Just Trust Me
Alan Tried to Commit Suicide.
Pat Alans Friend that he brought to Russia. Speaks no Russian.
Sarah Pats Daughter. Has Cerebral Palsy and is Deaf.
Eric Peace Corps Volunteer in Uglich.
Phill Peace Crops Volunteer in Uglich.
Olga A 20 Year Old Russian Girl that Speaks English
Kolya Translator for American Organization, Miramed
Anna An English Teacher, Friend, and Phil Counterpart; Frequently Used as a Translator
Galena Safarovna The director of the Uglich orphanage
Marilyn Peace Corps Doctor
Katya The orphan that Pat was sponsoring as part of Alans program
Vaseely My Russian tutor
Sasha Vaseelys Son
-by Eric Schempp
Maslanitsa is a pretty fun holiday. It celebrates the coming of spring. This is despite the fact that the holiday is at the end of February when the temperature hovers around 0 degrees Celsius and the sun still sets at 4:00 PM. There is a lot of drinking involved, but there is more to the holiday than that. Those who want to can elect to crawl up to the top of a greased 10-meter high pole and try to get a chicken. For some reason, the fewer clothes you have on the easier it is. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the skin on your body gets stuck to the pole and gives you that much more friction. There is glory in the end, however. The first person to the top of the pole gets the chicken that sitting up there. I must confess that I tried to get the chicken (with my clothes on), but failed miserably.
I remembering thinking, I have lived in Russia for a year, constantly defending the country to stupid, arrogant Americans. But now, I must confess, my American friends are right. Russians are crazy.
The next day I changed my mind.
Russians have friends. Americans have Psychiatrists.
-A well known Russian saying
I got up just before noon. Thats not too bad, I thought. The day after Maslanita and I still manage to get up a with a few hours of sunlight left. I was actually quite proud of myself. Furthermore, I didnt have too much of a hangover. Things were getting better and better. I opened the fridge, made some toast, took a shower and flipped on my computer to check e-mail. I had just come back from a trip to Germany and had over 2 weeks of e-mails to read.
The phone rang. It was Phil.
Are you ready for an interesting day? he asked.
Not really, I said.
Tough, He said Alan has taken some pills and is passed out. He has a friend with him named Pat that doesnt speak a word of Russian and she is flipping out. She also brought her daughter who is deaf and has cerebral palsy with her. Will you go over, take a look at him, and if necessary call the ambulance?
Oh wow! I though, Peace Corps The toughest job you will ever love.
Alan. He is this crazy American in Uglich about 30 years of age. He had some trouble last summer. He attempted suicide three times and infuriated the whole town. One time, people didnt have any idea where he was. They called his house many times and nobody answered. When they went his door, there was no answer. They scoured the streets late at night and found nothing. After a few days of doing this they got really scared and had the police let them into his house. There he was, lying on the ground passed out. He had taken too many pills.
I agreed to run over to look at Alan. Phil agreed to show up as soon as he could. He lived on the other side of town and the transportation situation in Uglich is not the best. I shut down my computer, put pants and deodorant on and ran out the door. I stopped to pick up some juice and fruits for Alans paAlany little friend and continued on my way to his apartment.
I knew where Alan lived because once last fall I had been there. When I met Alan he had graduated orphans living with him. That was his thing: helping orphans. Thats why I knew him too. He and I both worked in the same orphanage. I was there as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He was there as something else.
Three years earlier Alan came as a volunteer with an organization called Miramed to work at the Uglich Orphanage for a summer. When the summer finished, Alan asked if he could come back the following year. Miramed said no. So, he decided to come back on his own. He had been doing that for two consecutive summers and this was to be his third.
Alan had set up a program to help the orphanage. In all fairness to Alan I must say that it was an impressive program benefiting a lot of orphans. It was called the Russian Orphan Sponsorship Program and was designed to match Americans with orphans. Alan would go home for winters. He would spend three months in the states saving money and then come to Russia and spend it. He didnt make much in the states. But, three months work in the states gave him enough money to survive in Russia for nine months. While in America, Alan would recruit sponsors. The people would send $20 or so every month. Every Sunday (and Sunday, because the market in Uglich is only open on Sunday) Alan would take kids to the local market in Uglich to buy clothing, school supplies and many other things. Each sponsor had one or two specific orphans. A detailed account of how the money was spent was always kept and reported to the sponsor. In return, the kids were responsible for sending letters to their sponsor in America. In all honesty, it was a very good program.
