It gets personal: a dispatch from the Buguruslan Central City Hospital

Patients in Buguruslan
Patients at the Buguruslan Central City Hospital: note the window on the left. The blanket is hanging up there to protect the sick woman from the cold. The sick woman is my mom-in-law. Yep, they have to use blankets on some of the windows in the winter – as you see on the right, some windows have clearly been fixed up, while others have not. 

As a journalist, I frequently write about both problems and breakthroughs in Russian medicine. I write about the need for the humanization of Russian medical culture following decades of Soviet rule in particular. I also write about funding problems.

Every once in a while, this topic gets personal – extremely, painfully personal.

My mother-in-law, Tatiana Zhiryakova, is currently hospitalized in Buguruslan, Orenburg region. She was originally supposed to get gall bladder surgery – but got peritonitis after a blood transfusion (we are not sure what happened there, we are still trying to figure it out). She’s been in the ICU unit twice. Right now, she remains hospitalized – and she is not doing great.

Bulat Raigaleyevich Diusenov, the head of surgery, seems to be doing everything he can for her – but he’s just one man. The hospital’s head physician, Alexander Pavlovich Remin, has a good reputation too – but once again, he’s just one man. And the truth is, in hospital such as this one, most of the staff just doesn’t seem to care much.

Buguruslan is far away from Moscow (in Moscow, a lot of money gets pumped into medicine). Far, far away. In fact, it could almost be on another planet – or so I’m told. The funding for hospitals is not great. Hospital staff are frequently overworked and underpaid. There is hardly any public oversight.

I try to be as sensitive as I can when approaching this issue. I know that there are plenty of people trying to help. But there are some issues – such as the state of the hospital in general – that you can’t overlook, or write off, or explain away.

The Buguruslan Central City Hospital can’t even afford to have toilet paper in any of its bathrooms. When my husband asked a staff worker why this is the case, she snapped: “The hospital can’t afford medication, and you’re going on about toilet paper!”

This is bad, you guys.

The holiday garland somehow makes the entire scene look even sadder

This is the reality we have to deal with today. It is, once again, personal. This isn’t just some abstract topic I get to briefly engage with before jetting off into the relative comfort and safety of a privileged lifestyle somewhere in the West (not that I would have that kind of lifestyle back there these days anyway – but, you know, whatever).

This is happening to people I love. It’s like something out of Dickens – except it’s not comfortably buried away in literature, cushioned by the years. This is the 21st century. This is here. This is now.

8 thoughts on “It gets personal: a dispatch from the Buguruslan Central City Hospital

  1. The majority of the people in the world deal with situations like that everyday,not everybody has a privleged live in the wonderful west,but i do think its sad that she has to endure that.

  2. Henk:

    Safe, adequate hospital care isn’t limited to the “wonderful west,” as you call it. In emerging economies like Russia’s, responsible governments do indeed invest in safe medical practices and modern hospital care. What Natalia’s mother-in-law is going through is evidence of poor governance, because Russia does have the financial resources to ensure safe medical care in the regions outside Moscow.


    Horrifying to hear what your mother-in-law is going through. I hope her hospital has the resources to clear up her peritonitis. Our thoughts are with you and your family.

  3. Is the hospital able to accept outside donations of money and medicine? You’re right. The hospital is Dickensian. My sympathies to your mother-in-law.

  4. Not at present. The thing is, it’s SUPPOSED to have a budget. But where that budget goes is probably a long, confusing, and shady kind of story. Corruption is both eating away at the Russian economy AND catastrophically impacting infrastructure.

  5. Sigh! Well compared to those smuggled photos of Cuban hospitals, it looks pretty good. As a kid, I read in the Soviet days one was expected to bring in food and basic toiletries to one’s relatives, bribe the doctors and nurses and buy the more expensive medications on the black market. The nomenklatura of course, sent their family to the decadent West for treatment…

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