it; otherwise, he may go blind.

Before I proceed, I need to explain several things about hospitals in the Soviet Union. First, the patients would stay for a long period. Here, if you had surgery and no complications and concerns, you will be dismissed in a couple of days to recover at home. Also, you do not need to come to the hospital “in advance.”

However, back in the Soviet Union, a person, regardless of their age, would be admitted a week before the surgery “to get ready.” I am not sure about the rationale behind this practice. Were the doctors afraid of infections? Still, it seems completely unreasonable.

Also, a patient would stay in a hospital for a week after the surgery or even more until they “fully recover.” Again, I am not sure why, probably because they didn’t trust people to act responsibly outside hospital.
And a cherry on top: parents were not allowed to stay with their children in the hospitals. For adults, there were visiting hours. For children, they thought it would be too much to see the parents and won’t go home with them. So – no visits, at least officially. Also, “they could bring infection.”

I started by playing by the rules. I brought Igor to the hospital with a bag of his belongings, he was admitted, and I left. For the next several days, I called the hospital to check the situation, and it was always “no change,” and nobody knew anything about the day of surgery. On the sixth day, I came and said that I had something to give to Igor (I do not remember, whether there were fruits, or clean clothes, or whatever). And a nurse told me to get into the back door, go to the second floor, and leave my package there with another nurse. I did as I was told, and when I opened the door, I saw Igor walking at a distance – wearing the same shirt as he wore when he was admitted. The nurse took the package, and I asked: can I see my son? And she said: yes, come tomorrow.

It turned out, that there were official rules and unofficial expectations. Parents were “not allowed,” but everybody would show up and stay with their children. The staff relied on the parents to clean the rooms, help to feed the children, and many other things. “Mamochki” (moms) brought in plates, cups, and silverware, and pots and pans and cooked their own food. They read books, played games, disciplined unruly kids, and shared their life stories. They helped the kids to partially wash (there were no showers) and made sure their clothes were not completely soiled (the hospital staff never checked what the children wore, so they could go for weeks in the same underwear).

I didn’t go to work for the next two weeks. Every morning, I would be out of the house by 8-15 AM, at the hospital doors by 9 AM, when an “unofficial admission” would start. I would leave at 9 PM. Boris was waiting for me by the hospital, often with some food (I didn’t have time to buy food and didn’t have time to eat). We would come to my house, shut the door of my room, have wild sex, and then he would leave at 11 PM, and things will start over the following day. We talked very little; these evening dates felt more like psychotherapy.

When Igor or I needed something, I called Boris. He would bring things to the back door, and a nurse would call me: Mommy Studenkova, Daddy is here! I didn’t correct her on either of the accounts :).
Like all others, I had to deal with the psychological consequences of the situation when six kids of different age and gender were incarcerated in one room for two or three weeks, with a couple of parents trying to hold the fort. On top of it, there was an endless exhibit of “what could go wrong” with somebodies vision: blind and half-blind kids, horrible injuries, eye cancer.

Mom told me that “she is glad I can take time off work.” She never came to the hospital. Neither did Igor’s father. One evening, closer to the end of my second week of such regiment, one of the “room mothers” told me: you can go home now, I will manage. That was an unexpected gift. It was 7-15 PM. I called mom to say that I will be at home earlier. “Great,” – she replied, – in this case, could you please stop by the store and get so-and-so?”

I could not believe what I heard.
I cried.
Boris consoled me.
I went home.
And next morning, I was back to the hospital.

Igor had two surgeries and spent a total of 24 days in the hospital. I still do not know whether these surgeries were needed.

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

2 thoughts on “Children’s Hospitals In The Soviet Union

    1. Yep, I still don’t know. They do not perform this kind of surgery in the US, so it’s hard to leverage. The Soviet ophthalmologists seemed to be overly concerned with potential retina problems. Like I was not even allowed to attend regular PE classes (anybody who sees me now, won’t believe it). And my vision problems are not even comparable with Igor’s


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