I didnt know what to make of Alan when I met him. He was always trying to explain to me how Russia operated despite that fact that I had lived in this country a year. He was also an obvious conspiracy theorist. That didnt bother me too much. I figure there are a lot of normal conspiracy theorists functioning fine in life, and if they want to think someone is out to get them, thats their choice. They have every right to do so. After all, they could be right. I might be the ignorant one. Whatever the case, I figure life is easier if I dont worry about things like that. Alans conspiracy theories were a bit far fetched, but it didnt bother me too much.
What really bothered me was the fact that he was a close talker. One time while he was talking to me, he got me pinned in a corner and I had to suffer as hot, steamy, conspiracy theorist breath went flying into my face. I had no more room to back up and couldnt get away left or right. I had to stand there saying, Yes, Alan. You are right Alan, even though I had no idea what he was saying. I was concentrating too hard on how I was going to make my escape. Eventually, a friend came up and distracted him, and I was able to slip away.
I took the Juice and Fruit that I had bought and ran up to Alans apartment. He lived on the top level; the fifth. Because there was only five levels, Russian law didnt make an elevator mandatory. Thus, I went up five flights of stairs. And I hurried up them too.
When I got to the top I was a bit tired. I rang the doorbell. Whos there? came a womans voice. It was Alans friend, Pat.
Pat. Phil told me a bit about her on the phone. He had met Pat and her daughter Sarah, a very sweet little girl, earlier at Alans place. She had come to Russia with Alan to see an orphan that she was sponsoring as part of Alans program. All four of them went to the market to buy a few things for a little orphan girl. Before they split Pat took down Phil phone number in case there was a problem of any sort. Its a good thing she did. The next day he attempted suicide.
Its Me, Eric, I answered. The trouble is, I forgot that Phil had told me that she didnt speak any Russian. When I answered, Its Me, Eric, I said it in Russian. But it shouldnt have been to big of a deal since the word the doesnt exist in Russian and my name doesnt change that much. None-the-less she didnt like it.
How am I supposed to know its you. You need to speak English! she said.
Oh, I am sorry, I said.
I thought the next words out of my mouth were going to be, Nice to meet you too. Instead, it was Sorry.
Four months earlier, just as Phil was arriving in Uglich and Alan was leaving for the winter, they briefly met. They learned what is an incredibly huge coincidence: they are both from the same small area in California. Alan was in Grass Valley and Phil was from Auburn (about 25 miles apart), and both would live halfway across the world in yet another very small but famous town, Uglich.
When Phil learned that Alan was arriving soon after his hibernation in the states, he contacted Alan and asked him to run over to his parents house and pick up a few things and bring them with him. Thats why Phil went to Alans house. Thats why Phil met Pat. Thats why Pat called Phil when trouble occurred. It was relayed to me, and thats why I was standing at Alans door.
I went in and asked where Alan was. She pointed. I stepped around a cute little confused girl and went into the next room. There he was. He laid face down with his head turned to the right. His body was covered by a blanket that was covered in puke. He was essentially blocking the doorway of the room and to get in I had to step over him. I tapped him on the shoulder many times and got no response. I lifted the puke-covered blanket and checked his pulse and it was strong and regular. I decided to call the ambulance.
I told Pat my plan. She didnt like it. You know, she said hes done this before, and he may wake up in a few hours. If he wakes up in a hospital he will be mad at me. He has woken up in hospitals before and been mad at me before for taking him to the hospital. I dont want that.
I didnt really listen to what she said. I wanted to. I really did. I wanted to comprehend what she was saying. She just talked too slowly. Incredibly slowly. By the time she finished a sentence I forgot what she was saying.
I asked how long he had been passed out. She said since 9 AM. It was now 2 PM. I guessed that that wasnt too bad. But, I didnt like the fact that he had been puking. The fact that he had been rolling in it didnt make the sight that much easier to bear either.
What did he take, I asked. He took Welbutrin, she said. Its an Anti-depressant drug. I know. I take it. The pills he took are pills that he must have stolen from me, because the bottle has my name on it. She showed me the bottle. How many did he take? I asked. The bottle is empty and I dont know how many there were to begin with, she said. There were a few pills on the floor and she told me he gets kind of sloppy when he takes pills.
It was then that I decided might be a good opportunity to introduce myself. I formally met Pat. She was a somewhat short and stout woman. The girl with her was indeed Sarah. Pat told me that Sarah had cerebral palsy and was deaf. She was about 12 years old but had the mental capability of a child. We turned back to Alan.
