Buckle up, folks, this is a long one.
Paige has this weird obsession with being healthy, so she enjoys various forms of inhuman torture such as running, exercising, and eating better in order to lose weight and not feel like her shoulder blades are about to collapse into her body like the car-in-the-tree scene in Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, due to us adjusting to living in another country, taking classes while adjusting to living in another country, and getting used to living in a stranger's home in another country, she's been slacking in her running and was feeling kind of down about it the other day. Like the good husband who also is aware of his own flabiousness, I suggested that I go running with her so as to make things easier on her, and so if we are accosted by vagrant ninjas or something, we can lock arms and commence battle back-to-back like true warriors. We planned to go earlier in the mornings so as to avoid the more inquisitive Russian pedestrians (They don't jog here just willy-nilly like we do, and they find it kind of disconcerting to see someone running down the street at them for some reason. This is actually true, not one of my weirdo jokes.), so we just needed to find a good place.
I hopped on Google Earth, which is the nickname for a program called "The Greatest Thing Ever Invented", and proceeded to check the areas around our apartment building. There's a strip of park nearby where people go to let 2 things off of their leashes: kids and dogs. Now, we had wandered through this park before and seen these 2 specific things there, but I, in my wisdom, mentally declared this place as the best possible option for running. In my defense, there aren't really any other big parks and you can't run on the sidewalks because there are LITERALLY 700 people walking on any 5 yard strip of sidewalk at any time, and they all hate you if you're trying to go anywhere that is in front of them, so it's not like we had a huge selection. In any case, I measured the distance around the peremiter of the park, and we woke up late-ish on this, the holiday "Russia Day", our day off, in order to go jogging.
Now, I'm not a big fan of jogging, but I recognize the benefits despite the fact that it makes me want to die while I'm doing it, so I put on my tough face and we set off. The children were fine, and the dogs were sparce, so we completed an entire 1-mile lap without any problems. In fact, I was doing pretty good and even keeping up with Paige. Midway through the 2nd lap, however, we had a close call with a huge Dobermain who was fortunately leashed up and connected to a woman who had no qualms with punching her pet when he saw a pair of tasty Americans wander by. As a side note, I'm not too educated on the laws here in Russia, but I'm willing to bet a reasonable amount of money that there is a leash law here, but laws here aren't so much statements of "It is illegal to--" as they are more challenges of "We bet you can't--", so naturally no one gives a crap. Regardless, after the Dobermain, we should've turned right around. We rounded the corner into the 2nd half of our 2nd lap to be greeted with a couple mid-sized animals with owners standing next to them. The dogs were happy, lying about smiling, but unleashed. As dogs are for some reason programmed to do, they began yapping and jumping when Paige ran past, saw me trailing, and (as far as I'm concerned, thankfully) switched their focus away from Paige to my pasty white legs that were visible between my shorts and my shoes. Ironically, the one dog that was wearing a muzzle bounded up a bit too close for comfort, so I stopped running as I have heard one is supposed to do. He rewarded my caution by taking a delicious taste of my left calf, right in the meaty bit (I swear this the one and only time I will refer to any of my limbs as "meaty"). The muzzle subdued his bite, but it was one of those stupid leather cage muzzles so he had more than enough leeway to sink his teeth in, leaving a wound about 1 inch wide and 2 inches or so long. I felt a quick pain, looked down, and saw the blood begin to slowly come to the surface and come out to say hello.
So you're in a foreign country and you've just been bit by someone's dog. What do you do? Naturally and logically, you stop, say to yourself "I'm in a foreign country and I've just been bit by someone's dog," you approach this person, exchange words and information, and then get yourself to the nearest hospital for a bandage and a lollypop. I'm not in a foreign country, though, I'm in Russia where everything works bizarro. Instead of rational thinking and action on behalf of both parties, the woman whose dog this was scolds her animal, grabs him, and promptly leaves the area. Meanwhile, I begin to curse Russia and everything it stands for while thinking to myself "Oh great, now I have to go to the bloody hospital. This is going to be so incredibly retarded I will not even be able to believe it." At least my one thought was to get to the hospital. I could've reacted like a missionary and immediately started taking pictures of my wound and searching for an internet club to write home about my cool new dog bite experience in Russia!
