Trudging and Traveling Through Kharkiv

Tuesday was personally a very tough day for me. We traveled to the children’s hospital across town to evaluate an emergency situation that sprung up over night with a new born (not even a day old), but we were too late.  The baby had slipped away at some point between their call to us and our arrival in their ICU.  I was in a daze the rest of the day, and in fact could not even bring myself to eat dinner that night.  For the doctors and nurses on our team, this is just something that comes with the territory, but for a music teacher/sometimes journalist like myself, it is all brand new and unfamiliar territory.

When Wednesday started, I was cautious, but my spirits were raised when we got to the hospital and visited our children who had already underwent surgery and were reaching new levels of feeling healthy that they had never reached before.  It helped to remind me what everyone else already knew – we can’t save them all but we have to remain just as focused.

New apartment buildings on our walk home.

Also on Wednesday, Ignacio, one of the anesthesiologist, had the bright idea that we should walk all the way back to our hotel, instead of calling a taxi or taking public transportation.  Even though pretty much the other four people (including me) in the group disagreed with this plan, he somehow managed to convince us all we should walk anyway.  And walk we did!  It took us a good 45 minutes to get from the hospital to our hotel, and I got to snap off a few great pictures along the way.  I also got to fall down twice, which was eternally amusing.  The first time I fell sideways into a huge bank of snow (didn’t hurt at all, i just got wet) and the second time I landed on my knee, which somehow didn’t hurt.  I apparently landed so gracefully both the doctors with me were impressed.  We all had a good laugh about it.

Defending his territory

An interesting thing about this city is there are so. many. stray. dogs.  I have never seen more stray dogs in my life.  In any town I’ve ever been in, there are stray cats.. occaisionally.  But to be honest I’m not sure I’ve ever seen stray dogs anywhere near the amount of stray dogs I’ve seen in Kharkiv.  Say what you will about Chinese restaurants, the amount is astronomical.  There was one guarding the front door to the hospital when we left (though I think I caught a glimpse of another dog slinking away into the snowy bushes), and later on we actually witness two dogs fighting… in the subway!  How they got in I don’t even know.

The second floor of our metro station, where the actual metro comes.

The subway here in Kharkiv is remarkable enough to warrant its own post, but I will try to condense it here.  The metro is two levels, and the metro serves the triple purpose of moving people quickly through the underground, giving people a safe place to cross nasty intersections, and also, has a few shops on the first level, where you can buy everything from jewelry to beauty supplies to baked goods and meats like kolbas.

Detail from the wall at our metro stop.

Each metro station has four entrances, located on each corner of a major intersection.  Each entrance leads down to the first floor, where all these little booths are located.  You can enter from any corner and travel under the intersection to safely get to the other side.

The second level is where the subway actually is, and I’ve never seen a cleaner subway station.  If I ever have the time I may get on the subway to ride all the way from our stop (which is the second to last on our end of it) to the other end and back.  Each station seems to have a different style to it.  Our station, which is named for the botanical gardens nearby, has a lovely mosaic of flowers on the wall.  The next station we stopped at was floor to ceiling white and pink marble.  It was, dare I say it, breath taking.

It's funny how much English there actually is on signs in this town.

Finally, after the 45 minute walk, a quick stop at our hotel, and ten minutes on the metro, we made it to the fine dining establishment, I say this with just a hint of sarcasm, where we would be breaking our evening bread… Pizza Bella.  I had the spaghetti bolognese, which, unsurprisingly, did not exceed anything I’ve ever had in the States, but everyone else seemed to enjoy their lasagnas and pizzas.

We got back to our hotel around ten, and I spent the next 40 minutes talking to my boyfriend, then my parents, and was up until after midnight uploading pictures to Chernobyl Children’s Project.  My days are longer than most of my teammates realize, and it’s possible that it might be longer than anyone else’s.  Most of us get up at 6 and are in bed by 11.  I on the other hand, have been to bed close to 1 AM most nights.

While they are busy saving lives all day, I get to sit around and watch. It’s a lot of waiting, but it’s worth it.  Though when you sit around most of your day doing pretty much nothing, it can be just as exhausting.  I try and keep busy, moving about when there’s absolutely nothing to do, and I do try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the PICU.  I’ve also been visiting our patients once they move into regular rooms, which is always a bright spot in my day.  When I can bring a little toy for the patients, it’s bright for them, too!

Our hotel, Hotel Myr. On the first floor there is a night club, sauna and car dealership.

The real bulk of the work that I am doing here comes towards the end of the day at the hospital, after most of my pictures have been taken.  I upload them to my computer, edit what I need to.  I write throughout the day, when the mood strikes me, or to copy down information (I am keeping profiles of each child) as soon as it comes into the “office” which is a term I will loosely apply to the lounge in the PICU where I set up my gear and where Frank, the intensivist also sets up his laptop.  Also, most of the paperwork ends up on the desk that Frank sits at (though it is so covered with medical equipment and some other computer, he rarely actually puts his own laptop on it).

Then, once we are back at the hotel, I set myself up in the lobby and start uploading text and pictures.  Depending on how much I am uploading, the process can take about a half hour… which is also enough time to catch up on Farmville and Cafeworld.  Do you know I had FIFTY Farmville gifts the other night?  It’s astounding.  I know what is keeping me so busy these past few days, but don’t the rest of my friends have anything better to do?  Seriously!