The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Something is Rotten in the State of Russia

The corruption in Russia came as a shock at first. Of course, I know there is corruption in Britain, and that other emerging economies have problems, but it is difficult to grasp its pervasiveness in Russian society until you have lived here.

But just as I thought I had grown accustomed to the system, my girlfriend’s time in hospital after she fractured her leg delivered an ugly education in just how deep the rot has sunk.

The apathy and laziness of the medical staff in the hospital was mind-boggling. Rearranging bedding, resetting the traction for her broken leg, removing garbage, and maintaining cleanliness in the immediate area around her bed was left to me and her mother.

Nurses responded to requests with the slothfulness of a child made to tidy his bedroom. On one occasion, my girlfriend required serious pain relief early in the morning and pressed the emergency attention button. After a five minute wait, she wondered whether it was broken, so a lady in a neighbouring bed offered to press hers, only to find her bed had been arranged so the emergency button was out of reach. 45 minutes later a nurse appeared.

Doctors seldom visited.

The level of care was appalling enough, but it became horrifying when I was told by a friend it could be improved immediately not by transfer to a different hospital, or to a private ward, or even the purchase of private care, but by simple palm greasing – and, in fact, if I wanted my girlfriend to get better and walk without a limp, I had better open my wallet and buy some ‘gifts’.

In effect, the substandard treatment and care in the hospital was only partly due to incompetent, lazy staff; mainly it was the most subtle manifestation of the shocking modus operandi of many of the medical staff: the extortion of bribes.

Corruption is as systemic in the Russian health service as it is in the Russian traffic police, but I see a clear moral difference. It is one thing to take a bribe off a driver caught speeding, but it is quite another to demand money for medical treatment.

Two stories of my girlfriend’s stay in hospital to drive home the point: An old lady opposite my girlfriend in the small ward needed to use the bathroom late at night. She, like most of the others, was immobilized and had to use the bedpan. After she had finished, the nurse refused to clean her until a bribe of RUB100 (USD3) was paid. Now, I know that cleaning faeces from an old ladies bottom is not the most pleasant of tasks, but if you’re a nurse, it comes with the territory. And what kind of person is willing to let an old, immobilized person lie in her own mess all night until visiting hours if a bribe is not paid?

Second, a very tiny, frail old lady was admitted in the middle of the night with a broken pelvis. The nurses who brought her to the ward on the stretcher both refused to lift her onto the bed until a bribe was paid. They told her to move herself. Not being a doctor and never having broken my pelvis, I can’t say, but I imagine that moving from stretcher to a bed in that condition would be an excruciating task. And having seen the size of the poor lady, I would guess she weighed no more than 50KG (110lb, 8 stone). But wieght wasn’t the problem. They knew she was in agony and desperate, so it was a perfect opportunity for extortion.

Even worse stories can be read here, here and here.

The iniquity of these wicked people is beyond my comprehension, and they reflect badly on Russia and the Russian people.

That makes me sad to say, and isn’t really fair on the majority of Russians (or a minority of medical staff), but to be honest that hospital made me feel pretty pessimistic about the country.

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5 Responses

  1. I had minor surgery in Taiwan and had to “tip” after . . . since they knew I was a foreigner and would not arrive with my red envelop in hand.

    • parallaxbrief says:

      Actually, a Greek friend of mine claims that the situation is the same in Greece. I’m not sure, though; here in Russia it’s abysmal. You simply don’t get anything beyond the bare minimum to keep you alive — and often not that. There’s a widespread effort to deliberately fleece the desperate, and clearly there’s at very least a tacit understanding that treatment can be withdrawn at any stage, no matter what the situation, if palms aren’t sufficiently greased.

      And I think that’s the lowest of the low.

  2. mosaikmum says:

    I’m a nurse in Australia….this news sickens me to the stomach.
    How can one human being treat another human being with so little compassion?
    Aside from the ‘Code of Professional Conduct’ the ‘Code of Ethics’ and the ‘Code of Clinical Practice’ that Australian nurses are required to abide by, I am always of the opinion that ‘that little old woman/man who needs cleaning up/to be fed…whatever…could be your own mum or dad and I look after them in a way that I would want my family to be treated…or indeed how I myself would want to be treated.

  3. parallaxbrief says:

    I’m not sure the phrase “there, but for the grace of God, go I” means anything to these people. I’m sure as a nurse, mosaikmum, you have seen or know of plenty of occasions where the medical provision or care wasn’t up to scratch; perhaps you’ve even had a day yourself where you lost your temper, or let fatigue or stress get the better of you — you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.

    However, that is completely difficult from the deliberate exploitation of people when they’re at their weakest. If you are in pain, if you are in desperate need of any medical treatment, or if you are concerned that poor medical work may lead to serious complications, you’re an easy target, and these people deliberately exploit on that.

    You want to sleep in your own faeces all night? Fine: don’t pay me. You want to keep your leg? I want XYZ. That broken knee hurts? If you want morphine I want 20 bucks. It’s easy. People will pay for that kind of thing.

    The wickedness astonishes me.

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