May 26, 2005
Leaving Ekat part 2- The one with Conjunctivitis
Today's entry is brought to you by My Pet Blog's one and only guest blogger, Wendy.
Across the aisle, Sam is videotaping Ekaterinburg as the plane takes off. We chose not to bring the video camera this trip, so I hold Jupiter on my lap so she can see out the window, as the city of her birth, as it is listed on her new birth certificate, grows ever smaller in the window. We pass through the cloud deck into bright sunlight, and then we have to close the window shade. After only a few minutes the pacifier I gave Jupiter seems to have disappeared. We play with plastic links and purple duckie, and hope that the food service will come soon. I'm desperate to feed the baby, although she's behaving very well considering the upheaval and long delay. When the plane finally leaves, it’s after 10am. It will be noon in Moscow before we arrive there. Because of the time zone difference, it will be 2pm for us. Sitting in the airport has taken a lot out of us, made the day significantly longer.
The breakfasts are delivered. Melissa and I get one each; Jupiter doesn't get one. I hold Jupiter on my lap in the window seat and open the middle tray table to set things on. I inspect the tray to see if there is anything on it Jupiter will eat, and try the yogurt. She tries a few spoonfuls, but it’s an odd flavor that she doesn't care for. She eats some of the roll and a small bite of meat. I accidentally hit the tray with my hand and the fork (an actual metal fork utensil) falls to the floor under the seat. I contort myself to try to retrieve it. Later, Jupiter hits the tray and sends the entire thing on the floor. Both Melissa and I contort ourselves to clean up what we can. Sorry, Aeroflot. We didn't mean to trash your plane. And even later, Melissa, trying to pour milk into a sippy cup, spills it. Into her bag. At this point, there's nothing to do but laugh, and wonder how in our ineptness we're going to manage two flights home to Boston from Moscow. Long flights. The flight attendant returns with an extra breakfast for Jupiter. It contains the same things as our adult breakfasts, but it gives me something to nibble on as I gave Jupiter first dibs on my food. Skipping breakfast in the apartment was a bad plan. Note to self: anytime on an adoption trip that an opportunity to eat presents itself, take advantage. And if at all possible, grab extra for emergencies. The flight attendant takes the trays, and Jupiter settles into my lap. With at least some food in her stomach, she's ready for a nap.
The air on the plane has become refreshingly cool, in fact I think it’s the coolest I've been since the freezing ice trip TO Ekat on Aeroflot a few weeks ago. I've unbuckled my seat belt and snuggle into the seat, draping a fleece blanket over us. I sing a couple rounds of an Irish lullaby, and Jupiter closes her eyes. Across the aisle, Nadia is fretful. Diane has taken her to the back of the plane, and Sam leans over and says something to Melissa. Melissa, in turn, reports to me. Nadia is teething, and the infant Advil is in the cargo hold, in the carryon they were made to check in. I tell Melissa I have baby Advil in the document bag, and she routs it out and hands it to Sam, who brings it to Diane. After the Advil takes effect, Nadia falls asleep as well. A chance to relax for the parents and Tyotyas. My eye continues to worsen, and I ask Melissa for so many tissues that she finally gives me the entire package.
The flight seems to take a long time. Turns out the flight really is longer than 90 minutes. Forgot about the time zones. For the first time in my life, I ignore the seat belt sign when it is illuminated as we begin our descent into Moscow. If I try to buckle my seatbelt, it’s going to wake the baby up. At the moment, I'd rather risk death. And apparently I've experienced enough smooth Aeroflot landings by now to trust them. The flight attendant scrutinizes my position for a moment as she passes, trying to use x-ray vision through the blanket, but doesn't pursue the matter. The plane touches down without incident, and we taxi to a stop in an airplane parking spot. I wait until the plane empties before trying to get organized and deplane. The bus will not leave without us. And any extra moments Jupiter can sleep will help. A short bus ride later, we enter the Sheremyetevo domestic terminal (Melissa’s Note: This is the same Terminal One where we were before).
Baggage claim carousels are on the other side of a Plexiglas wall. Melissa and Sam go to retrieve luggage, Diane and I stay behind with the carry-ons and baby carrying apparatus. Diane decides they have too many bags for Sam to handle alone, and goes after him, with Nadia strapped into a front pack, while I guard all the carry-ons. I can still see out of my right eye, but the left one is by now almost completely obscured. Like obtaining food, there's nothing I can do about it at the moment. Finally all the luggage is claimed, and we drag it through the exit where hopefully someone is waiting to meet us.