We get home, and while our landlady begins loudly instructing me nonstop about which random something to put on my wound, Paige calls up the American Medical Center here in Moscow. They tell her they don't do rabies shots, and give her some other suggestions. She calls the European Medical Center here in Moscow, and they set up an appointment for a hour and a half later. Now some of you right now are like "An hour and a half?! That's a ridiculously long period of time to have to wait for a doctor visit during which time you will certainly turn into a frothing man-beast and begin to seek out raw steaks!" and this is because most of you are Americans who hop in your fancy "motorcars" and drive to your precious "Emergency Rooms". Here in Moscow, we take the subway, and then we have to pop out of the ground at the other end and search around for where the crap we are like Bugs Bunny. Paige and I gather up the necessities, and while our landlady continues to offer advice (along with the now-classic line that encapsulates the mindset of the Russian babushka: "Well, before you go to the hospital, don't you want to eat breakfast?"), we rush out the door, still in our sweaty jogging clothes, without having showered. It is now 10:30am.
We get to the nearest metro stop and surface, blinking into the sunlight, and immediately pull out our maps and compasses to orientier our way to the hospital. We gradually get our bearings not without asking directions, and as we are scrambling our way towards health, we spy a logo we recognize. You never truly realize how trained we are to respond to brands until you go to a foreign country and you can recognize a familiar color scheme or logo from blocks away. There, on the other side of the street, in the direction of our hospital, was none other than a window with huge CINNABON poster in it. Cinnabon? In Russia? What the crap? We had never even heard of such a thing, and as such, we laughed, cried, embraced eachother in our tears, and vowed to return to this oasis on the way back from the hospital, me all patched up and mouth-foam-free, and partake in the lucious, American mass of gooey dough that is a Cinnabon. Suddenly Russia was not such an angry place.
We found the European Medical Center at last, and while it was a normal Russian building on the outside, inside it was like anyother hospital you've ever been to. There was even a water cooler which I think is actually the Fountain of Youth. Either that or I was really thirsty at this point since Russia is incredibly hot and humid in the summer. We talked to all the nurses in English, and the Russian doctor saw me, cleaned my leg, slapped some bandage on it, and then proceeded to explain the following to us. Rabies is rare in Russia, maybe 3 or 4 cases per year, but it's smart to get the vaccination anyway. Rabies vaccinations are done in a series of 4 to 6 shots depending, over the course of a few months. According to Russian law, private clinics are not allowed to administer THE FIRST SHOT, although they are more than welcome to administer all of the other shots in the series. As such, they needed to send us to a different, public hospital to get the first shot done. This is weird, we think, but ok, whatever, Russia has weirdo stupid laws. He writes down what goos I need to get for my leg, refers us to another hospital, and we're off. Keep in mind that while the metro is incredibly fast compared to walking, it still takes a long time to get places. When we tell people who ask that it takes us an hour on the metro to get from our house to school, they nod and invariably reply, "Oh, an hour for Moscow isn't so bad."
Things are looking up, we think. My leg is all patched and we're on our way for a shot and then homeward. Plus, as you will remember, there's a Cinnabon nearby. We approach the Cinnabon window, and look at the posters. They are huge and cover the entire window. Ok, whatever. When we enter the nearest door, however, I'm greeted by a security guard who tells me there's nothing in there except a currency exchange and I should probably get lost as someone is in there exchanging currency. I return to the street to greet Paige; downtrodden and with a heavy heart, I inform her that it appears that the Russian tendency to print off random images they find on the internet and hang them up has reared itself again and despite the huge posters, there is nothing. We gravely trudge onward, hungry and salivating.
The afternoon is in full swing now as we walk the couple miles to our next hospital and begin the official "Search for What Freaking Building You Need". The big, public, hospitals here are large complexes instead of large buildings. As such, instead of trying to find whichever department you need in a building, you need to wander around a couple city blocks to find which building you need. We are directed to a large, main building, enter, wait, and finally are able to talk to a doctor who gives us the following news. Looking back, I cannot for the life of me figure this guy out for reasons that will soon become apparent. He explains that the vaccinations they have at the hospital are not as clean and not as high quality as those at this American center he knows. He says he's going to go call them and set everything up. We stand by. He returns and writes down the address and explains a bit how to get there. It's on a street called "2nd Yarmskaya", and it's supposedly not too far. In my mind, this seems like a bang-up thing to do, sending us somewhere better, so we smile nervously and set off. This is when the story gets really fun.
We walk over to this place which is another few miles. On the map I carry with me, I had found 1st, 3rd, and 5th Yarmskaya all in the same area. These streets are in the area the man explained to us. We finally get there after a while of walking and begin to ask people about this "2nd Yarmskaya". "Well, 1st is over there, and this is 3rd. I know there's a 5th up there, but I've never heard of a 2nd... A hospital? Um, no, I don't think so. Not around here, anyway." This is repeated 4 or 5 times by different people on the street. It has been a couple hours since we left the second hospital, we sink onto a bench, broken and defeated. Rabies begins to look fairly inviting compared to the wandering. The wandering is terrible. I call up the Euros again.