In a peculiar sort of way, it was all kind of funny. On Saturday Alan introduced Pat to Russia. On Sunday he introduced her to Phil. On Monday, I introduced myself and said hi to Alan for the first time in 5 months as he was passed out on the floor.
I went to the phone to try to call the ambulance.
Its pointless, said Pat. Its dead. He ripped the phone cord out last night when he went on a temper tantrum. He had a real attitude last night.
Geez I thought. Russia is not that bad. Anyone can tolerate it for at least a week before they are driven to suicide
I went out into the hallway in my socks and knocked on Alans neighbors door. Someone was there but didnt want to answer. I knocked on another neighbors door. An older woman and grown son answered the door. I explained that I needed to call the ambulance and they didnt appear to be too shocked. The son brought me in, put a stool in front of me, brought me the phone, gave me the number to the ambulance, and went about his business in the house. I called the ambulance and they agreed to show up. I thanked the family for letting me use their phone and left.
I still couldnt get over the fact that after being in the country for only two days, Alan decided to attempt suicide. But hey, I thought, if your going to do it, at least you were smart about it. You used pills and you did it in a country with socialized medicine. I guess I gotta hand it to you, not a bad choice. You picked a great place to cry for help. I thought that I would at least see Alan alive once before he did anything too crazy. I guess I was wrong.
I went back into Alans apartment to tell Pat that the ambulance would be there soon. Phil arrived and I told him everything that had developed.
We knew that with everything going on, we were going to need a translator. We recommended our friend Kolya. He is a professional translator and translates for Miramed. He is by far the best English speaker in the city of Uglich. I used him as a translator on almost a daily basis to get the really important things communicated to the orphanage.
No, Pat said, I will not use anyone that works for that horrible organization Miramed.
Because they screwed my friend over, She said.
Miramed is a legitimate organization trying to help orphans.
I dont care.
But Kolya speaks English better than anyone in this city, Phil said, And besides you are dealing with life and death.
I dont care. I will not use any translator who works with Miramed, nor do I want anyone associated with the orphanage. I dont want people to know that we are taking Alan to the hospital.
Tough said Phil, They already know.
Pat whined about conspiracy theories that Alan had engraved in her head. Theories about how the director of the orphanage is the number one nemesis. Pat said that she would not allow any person like that to be involved in saving his life.
Fine we said. Well call another friend, Anna.
We inquired further about the temper tantrum that Alan had had the night before.
The previous day, Alan, Pat, and Sarah went to the orphanage. They took Olga with them, a young girl of 20 years of age. She was a student at the Pedagogical Institute in Uglich and spoks English fairly well. She had come to our English club on a regular basis and it was there that Phil met her. She and Phil began dating periodically.
Alan, Pat, and Sarah had gone to the orphanage to talk to Galena Safarovna. Olga was to act as a translator. Alans Russian was at a novice-high level, which is enough to communicate, but only on a very basic level. Thats the reason they took Olga with them.
Alan and Galena Safarovna have always hated each other. Last year when Alan wound up in the hospital Galena Safarovna went to visit him and he threw a chair at her. She has hated him ever since. She always wanted to kick him out of the orphanage, but she really couldnt afford to do so. He brought a lot of money into the orphanage.
Alan simply wanted to introduce Pat and Sarah to Galena Safarovna, and that was it. He wanted to go ask someone else for permission about taking the orphan Pat was sponsoring to St. Petersburg.
But, feeling it was probably best to get the directors permission, Pat asked Olga decided to ask permission without Alans presence. They did and Galena Safarovna did not approve.
They went home and told Alan what had happened. He was furious. He screamed and hollered, mostly at Olga. This was because she was the one who asked questions to Galena Safarovna that she shouldnt have. For that that reason, Alan was irate. He ripped the phone cord out and threw a can of hair spray through a window. The window had two panes, and only the first was broken.
It started to become late and Olga needed to get back to her hometown; Ribinsk. They did some research and found a car to take her home.
The next morning at 9 AM, Pat found Alan crawling around on his hands and knees puking his guts out. Eventually he lost consciousness and passed out.
The ambulance arrived and the medic came up to Alans apartment with a military stretcher. He was dressed in normal civilian clothes. The stretcher he had with him was one of those where it cant bend in the middle. To get it in the door he had to lift it vertically. I just stood there silently and wondered, is he going to ask us to put Alan on that. There is no possible way that it can be done.
