In the first week or two I was here Baby developed a rash on her face. The doctor said “too many sweets.” There was a hint of disapproval (though it might have been my imagination) as if Baby was waiting till no one was looking and then making off with baskets of candy to gorge on. The doctor gave my translator the name of some medicine I was to buy (in Russian of course) and said Baby would be given no more sugar. My translator then wrote down the word for “pharmacy” in both Russian and Kazakh. That afternoon, clutching the two pieces of paper, I made my way up Republic Avenue (which has been torn up since I got here) looking for signs (which have all been removed during the construction) so that I could find a pharmacy. I’ve since been a few more times and am now familiar with the arrangement. A woman in a white lab coat sits behind a glass window at street level. (I point this out only because, as Jerry Seinfeld once noted, pharmacists in North America are always on a platform and why is that anyway?) Presumably Russian-speaking people converse with the woman. What I do is slide over a piece of paper on which are written words I don’t understand. The woman gets up and fetches the medicine and then I pay her and leave. Of course the first time I did this, because it was for Baby and I’d been feeling so doubtful that I could pull it off I left the pharmacy feeling heroic! I had triumphed over adversity to get my baby the critical medicine she needed to cure her rash. Then I looked at the back of the box and found out that I had just bought Claritin. The point of the story, though, is that Baby’s rash cleared up in a few days.
This week my faith in the system has been more seriously tested. In order to apply for Baby to become a permanent resident, Canadian Immigration requires that she be tested for HIV/Aids, Hepatitis, and TB. (If she tests positive for any of these things, she will be denied entry. I was told she was negative when I met her but Canada requires that the tests be redone, perhaps because she was so young when they were done the first time.) When I arrived to visit her on Monday morning at 10:00 I learned that she’d been taken for blood tests at 9:00 and was not yet back. I sat with my translator and waited. After half and hour or so we called my coordinator who had gone with Baby and learned that things were not going well. They brought her back at 11:00. She looked tired and defeated with both her fists bandaged up. She had put up a good fight they told me and in the end they had not obtained the amount of blood they needed. She would have to be taken back the next day. Thankfully, they agreed that I could go with her this time.
On Tuesday the second expedition took place. At 10:00 I left the baby house with Baby, Aliya in her capacity as translator, and a nurse from the baby house as an escort (because we’re not allowed to go anywhere with Baby unaccompanied). We arrived at a building that I assumed was a hospital. It had endlessly long bare hallways with closed doors along both sides. The hallways were filled with people holding babies. My delegation made its way down a hallway on the second floor until we came to the right door and entered a small room. The room contained very little, the barest minimum in furnishings, some large bowls filled with medical supplies (cotton wool, alchohol, needles), and a nurse. During the introductory discussion I understood that Aliya and I would have to leave the room. I pleaded to be allowed to stay and I heard Aliya say “mama” in her explanation to the nurse. This was the first time I’ve been officially identified as Baby’s mother to anyone and it worked! The nurse-escort sat in a chair with Baby pinned down in her lap. The other nurse sat in a chair facing them and stuck a needle in Baby’s hand. She howled. I’d never seen her cry like this before. She was utterly and understandably miserable. I crouched down between the two facing nurses, trying not to be in the way, and amazingly was able to distract Baby enough to stop her crying for at least half the time. We remained in position for what seemed like hours. I have never seen blood drip so slowly. When she felt she had obtained enough, the nurse pulled the needle out of Baby’s hand, taped a piece of paper on the top of the vial and gave it to us.
It turned out we weren’t at a hospital – at least the kind that analyzes blood. So we got back in the car and in what was possibly the strangest part of the strangest experience that I’ve had during my stay here we took off for the hospital: me holding Baby in my lap (no car seats), Aliya swishing the vial of Baby’s blood beside me and examining it curiously, and Doulat driving in his usual fast-bordering-on-reckless way while talking on his mobile phone. As for our nurse-escort, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
I don’t know how to write this without sounding corny but I’m so grateful for the comments on this blog. I think the blog is making this interminable stay bearable and I don' t know what I'd be doing without it. Apart from making me laugh out loud and telling me things I didn't know before, the blog now contains a database of songs and games I can play with Baby. I was wondering how I'd cope when I go from 2 hours a day to 24. This definitely helps! I feel like I’ve been given a virtual shower (is that an e-baby shower? a baby e-shower?) Thanks.