Sick In Russia

Warning: this travel anecdote contains graphic depictions of me being unwell.

I am in Пермь (Perm). The current time is 4AM. My friend Влад (Vlad) has packed his bags and walked out to a waiting taxi that will take him to the airport where he will go onto Москва (Moscow). I get up, go to the bathroom and piss blood. This isn’t a good thing.

4AM is 8AM in Melbourne. I lie in bed and message Jess. We settle on a urinary tract infection. I check my medkit and discover I have antibiotics for such a thing. I start the course and go back to bed. I too am leaving Пермь today. In a few hours I will walk to the train station.

All the way to the train station I feel under the weather. Crushed under the weather. I was tired, I felt like ‘winter is coming’. The need to urinate: ever-present. The act of urinating: excruciating –so painful my knees would give way.

My train arrives. I climb aboard and am met with my first train companion that is genuinely interested in having a conversation. His name is Евгений (Evgeny), a teacher from Омск (Omsk).

Евгений doesn’t believe in antibiotics. He makes this point known when it’s time for me to take my next course. The only true antibiotics are meat and чай (tea) with honey. He has determined that I am to thin, I don’t eat enough meat: my vegetarianism is to blame. My clothing is also too thin and I all I have is a cold. I try to charade pissing blood but the timer goes off before he gets it.

He’s a nice man, but for the first time, I don’t really want to talk to anyone. I’ve got a fever, hot sweats and cold chills and, a temperature. He suggests sleeping. I give it a go and take one hour naps for the next four or five hours. When I awake the final time. He’s brought me a чай and a container of honey. Enough honey for ten cups of чай. I don’t complain and I enjoy my super sweet чай. I am not cured though, and I decide to continue my course of antibiotics at the next interval.

The train trip with Евгений is about nine hours and we arrive in a place called Киров (Kirov). I will wait in Киров for seven hours before taking an overnight train to Казань (Kazan). This plan was fine right up until 4AM this morning. I come off the train with a fever and a stupid idea to photograph the statue of Ленин (Lenin). I have a picture of every other Ленин so far; Киров would fall in line. As I trudge off towards where the statue it roughly is it starts to snow. It snows desiccated coconut. Big chunks that lodge in whatever they hit.

I’d been through the coconut for about ten minutes when I saw a statue in the distance. That must be it and I walked towards it. It’s one of those statues that no matter how far you walk; it’s always on the horizon. When I do arrive, it isn't Ленин, it was Киров. I looked down at my phone and found Ленин is but a few streets away, these few streets take me another twenty minutes. Distances are strange in this city or perhaps I’m trudging slower than usual. My backpack feels heavy. I am in no condition for this. I arrive, I take two photographs and then I sit down. I am exhausted.

I decide on food at the nearest place. I go in and the woman serving speaks some English. I ask her to find a dish on the menu that has fish, perhaps some rice and some vegetables. The food came out, and as food is in Россия (Russia), it was very oily. The fish is almost too oily to eat. My stomach doesn't want oil, but I told it to shut up. When the bill came it was 870 roubles. Nothing in this place costs 870 roubles. When I inquired she said, you ordered a dish of fish, and a dish of rice and a dish of vegetables. 870 roubles is about $25 Australian. The most expensive meal I’ve eaten since leaving Australia. I am too sick to argue so I pay and dragged my sorry self back to the train station.

Four more hours to wait.

I know, I’ll go get some drugs. I’ve not taken any paracetamol or ibuprofen. Just some antibiotics that I already had with me. I enter the аптека (pharmacy) and join the queue. I decide I will use brand names to communicate. I don't know what paracetamol translates to in русский (Russian).



“Nurofen” I say.

“What!?” She responds. And then another women behind me speaks.

“He said Nurofen.”

“OH.” She reaches behind her and grabs a packet of Nurofen.

Now she asks another question. I don’t understand. I say да (yes). In the hope it was a да/нет question. It wasn’t. A third women joins in and says:

“She wants to know if you want tablet or capsule.”.

“I don’t care. Tablets”.

Then the woman behind the counter talks again. My newly acquired translator kicks into gear.

“She doesn’t have Panadol but she has a paracetamol if you want that.” At this point I learn that that the русский for paracetamol is парацетамол (paratsetamol).

“Yes. Please.”

She puts the drugs on the counter and I pay. Another question comes.

“You don’t look very sick”. It is a statement or a rhetorical question. I assure them both that this is the case. Now she wants to have a full conversation with me and I feel bad for the people who are in the queue and would like to get their drugs. No doubt they are sick too.

“Are you cold?” She asks.

“I am. Very cold.”

“You can stay in here if you want. Until your train comes.” What a nice old woman. I thank her but decline her offer to stand in a tiny pharmacy for four hours.

I go across the road and sit in a cafe. I drink 12-rouble cups of чай –just so I’m not freeloading. The cafe is hot and I’m sweating but I’ve got no more layers to take off. My face hurts. Now, I’m cold. I’m a sorry sack. About ninety minutes after I take the drugs I suddenly feel awake and alert. My fever has lifted.

I eat cake.

At eleven the cafe closes and I go across to the train station and stand out on the freezing platform until a quarter to twelve. Our carriage boards last because the attendant is doing everything else. I find my berth and I sleep until morning.

To be continued…? Only if I find out the answer to the age old answer: whether it’s better of visit a doctor in Россия or in România.

when: Saturday, April 26, 2014