Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Russian Eye Clinic

May 27, 2005

The Russian Eye Clinic...not found on the regular Moscow tour...

Wendy's Narrative

Embassy? Or Russian Eye Clinic?

Stella calls us early the next morning. She informs us that the doctor is coming to the hotel to visit Jupiter and Nadia, and will fill out the necessary medical paperwork for the Embassy. I am instructed to tell him that she will have the results of Jupiter's HIV test that morning. I'm also instructed to ask him to look at my eye while he is there. For the first time since last night, I start to take small breaths of hope. Since we can't leave the hotel room until the doctor comes, I mix some water into a bottle of formula powder and offer it to Jupiter in place of milk. She drinks the entire amount, and I mix up some more, until her appetite is somewhat sated. Nadia is having her exam first, and then the doctor will come to us.

When he does, Melissa is in the shower. I let the doctor into the hotel room. I have to strip Jupiter down to her diaper, and the doctor wants to wash his hands. Which is a good thing, but Melissa is in the bathroom. I offer him a small bottle of Purell which Melissa has been slathering on her hands at every opportunity in the last 24 hours. He sanitizes his hands and prepares to look at Jupiter. She screams. Strange man creature alert.

The exam is brief; cursory. He listens to her heart and lungs and pokes briefly; calls her "solid", a baby sumo wrestler. Then he calls her legs floppy. He says that she appears to be very healthy and doesn't seem to be HIV positive. He doesn't ask about the results of the blood test. Then, looking at me, he notices my eye, which looks as though it’s been colored with a bright red marker. He takes half a step back in shock, and I explain that I have conjunctivitis. He tells me to take off my glasses, which I have resorted to because I can't wear my contacts anymore. From a distance he examines my eye, and then dials his cell phone. "Stella," he says, followed by an extensive conversation in Russian, which I assume involves me. He seems much more concerned about me than the small person who he came to visit. After the call, he packages up the embassy paperwork neatly in an envelope, tells me that he has told Stella that I must go to an eye specialist, because he thinks I have moved beyond conjunctivitis to something even more ominous and congratulates me on my very healthy daughter. He takes his payment and leaves the room.

If we hurry, we can make it downstairs to the breakfast. We don't know if it’s included with our room but even if we have to pay, it’s worth it at this point to get food. I'm armed with one of Jupiter's sippy cups, hoping to score some milk. At the hotel restaurant entrance, a woman is standing with a list of room numbers. I am carrying Jupiter and show her the card with our room number on it. She waves me through. Melissa can't find her card with the room number on it, and while she is looking, Jupiter realizes that people in the room are eating food. This makes her frantic with hunger, and she starts to fight and scream and scratch at me, convinced that she is not going to eat like the other people in the room. The woman with the register finally just waves Melissa through. I skip the beginning of the line (I've been in Russia long enough to realize that the entire concept of a line is nebulous) and follow along behind it, hoping that somewhere along the bar there might be a pitcher of milk.

In fact there are several glass pitchers filled with various white beverages. Unfortunately none of them are labeled. Even in Russian, I could have read the words for milk and yogurt. Finally I just pick one at random and pour it into Jupiter's sippy cup. A bit further along the bar, there is a dispenser filled with various kinds of cold cereal, including cocoa puffs. Cocoa Puffs!!! I pour some into a bowl, and add some small plain cereal that I think Jupiter will snack on. Melissa has found the table of hot food and grabbed some pancakes, which here are called blinis. There is no maple syrup for them, but there are a couple kinds of jam. We go to find a table. Almost every table is occupied by someone; finally in a corner we find a table to call our own. Out the plate glass window, St. Basil's looks as though it’s a part of the room itself. Jupiter doesn't like the milk. I taste it, and discover that I chose kefir, a Russian yogurt like drink that lots of the babies get in place of formula, but apparently Jupiter did not. Jupiter eats a few bites of cereal, and then she sits with Melissa while I make another foray into gathering food.