The medic gave Alan some smelling salts. There was no reaction. He wanted to see the bottle of pills, but that meant nothing to him. He asked to see Alans identification and after a small search we found his wallet. He then announced that we were going to have to load him on the stretcher he brought up. We protested. There would be no way to get him through the door. The medic was stumped. He didnt know what to do. He really didnt. Then he got a bright idea. We would load him on the puke-covered blanket and take him down to the ambulance.
We went to lay the blanket out carefully dodging the puke spots. We loaded Alan. Phil took a corner by his head. The medic took the corner just opposite. I took the feet. Sarah just watched and curiously moaned. She didnt have a clue what was happening.
I thought the original idea was that we would put Alan on the blanket, take him out of the apartment, transfer him to the stretcher, and take him down the stairs on the stretcher but I was wrong. When we got out the door, the stretcher was gone.
We picked up Alan and he was dead weight. They dont joke around when they say dead weight is heavy. This guy was as dead as dead could be and indeed, he was heavy. We maneuvered him through the front door and to the top of the steps before we had to take a break.
Did you think this was in your Peace Corps job description, Phil asked.
Not at all, I said.
Eventually we got up the courage to continue. I walked backwards with the feet and Phil and the medic walked forward. That way if Alan slipped out the blanket his head wouldnt immediately crack open. Then again, it wouldnt it matter. He had other complications going on inside his body that were more important.
One of my most vivid memories occurred while we were taking him down the steps. Every time we reached the bottom of a flight of steps and had to make what was essentially a u-turn to head to the next flight, Alans head would very casually flip to his other shoulder. It was very eerie. It was as if his head was on a hinge and there were no muscles in his neck. His head just flopped here and there. Furthermore, it was as if he was watching where he was going. His head faced in the direction of the center of the stairwell.
We banged are way to the bottom, and Alan bounced along looking as though he was enjoying the ride. I am sure some pretty big bruises resulted from that trip down that stairwell, but from the look on his face, he didnt seem to mind. I guess, the more times you do it, the easier it gets.
Phil and I looked at the ambulance and laughed. It was rusty van with benches on the sides. Pat looked scared. We got in and went on our merry way. Pat kept on talking about how she needed to come up with a story on how he got the pills. She was afraid she would get into trouble.
Dont worry, we said.
But, the medics will think that I gave him the pills, she said.
Then dont worry.
We eventually got to the hospital. I whipped out my camera and Phil snapped a picture for good measure, and then we wheeled him in. The first thing the doctor said was, We know this guy. He was here last year.
Well, well, what do you make of that, I thought.
Alan was brought into a small room with concrete walls; walls were cracking. There was nothing else inside. That was it. Alans puke covered shirt was removed. I was then ordered to put his body on its side while the doctors went about doing things out in the corridor. I didnt understand the logic of holding Alans body on its side. I knew that it probably had something to do with the fact that they didnt want him to choke should he puke again, but I didnt think it mattered too much since he had just spent the previous six hours on his stomach. But they were the doctors, they gave the orders, and I listened.
Eventually the police came and we had to give a report. The officer asked questions; we answered them. He wanted my details and nobody elses. That was strange, but I obliged and gave them to him. The officer wanted to know everything. He must have given a million reports in his day, because he was good at what he was doing. For Pats sake, we didnt mention where the pills had come from. All in all, It was a glory moment for Phil and me. We gave an entire police report in Russian. We figured that if we could successfully do that in Russian, then we could do anything in Russian.
They moved Alan down to what was supposedly the intensive care unit. We werent allowed to go in. We sat there waiting and staring at the door. We eventually dubbed this room, The forbidden room. Pat was constantly complained about the place.
She had no idea where she was coming, did she? Phil said.
Granted it was dirty, smelly, paint was cracking, and the equipment they were using was thirty years old, but what did she expect?
We called our friend Anna to translate and she eventually arrived in a panic. She helped get everything straightened out. Alan was in the intensive care unit (which simply happened to be the room at the end of the hall) and no, we couldnt go in.
But, given time, Anna said, youll see him.
We waited, got some food at the in hospital grocery store, and waited some more.
I told Pat that we took a picture of Alan. Thats a good idea, Pat said, I did the same thing with my daughter when she wound up in hospital as a result of her own actions once.
I wanted to inquire further, but decided against it. I was really starting to think strange things of Pat.
Eventually we were told that we could go in but only one at a time and for no more than 5 minutes. We agreed. I went in and looked. There sat Alan in a bed. There was no oxygen and no other nearby equipment. He did have an IV in him, which was a good sign, but other than that there was nothing to be too terribly proud of.