It is Boris. Because Boris can speak some English, there is no translator. His best phrase is Let's go, although it seems to mean hurry up. We all try to hurry up as best we can with our assorted paraphernalia. Just shy of the exit doors, we stop. Boris makes a cell phone call, and then hands the phone to me. I wonder who I'm talking to. It's the Moscow coordinator, Stella. Stella informs me that Jupiter needs to have yet another blood test before we can go to the Embassy. A driver and translator will pick us up at the hotel at 1pm to take us to the lab for the blood test. This test needs to be completed before the Embassy will process Jupiter's visa. This is the first I have heard of another blood test. I don't even know which hotel we're going to stay at. I agree to Stella's plan, hoping that it's really all going to work out they way she says it will. Boris goes out to find the other driver and pull the cars up somewhat near the doors. Sam goes to try to find the restroom quickly. I'm paying attention to Jupiter, and blinded, and very tired, when suddenly Melissa hands me a bottle of Evian water. A COLD bottle of Evian. It’s so cold that it is dripping condensed water in the hot humid room. I gulp water as though I've been wandering the desert for 40 years, then have the presence of mind to thank Melissa and ask where she got the water. I don't really hear the answer, but I think it has something to do with Sam (Melissa's note:: Yes, Sam was buying cold soda and when I got all excited when I saw the cold Evian, he bought me a bottle. Thanks, Sam!).
Boris has returned. Lets go, he says. Anxious to do my share, I grab the handle of one of the wheeled bags and head for the exit doors. Boris has gone through the door, but doesn't hold it. It swings back, and I wait for it to come close enough to lean against, but the door doesn't stop. It swings back through into me, crushing my hand and nearly braining Jupiter in the head. It swings back out, and I try to get out of the way, but I can't back up. A Russian pushes past me but doesn't help at all, just leaves the doors swinging. They are very heavy doors, and Jupiter almost gets whacked again. Finally we run the gauntlet, and emerge safely outside. Boris points us to the car behind his own, to the driver we've never seen before. He speaks to the other driver (Melissa's note: his name is Viktor and his car doesn't like to idle), and I understand enough to hear the word for hotel and the word Roissya. I rack my brains to remember everything I read about the Hotel Roissya in the Russian adoption guide. I park the suitcase next to the car and sit in the backseat without being told to do so. Jupiter settles on my lap and I study my hand, which is now bleeding, out of the one eye from which I can see. We are a mess. Melissa gives me more kleenex, which I hold to the top of my right hand.
Jupiter wants to eat. As we're driving into the city on the expressway, we feed Jupiter Russian goldfish crackers in her Baskin Robbins cup. She eats them daintily, and when she's down to one cracker, takes little bites, so it will last even longer. Smart girl. I apologize to her for all the times in the apartment when I worried about her behavior. When the chips are down, my daughter is an absolute trooper. Today I've complained a whole lot more than she has. We zoom along on the expressway, and then, after exiting the freeway to head into the city proper, we slow to a crawl. Slower than a crawl. This gives us plenty of time to study the surroundings, i.e. stores, which might prove useful. We recognize the baby store, but don't have a clue how to get back to it after it passes. We drive past McDonalds. It is literally mobbed.
The hotel is at the top of a hill. It is across from St. Basil's cathedral, which looms large and imposing nearby. I never really realized that the onion domes on St. Basils were actually different colors; I always expected them to be bright gold, like the ones on the Cathedral of the Blood in Ekat. But we don't have time to linger; in fact, we probably don't have time to check into the hotel before we leave again. Melissa and Sam head up to the desk. Melissa, fortunately, is armed with a credit card which will work here; I don't think I have enough cash left after Ekat to cover the hotel. They return with room keys; payment is actually handled somewhere else in the vast hotel. The desk has kept our passports to register us in Moscow. A porter loads up bags for both families onto a cart, and we head upstairs in the elevator. Our room is first, Sam and Diane are two doors down. Our luggage, of course, is on the bottom of the cart. Melissa and I have a quick discussion about how much to tip the porter. At this point I'd give him $50 to get out of the room so I can use the bathroom.