I try another pitcher of white liquid, and in the center of the pancake table I discover porridge. I put that into a bowl and add some cream like stuff onto the top. I've had better luck this time; the white liquid is in fact milk and Jupiter likes the oatmeal. She eats heartily and I eat in-between. When she finishes her milk, I fill the sippy cup up again to take back to the room with us. After we return to the room, Jupiter plays for awhile, entertaining herself quite well, and then falls asleep on the floor in the middle of a "shopping" expedition with the spare Tommy document bag. Her face is stuck to the side of the bag as she lies on the floor. She's fallen asleep next to the door of the room, and when the maid knocks on the door for housekeeping, I have to run to stop her from banging Jupiter in the head, calling "maloush spee!!" I'm not sure if I've made any sense, but the maid withdraws and the door closes.

All purpose tote bag...document carrier and pillow!


The phone rings, and I grab it as fast as possible, lest Jupiter be awakened from her nap. If she wakes up, my placing of wet gauze and mopping of ooze will be interrupted. Stella is on the phone. We have an appointment at the Embassy at 2:30. Before the Embassy appointment, the translator is going to take us to the Russian Eye specialist clinic to get my eye examined. I think back to November, to the 3 hours we spent in the children's specialist clinic in Ekaterinburg for a blood test and an immunologist visit. As much as my eye hurts, if there's any chance we're going to miss the Embassy appointment by going to the eye clinic, we're not going to the eye clinic. I'd rather go blind than miss the embassy visit. I ask Stella, trying to be diplomatic about it, if there will be time to get to the clinic and back before the embassy appointment. She tells me, rather forcefully, that my eye must be seen by a doctor. I wonder if we can just send the eye along on its own and the rest of us can catch up later. Besides, I'm a little leery about the Russian eye clinic. Somehow I doubt they don't have all the fancy computers and things that my optometrist in Maine has. He can take pictures of my eyeball and flash them right up on the computer screen. I'm more afraid they're going to come at my eye with big scrapers and pointy things. I wonder if I can get a prescription FEDEXED from the US.

Stella continues. Olga and Boris will be downstairs waiting; we should head down to meet them immediately. We have to wake Jupiter up, and as an added bonus, she doesn't get to eat lunch before we go out for probably the entire afternoon. In fact, she doesn't even get to have a dry diaper before we go out for the entire afternoon. This is not looking good for the afternoon, but the Embassy visit shines like a lighthouse in the middle of everything. Once we clear the embassy, we can go home.

Olga meets us in the lobby, and winces when she sees my eye. She takes us to Boris, who also winces when he sees my eye. Maybe I should take to wearing a paper bag over my head. Olga tells me that we will go to the clinic and see how long the line is to be helped. If the line is too long to make the embassy appointment, we will return after the embassy. I find this acceptable, and look out the windows as the car crawls along in downtown Moscow traffic. Boris driving involves lots of gesticulating and shouting at other drivers when they don't clear out of his way rapidly enough. Eventually the clinic is within walking distance, so Boris parks and we follow Olga down a sidewalk to a tired looking building. She asks for information at the desk and then leads us to somewhere. Non Russians check in at a special office, so we have gone there. Then we are directed upstairs to an office. There is a bank of small skinny elevators. For the most part, all the elevators we have seen seem to hold a max of three people. They don't look reputable, much less reputable than the elevator in my office building which gets stuck a lot, but we get in anyway, invoking the same faith in machinery that lets us get on the airplane.

A doctor looks at my eye. She's brave enough to touch it. She asks a few questions, which Olga translates. When did it start, where did we come from, is it in both eyes. By now it is, although the right eye is much less affected than the left one. The vision in my left eye is still pretty much non existent. The doctor says that it is just conjunctivitis, not anything worse. Another doctor comes into the room, and I sit at one of the eye microscope which does look almost like the one I'm used too. The second doctor looks through the microscope and on my own, I run through the directions that 15 years of contact lens exams have made second nature to me. Look up, blink. Look down, blink. The second doctor concurs with the first. Conjunctivitis.