Pat, with her hands shaking violently, told us that all she could think about was going and drinking a nice bottle of wine. We didnt think much of it at the time, but it proved to be the first trademark of Pat. Drinking wine. But simply drinking wine wasnt enough. It had to be a dry, white, wine. Nothing else would do. Just good old dry, white, whine. I think I have avoided it since.
Eventually it came time to leave the hospital. Phil put Alans puke covered clothes under his arm.
Sarah did not want to leave. She cried and moaned and put up a fuss. But, we had to go. The taxi we had ordered as waiting.
We hurried out to meet the taxi before it took off. We were going to Phil apartment. It would have been a ten-minute walk, but we had to take a taxi. Pat insisted. This turned out to be the second trademark of Pat. She would not go anywhere by foot. All traveling had to be done by taxi.Is that an American characteristic, I thought, or is it just Pat?
We went to Phil and sat down to relax, think, and eat. Phil threw Alans puke covered clothes in his closet.
We knew that we had phone calls to make but first we had to gather our thoughts and piece together the days events. While we were talking, Pat told us that when Alan takes pills he usually wakes up the next day. That was comforting, but led to more questions.
How many times has he done this, we asked.
On that note, Phil ran to the store to pick up the specially requested dry, white, whine for Pat. When he came back, Pat gave Alans parents phone number to him. She refused to call them herself. I didnt know what she was afraid of. Phil sat down, relaxed, thought about what he was going to say, and dialed. Alans mother answered. She wasnt too terribly shocked. She said that his father was at work and that she would try to get hold of him and get his advice. Phil agreed to call back.
I called Olga, to see if she made it home safely. She did make it home, but wasnt there when I called. I had to talk to her mom. I told her mom that Alan was in the hospital. She said she would relay the message to Olga.
The next thing to do was obvious. We needed advice. And when you need advice, there is only one place call. Phil picked up the phone and called God.
God is a woman. Everyone knows that they can turn to God if they are in need of help. She will always lend an ear. God cares about all. And of course, God is good and great and everything in between.
God is none other than Marilyn Polka, the doctor for Peace Corps Western Russia. Phil explained the situation to her and listened to her advice. She told us to hang tight for the night.
If he doesnt wake up in the morning, she said, have him shipped to Moscow.
She explained that had it been one of us laying there unconscious, she would be in Uglich within a few hours, and see to it that we were airlifted out of there immediately. She said that we would be in America within 24 hours.
Ahh, we thought, how comforting to power of God is.
Twenty minutes later Phil called Alans parents again and talked to Alans father, Lee. He was very relaxed. He said he appreciated the call as well as our efforts. He was generally very nice. He said that he was very nervous that Pat went with him to Russia.
Something like this always happens when she is around, he said, And it is very strange that every time he attempts, she somehow plays a role in it.
How many times has Alan done this? Phil asked.
About 12, was the answer.
Phil told him that if this had been one of us, our Peace Corps Doctor would have us in America the next day. And since the hospital in Uglich was well below standard, Phil recommended taking him to Moscow.
Do what you think is best, Alans father said, but he has done this many times before. You are going to have to use his money and do it within his budget. He has no insurance.
No insurance at all? Phil asked.
No, and we cannot afford to lose our house over this. He has done this too many times before. If he goes, he goes.
Phil hung up and relayed what was said to me.
Wow! I said Thats a heavy burden.
So, now all we knew was that we had was a crazy American 75% dead, and it was up to us to do our best. What did that mean? Do your best? We would try.
We called the hospital.
Hes in a Coma, they said
Oh. We were all too exhausted to express any emotion at this point. I remember casually thinking, Coma, thats the next step before death.
We sat around and drank the dry white whine (spelled whine from this point forth) that Pat really, really wanted. We talked about Alan, his problems, and what our next step was. We decided that the only thing we could do was wait. We concluded that he would probably wake up in the morning.If he didnt, we would go from there.
Pat complained about the lack of sunlight. The sun set at 4:00 PM and probably wouldnt rise the next morning until about 8:30 AM. She really was not used to Russia.
This crazy, I thought, Its a good thing Phil gave his phone number to Pat. If not, Alan would probably have died, and Pat would have been left stranded without knowing a word of Russian. She would not have survived.
Before we knew it, the dry white wine was gone. We decided to go home and get some sleep. We called yet another taxi and I rode with Pat and Sarah to Alans apartment, dropped her off, and then went home and went to bed.
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