Naturally, as administrative types express in times like these, they are absolutely flabbergasted at what has been going on with us. How could this possibly be? It is so confusing and strange and unheard of and etc. My doctor's secretary comes back and gives me the addresses of 4 more hospitals, all of which are open 24 hours and any one of which would be more than willing to give me the first rabies shot. I pick one that is on the way home and on a street that I can actually see on my map. We reluctantly trudge onward, having been hoodwinked, but for a thoughtful reason, I guess? Denied of our cinnamon rolls and a handful of hours into our adventure, we slowly make our way to the closest metro station.
As we near the station, we wander through the forest of kiosks, stores, and restaurants that are always right next to metro stations and suddenly see balloons and a smiling person standing on the sidewalk. As we come around some trees, we cannot believe our eyes which suddenly begin to well up with tears. Sweet, cinnamon-scented, frosted tears. We step into the first Cinnabon I've ever seen in the former Soviet Union (and if my research since is correct, the ACTUAL first Cinnabon in the former Soviet Union) to be greeted with a huge smile and an energetic "HELLO!" Oh yeah. The Americans have been at work here. A nervous business-type woman is milling about the counters while employees scramble around behind them. I begin to ask which size rolls are which and the business lady begins to explain to me that "MINI-BANS" are little pastry rolls with cinnamon and this sugary frosting and stuff. It was their first week open, I learn from the nervous but bubbly girl working the counter, and I conclude that apparently people here don't know what the crap a cinnamon roll is. I see a girl outside giving out samples to passersby.
Paige and I wash up a bit in their brand-new bathrooms and consume a small Cinnabon and a Fanta. It was glorious. It was a warm, frosted oasis in the middle of a desert of dog teeth and lies. I plan to go there at least 17,000 more times this month. We left Cinnabon in good spirits with smiles because everyone else was so smiley in there because the Americans had been there to tell them that it's ok to do that. We found the metro, and started our new trek to our third hospital. It was a magical break from the day.
I wish I could end this disturbingly-long blog post by saying "and then we found the hospital, and they gave me my shot, and they made my owie better, and then we went home and ate ice cream and opened Christmas presents," but this would be a dirty, disturbing lie. Instead, the truth of the matter is that it took us a little bit to find the next hospital as Russia's system of addressing is vomitously inefficient and confusing (the hospital was on a different street that ran parallel to the street it has an address on). We entered and I began to speak probably some of the best Russian I ever had because I was tired and I just let it spew forth from the mouth of an American scorned. The only 2 people in this hospital were a small, quiet young man, and a huge, loud, angry older woman. They had no idea what the crap I needed and had never heard of any such law regarding private medical centers and shots. They could not treat me as public trauma clinics, like theirs, were not allowed to treat people who were not in their areas. Each area of the city had it's own clinic, and those in that area are required to go to their local clinic for treatment. Socialized medicine is awesome! They tried to tell me 600 different things, but none of them were "Yes, right this way and I will jab this needle into your arm," so I stepped outside to have words with the Europeans. Eventually, the secretary who knew me well by now asked to speak with the local odd couple of nurses, and in true Russian form, nothing was decided. The local pair gave me an address, and the Europeans hung up without talking to me.
I thanked the locals, stepped outside, and called the Europeans back. They know me down there now. I surprised even myself when, despite them all speaking and understanding English to the point that an angry, English rant would be perfectly understood, I quietly and exhaustedly said that I just wanted to know where I have to go and what I have to do so I can go home. I don't think they get much of that submissive-straightforward attitude as I overheard the secretary talking about it to the doctor. Anyway, they called the 2nd hospital up again (the one with the weirdo who made up a hospital) and had words with their administration in order to try to figure out why they sent us on a tour of Some Random Neighborhood, Moscow. I did not get to hear the answer, but I was instructed to return to this hospital to get my shot, was told the building I needed, and was told that everything was worked out and they will be waiting for me.
Those of you within the church, imagine that you go to a full 3-hour block of church meetings like normal on Sunday. You're walking out the door to leave when for whatever reason, you are told you need to stay for another 3-hour block. You do so. You're finally in your car ready to go home when you are informed you need to return to the church building and attend another full 3-hour block of meetings. That feeling that you are all imagining now is how I felt about returning to this hospital again. Life was terrible and I wanted to personally destroy as much of the city of Moscow as I possibly could. Preferably with my bare hands. All was my enemy. I was rage. Despite these feelings, we trekked backwards, all the way to the other hospital where they took me in, copied my documents, shot me up, changed my bandage, gave me a vaccine schedule, and sent us on our way.
We returned home sometime between 7 and 8 in the evening after picking up my leg-bite creamage from a local drug store.
Happy Russia Day, everyone!