We follow Olga down the hall and around a corner to the right. There are some chairs and two women waiting in the hallway. Olga indicates that we should sit. We sit on the couch next to one of the women. She inspects Jupiter, who is sitting on my lap. "Malchik?" she asks. She wants to know if Jupiter is a boy. She doesn't have enough hair to wear barrettes, and I had to put away all the headbands because she kept putting them around her neck to wear as necklaces. I sigh, and indicate the pink sparkly shoes that Jupiter would wear to bed if I let her. "Dyevochka,” I tell her. She's a girl. The woman talks to Jupiter for a minute, and as always, Jupiter loves hearing Russian. She wants to run around for awhile, so Melissa takes her for a run. Then she returns to me and nibbles on one of the Russian baby cookies, which is all the food we have at the moment. When the office door opens, the lady sitting on the couch indicates that we should go in first; more baby line cutting benefits, apparently. I spasiba her, and go in with Olga, while Melissa and Jupiter run up and down the hallway outside.

The third doctor looks at my eye through the microscope. She asks the same questions and a few more. She wants to know if I've had a cold. I don't think so; and I offer up my theory that the pollution in my contact lenses caused the problem. They think this theory is ridiculous. The doctor says that I have conjunctivitis. She writes some things on a pad; medicines to be filled at the pharmacy. They tell me not to touch the baby, hold the baby, or pretty much look at the baby; because conjunctivitis is contagious. They tell me that when I first start the medicine, my vision may actually get worse before it gets better, but this is normal and I should not worry about it. They tell me that in two weeks, I should go to the doctor again so they can recheck it. This I'm not worried about. I'm going to the doctor on Tuesday. In the US.

Back in the hallway, I touch the baby. I hold the baby and look at her. I'm careful to not let her touch my face, insofar as possible, but I’m not going to interrupt bonding so I can be sick. We go back downstairs (on the stairs this time, to our relief) and locate Boris. He forces the car through traffic, and Jupiter fusses, as she is both hungry and thirsty. The cookies aren't really enough for her anymore. Olga offers her some yogurt that she has bought for herself. It is prune flavored. Jupiter makes a face at it, just like I would have done, in fact, but drinks some anyway. She's too hungry to be picky. We don't have any water, but I assume that the waiting room in the Embassy since it is technically American soil is required by law to have a vending machine.

As it turns out, the Embassy is not far away from the eye clinic. We're there well before our appointment time. In our experience, well before can range anywhere from a half hour to five minutes before. Olga studies the doctor prescriptions and talks over pharmacy options with Boris. She leaves to make photocopies of some documents, and when she returns, tells me that she will try to fill the prescriptions while we are in the embassy, if I can give her the rubles to pay for them. I am fresh out of rubles, having used the last of them to pay for the visit to the eye specialists (yes, plural). Melissa coughs up what's left of her rubles. Then Olga walks us to the embassy entrance, and leaves us to the guards and our US passports. We flash the paper with the time of our appointment on it, give up our passports, and get wanded. Then our passports are returned to us and we are motioned inside.

We have to take a number, like at the deli counter in the food store. The adoption part of the building is upstairs. We follow the signs with large pointed arrows. A medium sized waiting room is filled with families who want to go home. Nearly all these people will be checking in for tomorrow's Delta flight to JFK. A tv/vcr on the wall plays Disney's The Jungle Book. There is no vending machine filled with Poland Spring water. Rats. I pay the fee for Jupiter's US visa at the cash window. I clutch the receipt I am given to the number I took from the machine in the lobby downstairs. Then we wait, wondering where Sam and Diane are and why they're not here yet. A short while later, a man comes into the lobby and introduces himself. He tells jokes. He explains that we'll be called up to the windows by our numbers, and will be given three packets of information. The first is citizenship information from the embassy and contains an application for a US passport which we can apply for when we get home. Our Russian children will become American citizens as our planes touch down on American soil. The passports make their citizenship status indisputable to anyone who is not aware of this fact. The second packet is the Russian documentation that was used to create the visas. This includes our original copies of the court decree and the birth certificates listing us as the parents. He emphasizes the fact that these original copies are the only ones there are. If they get lost, the Embassy does not have copies. The US government does not have copies. If we need new copies, we have to come back to Russia to get them. We repeat this information back to him. The third packet is a sealed envelope which is not to be opened other than by the immigration officer at our point of entry into the United States. In our case, that will be Boston. We're not sure when it will be as we have not had a chance to rebook flights yet.