We have to leave again in 7 minutes. I change Jupiter's diaper and clothes, and Melissa is still in the bathroom. I yell that I need to use it, and she yells back that she knows that, but she needs to use it too. I immediately feel bad for yelling, and retreat to the bathroom, where after flushing the toilet I cry and try to scrape my eye clean. I know my contacts need to come out, but I don't have time now, as we are off again. We take Jupiter and the diaper bag and run. I have baby biter biscuits (whoever invented baby biter biscuits should be sainted) but no water or milk for her. This is alarming, but again, things are not in my control. We run back downstairs to the lobby and wait just outside the doors for a new driver and translator. We're about to head outside into the streets of Russia without passports. If I had time, I'd be terrified.
We stand at the hotel entrance and look for somebody resembling a translator (Melissa's note: her name is Dasha). She approaches us, recognizing us by the baby and English language, and leads us to a car parked a short distance away. We look out the windows of the car as we crawl, and then cruise, back across town. A half hour later, we stop in front of a building with a large grassy courtyard. We follow the translator through a doorway and up stairs to the lab entrance. She converses with the nurse on duty, and then has to call someone on a cell phone. Meanwhile, Jupiter fills up her diaper, and it requires immediate changing. I ask the translator if I there's any place I can change the baby's diaper. The nurse doesn't look thrilled, but they direct me to a small bathroom, where I spread a blanket on the floor and wrap up the messy diaper, replacing it with a clean one. I pack up the dirty diaper to take with us; the lab staff didn't seem like they wanted to have a dirty diaper in their nice clean bathroom. When we're finished, the lab tech is waiting. She's a friendly young woman, and we follow her to a modern lab area. She tells me to sit in the chair (a word I can understand); indicating that I should hold Jupiter on my lap. I do, and the woman ties on the tourniquet, tests for Jupiter's vein, and rapidly fills a vial with Jupiter's blood. At the needle prick Jupiter screams, loudly. She tries to turn into me for a hug but I have to hold her steady until the vial was full. Since I'm not hugging her properly, Jupiter shows her displeasure by trying to remove the needle herself. Quickly, I grab for her hand. After the lab tech removed the needle, she placed a band aid on the wound. I was surprised by the band aid, expecting only the gauze that we got in Ekaterinburg. I'm even more surprised when the woman offers Jupiter a lollipop. Maybe we really did go home after all or maybe I'm just hallucinating from hunger.
On the way back to the hotel, we stop at McDonalds to get food. Melissa and I comment on our current perspective: McDonalds seems like four star gourmet to us at the moment. I try to decide what Jupiter might eat, and decide I can best break up a cheeseburger into small pieces for her; and therefore order her first official Happy Meal. I get the cheeseburger meal. Melissa gets chicken nuggets. Everyone gets French Fries (Melissa's Note: Dasha does not know what French Fries are...I can't seem to describe them properly so I end up having to point to a sign). We get 5 packets of ketchup for something like 2 rubles each. Because the restaurant is currently and probably eternally mobbed, we get the food to go, and the driver and translator drop us off at the hotel. We show our hotel cards to the guard at the elevator, and ride back up to the room. Now we have time to catch our breath for a few minutes.
The room has two twin beds, and a floor to ceiling window without a screen. Since we're on the 11th floor, this terrifies me and I'm prepared to not open the window the entire time we are there, despite the fact that it's 90 degrees in the room. In our absence, a rollaway bed has also appeared in the room. Apparently this is for Jupiter. How am I going to keep Jupiter from rolling off the bed in her restlessness? I take the food over to a small round table next to the television and begin to break up the cheeseburger into small pieces, pondering the problem of the bed. Jupiter doesn't like the cheeseburger. She does like the Happy Meal box. I, on the other hand, inhale the cheeseburger and fries.
After a short rest, we are called to a meeting with Stella in Sam and Diane’s room. We take Jupiter and the document bag and go down the hall. Stella is waiting. She moves to shake my hand, but I apologize profusely. I'm afraid of contaminating her with my eye and try to explain. She studies my eye and says that this is a bad thing. After the meeting, we will do something about it. She speaks to Jupiter in Russian, which Jupiter loves. Jupiter and I sit on the bed with Sam. Melissa and Diane sit at the table with Stella, filling out the Embassy paperwork according to Stella's directions. I explain that I can't see well enough to fill out the papers myself. Jupiter crawls across the bed and Sam tries to hold her, but Jupiter screams louder than she did in the blood lab. I take her in my arms, and Sam moves across the room. Jupiter isn't fond of men yet, since she's never really known any men. Strange creatures, in her eyes.
