I wished with all my heart my friend was lying to my face. I looked him in the eye. He was telling the truth.
“Last week I woke up one night with a really bad pain in my stomach. It was about two in the morning. I woke my wife up and asked if she had any medicine I could take. I ended up calling the ambulance. They arrived in about 15 minutes and took me to the hospital.”
That’s fast, I thought.
Fifteen minutes is record breaking time for an ambulance here. Sometimes people wait hours.
“The doctor said I had appendicitis. I needed surgery right away. He asked how much money I could give him. I said I could give him 2,000 soms*.”
Sounded typical. That was the “doctor’s fee.” Better chance he’ll do a good job that way.
“Then I had to pay the hospital 3,875 soms**,” he said, “but then when they checked my passport, I got a discount. I only had to pay half.”
“Why did you get a discount?” I asked.
“I used to work for the government.”
A fast ambulance and a discount. Nice.
The doctor did surgery on him that very night starting at about 4:00 AM. It took an hour and a half. Then he described the operation. Some things you can’t make up—you wouldn’t dare.
“They put a local anesthetic on my stomach,” he said, resting his hand to the right of his belly button. “It didn’t have much effect. I felt everything. So they tied my hands and legs to the bed and put this metal thing in me to hold the hole open.”
My insides sank. The young man, a father of two, sipped his latte.
“I asked the doctor if he could give me a general anesthetic. He said he couldn’t. ‘You’ve just got to endure!’ they kept on telling me.”
He told me that at one point he started throwing up, but because he was still tied to the bed, he couldn’t clean himself off. He felt like he was choking. Finally, after enough yelling at the doctor, a nurse came in and wiped off his face.
An hour and a half later, they were done. Everyone left. My friend no longer had his appendix. After surgery they moved him to a hospital room.
“There were six beds in my room, and I got put in the bed next to the window. I could feel the wind coming in. I told the doctor that had I come in here healthy, I would have gotten sick just from the cold. He told me he didn’t know what they could do for me.”
His doctor visited once in the three days after the operation. During his stay, he met another man who had also had surgery. They had given him a strong medicine, and the medicine ended up making him sick.
“Finally, they let me go home,” my friend told me.
Since the surgery he’d been back several times to get his bandage changed.
“A few days ago when I went back in, they pulled out the mix of herbs the doctor had stuffed into the hole. Now it’s just an open wound. My brother screamed when he saw it. When I was at the hospital, I went and talked with that sick man again—the one who had gotten sick from the medicine the doctors had given him. While I was there, another man was also visiting him, and he told me he thought the man was going to die.”
From the medicine they’d given him. Not from the surgery. I clarified.
“Are you going to try to do something about what happened?” I asked.
“No. There’s nothing we can do.”
He took another sip of coffee. So did I. He was moving on. What else could he do?
*2,000 soms is $28.86
**3,875 soms is $55.91