The embassy officials begin dinging numbers up onto the wall, and the first three families approach the windows. Sam and Diane are still not here. It seems ironic that we were the ones in danger of missing the Embassy, and they're the ones who are not here yet. Finally they arrive, practically running up the stairs. Sam goes to the windows to pay the visa fee, and then I rehash the speech we were just given for their benefit. There was some kind of mix up with the driver and translator and they didn't leave the hotel until it was almost time to be at the Embassy. They are not pleased but we concur that now that they are here, things will be all set. In fact, even though I had expected the Embassy to be quite official and a bit of a nerve wracking process, it is nothing like that. I had thought that Melissa wouldn't be allowed to come with us, or to the interview part, but it's all very informal. When our number flashes onto the screen, it’s the middle window that is free. It’s the funny man who gave the speech. But by the time Jupiter and I get to the window, somebody else is standing there having their interview. Where did the other people come from? And what should I do now? Should I wait right there, or go back to my seat? I decide that I’m this close, and I’m not moving. I stay where I am until the line cutter finishes, and when they're gone the funny embassy man motions me up to the window. He apologizes; somehow that person got skipped before. It doesn't matter to me anyway because we are now officially at the Embassy. Getting our visa. To go home.

He goes over the packets with me. The only questions I am asked are in reference to the little sticky notes pasted all over the paperwork we had filled out the night before. These are placed anywhere there is a blank spot, or a discrepancy. He verifies the spelling of Jupiter's name. I'm not sure if I would tell him if it were wrong. I'll change the spelling of her name before I stay here four more days. He asks me to remove my glasses so I'll look like my passport picture. I remove my glasses, but I still don’t look like the passport picture, since they used the redeye feature when the picture was taken. After checking the paperwork, another official interrupts to ask a question, and after answering, the funny embassy man gives me Jupiter's Russian passport, with US entry visa, and tells us congratulations. I pause for a moment. "I'm all set?" I ask. It feels like there should be more. "You're all set," he answers. So I pile up our paperwork, lift Jupiter off the desk thing where she has been sitting, and tell Melissa we can go. I put the documents into the Tommy document bag. We wish Sam and Diane good luck, and go down the stairs and through the door labeled exit, which comes out to a slightly different side of the building, but we find our way to the front and thus back to the car.

Olga and Boris seem to be having an argument over where best to go to fill the prescription that the doctor has written. The argument takes a long time. Olga wants to take us to one of Moscow's famous parks. While I wish we could see some of Moscow (or pretty much anything, for that matter), I want to get the baby food and I feel like crap. I decline the park, but say that if we see any place to get food for the baby, I want to stop there. While we're figuring out what to do next, Olga's phone rings. I have left important paperwork inside the Embassy, and must return to go get it. Since I don't know exactly what I’m supposed to be getting or how to get it, I'm stressed. Melissa will stay in the car with Jupiter. I go back down the street, hoping that I’ll recognize the embassy building when I half see it. The guards look familiar, and I go through the ID and search process again.

Sam and Diane are still in the adoption room, because they were the last to arrive. They're surprised to see me back. I go and stand in my familiar spot just behind the middle window. After the funny embassy man finishes helping the current family, he waves me up to the window. He apologizes profusely, and hands me the third packet, the one that gets us through immigration in the US. It is certainly important paperwork. I take my sealed envelope and returns to the car. Olga tells me how good it was that we hadn't left the Embassy yet. I agree that it was convenient.

Boris drives to a pharmacy. Olga goes into the pharmacy alone, and returns with a small bag and a bottle of water for the baby. She tells me that this is the absolute best brand of Russian water, filled with all sorts of good extras. Most notably, carbon dioxide. Jupiter doesn't like fizz. Olga seems surprised that Jupiter doesn't like the gourmet water. I drink some, since for the past hour I've been repeating my Monk phrase: I'm so damn thirsty. Jupiter gets progressively fussier. Olga makes Boris drive to yet another pharmacy, because the first one didn't have everything she needed to get. This pharmacy is larger, and Olga returns to the car triumphant. She has everything. As Boris drives, Olga sets to work working out the dosages for the medicines. Plural. When she begins to explain them to me, I’m shocked. I have three different types of eyedrops and two bottles of pills. For conjunctivitis??? I try to listen to Olga, but it’s very confusing. She starts to write on the boxes how often to take each medicine. When she finishes, we’re back at the big square hotel. Boris is relieved, because Jupiter has been screaming for 20 minutes. We haul her up to the room and she has some water and formula to drink, and snacks on anything we have left in the room. I dump out my goodie bag of eye drops and try to focus on what there is.

