16 March 2009

My Mystery Ambulance Ride in St Petersburg

In the wee hours of a summer night... I awoke with a racing heart! Larissa
called 03. A doctor rang our apartment in half an hour, lugging a large bag and a portable EKG. In Russia a medical home visit is free and available round the clock. If you are very sick you are not expected to come to the clinic.

My doctor decided I had earned a trip to a mystery hospital. I was loaded into the 03 ambulance waiting outside. In this situation you can't specify your choice of hospital for it all depends on which is next on their list, and during the White Nights in St Petersburg whether the bridges are open on their route to that target.

This ride was my initiation with 03 transport. The interior had a bed but not much else... no oxygen tank, intravenous system, or defibrillator. It felt more like a transport van than an ambulance. In Russia sirens are rarely heard, the most you will see is flashing lights. The vehicle started to sputter and rolled to a stop. Our driver played with the old engine while the doctor took my EKG with his portable machine. It reading was better than before, and soon after the engine too improved and came to life.

We went quickly through the deserted St Petersburg streets. The city to this day doesn't have a completed ring road system, so some destinations require a drive through the beautiful downtown.

The hospital quickly got me upstairs for treatment. It had been around 90 minutes since my wife's phone call. Patients with heart attacks or strokes suffer when minutes matter. I think that the 03 system with home calls is a good part of the Russian medical system. The problems lie with slow response time on inadequate roads, hospital selection criteria, and insufficient 03 equipment.

The Kremlin has spent large sums to improve medical care since my early days here. Just as in the US, health delivery organization needs attention but but in each country different aspects are problems. We'll look at this topic soon again.

Meanwhile, if you see a 03, wave... there may be another expatriate inside!

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