Sunday, April 29, 2007

To save the nation. But which one.

My most recent trip, #30 to St. Petersburg, was for the purpose of seeing the installation of $1,000,000 of monitors and newborn respirators in the ICU. Equipment which could have saved the life of my brother who died at age 3 hours.

We were supposed to have a ceremony with the governor, but I guess this didn't rise to the level of importance. We have decreased the level of infant mortality by half a percent by this program, but maybe that's not important to the powers that be. Altho I do read in the newspapers that they are concerned about their demography, where people are dying much faster than can be replaced. Probably saving the lives of infants doesn't figure in. Ah well.

The larger victory is we have encouraged the city government to begin to become interested in the survival of its own newborns. Those of us who are mothers instinctively get why this is urgent, for bureaucrats it takes a bit longer.

This victory is at some cost to the management. Mental health is most likely overrated. Hope it's worth it. [Good thing everything is calm and fine in my native country, that for example democracy and indeed the entire Constitutional government thingie is not at stake.] I've been doing this now for 11 years and estimate that my work has saved 3,000 lives.

I simply cannot grok this number and care to consider the children one at a time. We had an unusual case where the father was a cabinet minister in an Asian -stan where the nation was in civil unrest, we advanced the surgery in order to help their country. The first example I am aware of where we promoted a child above others for non-medical reasons [obviously excluding emergencies].

Monday, April 23, 2007

Life and death in Russia

You would think I am talking about the death today of former President Yeltsin. That would be wrong.

I am interested in the tens of thousands of newborns who will die this year because of lack of investment in neonatal congenital surgeons and the requisite ICU's.

Once I read someone trying to calm people down by saying If a baby dies in Russia does it matter? Well, actually, yes it does, very much. If this child dies from a congenital defect which is treatable by surgery, it matters very much indeed.

I have worked for the past eleven years to provide millions of dollars of supplies and equipment for the purpose of saving newborns who are born with a heart defect. Very often a simple surgery can save their little lives. It breaks my heart that those who have money do not choose to invest in their own newborns. They are beginning to, perhaps that must be enough.

We have new equipment from the city worth $1,000,000 for the ICU which is a miracle. And it would take another miracle for the city to acknowledge that human beings must take care of these newborns during and after surgery.

Russians are very big on new buildings and new equipment, with perhaps not such great followup with regard to staff and ongoing expenses. New buildings and equipment are very glamorous and if I may add an opportunity for some people to earn a percentage of the contract. Ongoing expenses for ICU nurses and surgeons are not glamorous but are yet essential.

It should be embarrassing to them that people from another country are buying suture thread for the hearts of their newborns. It should be embarrassing that we provide groceries for nurses and doctors who are paid starvation wages. I can hardly believe that professionals are willing to work under these conditions.

My reward, to see a month old girl recover from near death, day by day, and finally be discharged from the ICU. Thank you God! If I have had any small part in this I am grateful and humble.

Another curious story is our patient whose father is a cabinet minister in a country which I may not reveal, where there is civil unrest. He urged us to go ahead with the surgery for his child, so that he could return to his country and help with the political situation. We almost never interrupt the surgical schedule for anything non-medical, but this was quite compelling.

Nearly every time I go over there I am tempted to quit as the obstacles are just ridiculous. Then I look into the eyes of a tiny patient, or the hysterical mother or father, and feel that I do not have the luxury to quit. What if it would be my child? They need me and the help that our organization can provide. I must go on, what choice do I have?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Gagarin and Vonnegut

Am working at the children's hospital in Russia. Two events of notice: the anniversary of Gagarin's flight into space and the death of Kurt Vonnegut, fellow Cornellian.

April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin is the first human in space. Headlines around the world.

Such is the power of propaganda that I was an adult before I realized John Glenn wasn’t the first to orbit the earth.

Man rises, man falls. Kurt Vonnegut finds a new existence somewhere in the universe. I hope he's having a cool time joking around with Mark Twain.

Consider this: the same university produced Vonnegut, Olbermann, and egregious.

I won’t believe Vonnegut’s dead until he comes and tells me personally.

Speaking of life and death, today we saved the life of a premie who is 2 days old and weighs 4 pounds. Tiny changes create enormous life and death consequences. Political analogy = blog issue du jour. Personally I'm in for the USA's scandal x93.

We were just talking about him yesterday wrt a Vonnegutian moment: once I signed for my own international Fedex package. Sent the package from the U.S., left for Russia a couple days later, went to the hospital, and opened the office door to see the Fedex guy with: my package.

My Russian colleagues had been permitted to read Vonnegut under Soviet times. Why? I asked, he is so subversive. Yes they explained, but he was viewed as anti-American. Somebody slipped that one by the censors.

And so it goes.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Hey from Russia

Written Easter Sunday

Hey from Russia. I was sitting at the window looking at two white horses and a carriage in the light April snow, enjoying my beef stroganoff and wifi, when the wifi went poof. I suppose all dreams must end at some point. But the horses are really cool.

We work tomorrow. Hope you guys had/are having a glorious Easter. Christianity is under assault not least from wingers that have a very odd interpretation of love your neighbor. Am trying to do the peacemaker thingie and it’s tough going. I feel I was called by God at an early age to do this work, and trust that He knows what He is doing.

The beauty of being mentally ill [not the phrase you hear every day] is that when regular life is difficult, you might as well do something really hard, because it’s not much different.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Best friend moving: no April Fools

Stunned to learn that my best friend for many years will be moving to Chicago within the year. Excuse me, but no. It might very well be what is best for her and her family, but it is breaking my heart.

This friend has worked with me from the beginning 11 years ago to support our Russian children's hospital work. When I was considering who I wanted on my new board of directors, she was the first one. She has helped in myriad ways and has come over weekly to help support our work.

Support takes a variety of forms. In theory it is envelope stuffing, however the deeper work is listening to the president rant about the ridiculous, unfair, and evil obstacles to our work in Russia. She has endured a great many of these rants over the course of my thirty trips to St. Petersburg. How shall I prepare for future trips without this feedback?

We met thru our daughters' music and bonded over their teenage difficulties. We found out rather late in the game that both of us are amateur genealogists, active in her case and rather lapsed in my case after writing up 150 pages when the girls were little.

They moved to Hawai'i just at the time when things were becoming chaotic and intense with our work, when we were building a new ICU and planning a new operating room suite. I didn't realize how much I had depended on her for home baked goods and other symbolic forms of pre-trip support until she was away for two years. Hope the military appreciates what I gave up in the interim.

Now it seems I must prepare to lose her to the wider world again. There had better be planes between Washington and Chicago, that's all I can say. Email is good, phone calls are good, but there is nothing quite like the raised eyebrow in support of one's latest rant to feel that things will be all right, because my friend understands.