Inventory: Four bottles (very small bottles) of Eye Drop 1. Take 2-3 times a day.
Two bottles of eye drop 2. Take 4-5 times a day.
1 bottle of eye drop 3. Take twice a day.
One box of claratin. I know this because one side is in English.
One box of Centrum vitamins.

It now takes me a half hour to put in eye drops, as I have to wait five minutes after putting in one kind of drop before putting in the next one. Melissa entertains Jupiter while I sit at the table playing with eyedroppers and trying to replace the lids on the bottles by touch without knocking all the other bottles on the floor. I take a claratin (I've been meaning to try it anyway in case it helps with my cat allergies. Here's my chance!) but skip the vitamins. I'm still convinced it was the pollution. Omar calls and I tell him we have the visa, we can come home, and can he please call Lufthansa to see if we can fly out tomorrow. He puts the regular phone down on the counter and calls Lufthansa on his cell phone. I don't expect that they're going to let him change the flight, but he comes back on and says that the next flight that has two seats is on Sunday, and do I want them to change the reservation? I'm floored that they're just going to let him change it, but I'm still holding out for leaving on Saturday, so I don't have him change it. I'll try to call the Moscow office of Lufthansa directly. After we hang up, Stella calls. She asks me to come to the lobby of the hotel to speak with her. I find my way downstairs, and Stella says goodbye to the parent she is with, and takes me a short distance to a bench. She wants to know if my eye is any better; if I have gotten some medicine. I say yes to both. She tells me how upset she was when she found out I had called the agency in the US, because she really was trying her best to get the blood test results in time. I’m surprised by this, and I try desperately to reassure her that I knew that; it was the Embassy and the US government I was upset with, not her. I’m not sure she believes me, but she moves on to the next topic, changing plane reservations. I tell her I haven't been able to contact Lufthansa yet. She calls her office and gets a number which she then dials, but the local office is closed for the day now. She gives me another number and tells me to go back to the room and call them to change the reservation, and when I know what flight we're on, to call her so she can arrange for a driver.

Sign found in the hotel's elevator

I find my way back upstairs and call Lufthansa. The first flight out is still on Sunday. This time I book it. Melissa suggests that a nice restful day before another long day of traveling might be a good thing. We throw food options out into the room. Supposedly there are a bunch of restaurants and an entire mall around Red Square, but we have no idea how to get there. Finally we go to the cafe at the end of the hallway. As always, I'm obsessed with getting milk for Jupiter. I ask the woman, "ooh vas yest malako?" with a terrific Russian accent. I know this because she answers me immediately, also with a terrific Russian accent. Unfortunately, since the answer consists of more than Da or Nyet, I have no idea what she said. Finally she switches to limited English. Do I want the milk warm or cold? We take it warm. The attendant won’t let us take the glass, so she pours it into a paper cup for us. Jupiter and I walk up and down the hotel hallway. Up and down. Up and down. A bus tour starts to move in onto the floor. The group is from England, so Jupiter gets attention from lots of English ladies as she makes her rounds. Tonight, before she goes to sleep, I give her a bath in the hotel bathtub. She still hates baths, and cries throughout, so I try to make the torture end as quickly as possible. Eventually she falls asleep. After another half hour of eyedrops (they feel like sulphuric acid but I'm pretty sure it’s the infection causing that, not the eyedrops) I go to bed with hot washcloths. I've used up all the kleenex and now am using rolls of travel charmin to mop my eyes. When I look in the mirror, I discover an entire layer of toilet paper lint all over my eyelids. Where's Halloween when you need it?

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