Stella also explains in more detail about the blood test. The Embassy wants to see further proof that Jupiter is HIV negative before they issue the visa. If the blood test results are not back from the lab in time for the application to go to the Embassy tomorrow morning, we won't be able to go to the Embassy until the next business day. Since Monday is Memorial Day, we wouldn't be able to go to the Embassy until Tuesday, in that case. I imagine six days in a very small room with no crib and no microwave and a baby, and almost completely lose my grip. It's like a big crash; we were going to the Embassy in the morning; and now we might not be going for days. The lab has said that they cannot get the results until tomorrow afternoon, which is too late. This, it turns out, is the reason for the cell phone call that was made when we arrived at the lab. Stella assures me that she will do her best to give the lab incentive to get the results sooner; she will keep calling them. I believe her wholeheartedly, and I know she understands how much I want to go home. I also am convinced that, in this case, there's probably not much she can do. Instead, my frustration is directed at the Embassy's policy. Even if the test were positive, it wouldn't affect Jupiter's being admitted into the United States. So why delay the visa process to wait for the results? This makes no sense to me.
Stella calls Olga, who is dropping off another parent at the hotel, and asks her to take a few minutes to bring us to the pharmacy down the street to see if they have anything for my eye. We follow Stella to the lobby; she has to rush off to a meeting, but leaves us with Olga. As we walk the length of the building and turn right along the side of the hotel, I'm a bit dizzy from my vision being so bad, and Melissa takes over carrying Jupiter. We pass the hotel and cross a small side street, and then reach a few shops. A gourmet food shop is first, next to the pharmacy entrance. The pharmacist looks at my eye and converses with Olga. They seem to be discussing the fact that she can't dispense medication without a prescription, but finally suggests some anti-allergic eyedrops. We purchase them and a box of gauze. Olga demonstrates to Melissa how to put in the eyedrops. I don't bother to explain that I'm actually quite good at putting eyedrops in myself. Then she walks us back to the hotel. She had to ask her boyfriend to wait while she took us to the pharmacy, and now leaves with him.
Back in the room, Jupiter snacks on whatever food we can find, which mostly consists of cookies and other junk food. I shove the rollaway snugly between my bed and the side of the bathroom wall, where she's protected on the two long sides. I put a suitcase and some pillows behind the rollaway so she's protected on the third side. Melissa, meanwhile, has reobtained our passports and paid the front desk enough so we can make phone calls. The phone calls cost something outrageous like $3 a minute. The buttons on the phone stick unpredictably, so that it’s almost impossible to dial a 14 digit sequence of numbers correctly. We make one phone call that lasts about five minutes, and then discover that the phone deposit has run out. Melissa goes to pay them some more. I call Donna in the States and ask her to call me back in the hotel. She does, and I cry into the phone, that the Embassy wants some stupid blood test before they'll issue the visa, and it doesn't make sense, and I want her to call the Congresspeople on my list and make them contact the Embassy and tell them to issue the visa so we can go home. She promises to find out what's going on and to call me back later. Jupiter is running around the room, while Melissa sits guard next to the slightly opened window. After we hang up, I lie on the bed some more, creating a pile of oozy kleenex on the bed stand. I'd never realized how completely debilitating untreated conjunctivitis could be. And while I considered having a cold, motion sickness, all manner of physical issues while in country, having conjunctivitis was a possibility that never crossed my mind. I would pretty much kill for antibiotic eyedrops. Jupiter climbs on the bed with me and falls asleep, and I ease her onto the rollaway. Before going to sleep, I spend more time in the bathroom, soaking washcloths in the hottest water I can stand to put on my face. It helps. On the bright side, the water doesn't smell like sulpher. Just as I'm ready to fall asleep, Donna calls back. She reiterates what Stella said earlier, that they're trying very hard to get the results of the blood test sooner, that there's another person Stella is going to call, that tomorrow, if my eye still hurts, I should go to the American medical center to get it checked. She doesn't feel that calling the Congresspeople will help. I hang up the phone and give up the battle, until morning.