When I tell people I was born in the Soviet Union, more often than not I hear them ask, “The medical care there was amazing, wasn’t it?” Well, let me tell you about just how fantastic it was. God, those fond memories are just rushing in.
Medical care in the USSR was completely free. Of course, if you didn’t offer any gifts or bribes to the doctors and nurses, you could count on nobody paying any attention to you and making you wait forever even for the urgent medical procedures. To give an example, my mother couldn’t convince the nurses she was in labor. They kept telling her to wait in a very rude manner. It wasn’t my mother’s first time giving birth, so she was pretty sure of what was going on. Still, nobody wanted to pay attention to her. It was night-time, and she was being extremely inconsiderate going into labor at that inconvenient time.
When I was five, I had a tonsillectomy. It is a fairly minor procedure that many people undergo with no complications. So it would have been in my case had it not been for the fact that the doctors confused me with some other little girl who was allergic to anaesthetics. So they didn’t anesthetize me. (Something tells me that the other girl was a lot worse off because they must have pumped her full of drugs she was allergic to and that I was supposed to get instead.)
Before the operation, my parents told me that I would be given a medication to make the procedure painless. So when the doctor started tearing my tonsils out with no anaesthetic, I started crying. Not surprising, given that I was five years old. So he hit me in the face with his fist to shut me up. When I walked out of the operation room (which you were supposed to leave the moment the operation ended), my face was covered in blood. Then I was put in a ward with many other little kids. It was December, and the room was freezing cold. It was so cold that I got pneumonia. At least, my mother was there with me, which was very unusual in Soviet hospitals. Normally, little sick kids were denied any contact with their parents during hospitalization. So I was really lucky. The nice, kind doctors wouldn’t let me leave because apparently they weren’t done with me just yet. When matters started looking really grim, my grandfather came and removed me from the hospital. So at least I’m alive.
When my sister was about the same age, she got sick. Kids get sick, it happens. A doctor came to see her. She looked at my sister indifferently and said to my mother, stifling a yawn: “The kid’s gonna die, lady. She’s in a bad way.” Of course, my mother started crying and saying that it wasn’t possible. It didn’t even seem like my sister was feeling all that bad. “I said she’ll die,” said the doctor irritably. “Can’t you hear me?” But at least that nice doctor came to visit us absolutely for free. (My sister grew up to be a beautiful, healthy adult, thanks be to Allah.)
These are just a few of my stories about the beauty of the Soviet healthcare. One day I’ll tell you about the wonders of the Soviet gynecological services which will turn your stomach. So don’t be too surprised if I don’t take all that kindly to any pontifications on how amazing the medical care in the USSR was.