Health Care from Personal Experiences.
Health Care System in Russia
A lot was written about Health Care System. Only a lazy one didn’t blog, or post, or comment about Health Care issues. I was going to be a lazy one. But the other day I was talking over Skype with my cousin who lives in Kazakhstan (the country of my birth). I was telling him about some treatment my mother was getting for her eye problem. Amongst the rest I mentioned that America has an amazing medical care. He asked me if it was better than in Israel. I said, YES! Then I corrected myself- I think that Israel might be more advanced in some aspects (like researches in certain medical field); but America might have the longer history of Medical Care System. I asked my cousin about Health Care System in Russia now, if it changed since the time we left the country. He told me that Private Hospitals are great, but very expensive, often times unaffordable for an average person. Government hospitals are the same as in soviet times.
I can’t discuss Health Care Systems development; I am not knowledgeable enough for this. All what I can and want to do is just to go over my memories, about my own personal experiences.
This will give you a glimpse into Russian hospitals
Soviet (socialist) free “Health Security”
I was lucky- first of all, I was growing a healthy child, second of- my mother was a doctor, so I never had a “luck” to stay (or, as they say in Russian, “lay”) in a hospital. When I was sick, my mother was treating me at home, giving me injections if needed, etc. I never was in a hospital overnight as a patient when I was a child. But I knew hospital life from inside, because as it was said, my mother was a doctor. She used to work her day shift in a polyclinic, and then to take a night shift in a hospital (it was called “night duty”). My mother was raising me alone, my grandmother died when I was six. It was not common to hire sitters, so naturally my mother used to bring me along for her night duties. I slept on a leather couch in a “duty room”. I used to play and interact with hospital patients from Orthopedic department . The patients were children, as my Mother worked in Pediatric Surgery. Children stayed in Hospitals without their parents. Imagine all the stress those kids had to go through…. Rooms (they were called “Chambers”) were big, usually there were from six to ten beds in each chamber. When I “laid” in a hospital as already grown up woman (twice during my pregnancy for bed rest and after giving birth to my son) the rooms were same (if not more) crowded. Sometimes there were beds in the hospital corridors. Many surgeries (like appendectomy, tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy and the like) were performed under local anesthesia, which made the procedures more traumatic psychologically.
Doctors as a rule were great. The medical education was free (as any education in Soviet Union), but also doctors (as well as teachers, engineers and other college graduate professionals) were paid miserably funny salaries. In fact they were paid less than a factory line worker with no education. Nevertheless the majority of Health Care professionals were dedicated, high quality specialists who cared about their patients and were saving their lives often times with what little technologies they had. It was unbelievable how doctors were able to treat people under those circumstances, in overcrowded hospitals, with literally ancient equipment. The Health Care system was completely national, under complete government control. It was free, it didn’t cost us a penny (kopeika) to come to a doctor. You come to a polyclinic, sign up at the reception and then seat hours in a line (or stay if all the chairs in a waiting corridor were occupied) until a doctor can see you. Sometimes I used to sit behind the door (in a corner under the coat hanger) in my mother’s office while she was seeing patients. Some days she used to accept up to 70-75 patients during her 6 hours shift. You make a math how much time she had for each one. No every day was like this, but when it was, it was like a conveyer- while one patient was taking his shirt off, she was checking another, giving orders to her nurse, checking the work of another nurse over the treated patient, signing a prescription for the previous patient. Plus tons of paperwork demanded by government. My mother was a great doctor, people were coming to her from remote places, University professors were sending patients to her for consultations. She was making miracles under the circumstances of socialistic medicine. The same were most of her colleagues.
Why the hospitals were so poor? First of all, not ALL the soviet hospitals were that poor. So called “departmental” hospitals were equipped according the last word of medical science, with “chambers” for one (maximum two) patients. Services were no lower than in the best royal hospital. Who were the patients of these hospitals? You bet, they were Soviet government workers of high range.
Normal citizens had no choice but to be in the mercy of doctors in awful, free, government Hospitals. If a Hospital administration was lead by an honest person, the picture was not drastic. The head of a Soviet hospital (CEO)was called “Main Doctor” (“Glavnyi vrach”, or glav-vrach for a short cut). He had medical education. If he was an honest dedicated doctor he had to struggle to keep his hospital on a good level by using government money rightly. Dishonest administration was getting personally rich by stealing from the hospital funds (this could be happening in any type of government business).
Preventive care as an advantage. Bribery as a reality
There was a good thing in governmental (free) health care system- prevention medicine. Since one was not afraid to face huge co-payments, people were going to doctors early enough to prevent major problems by timely treatments. There were regular mandatory health “check ups” in kindergartens, schools and in industries.
The health care itself was not so bad. The hospitals as facilities were awful. Saying of that time- “If you want to be alive- stay away from hospitals”.
Another reality born in a government controlled society- bribery. Honest people didn’t take bribes. How many honest people there were in a socialistic society? A LOT! A lot. Otherwise, the picture would be totally dramatic. But also, there were enough of corrupted money-hungry functioners in a “free” socialistic world. Enough said.
A story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan (USSR) in 1955. Author- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Take care of yourself
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