Since I now work with children, I am required by law to have a Personal Medical Book which certifies that I don’t have any communicable diseases. Apparently there can be a lot of bureaucracy involved in obtaining one, but the kindergarten got mine for me, with its official stamp certifying that I am a Pedagogue by specialty. Wow, I finally have a specialty!

Of course, getting the Book is not enough. I had to go to the Center for Skin and Venereal Diseases for tests. Thus far I’ve never had any medical problems while in Russia, so this was my first experience in a Russian medical clinic. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about Russian medical services, from drunk nurses to rodent-infested hospitals, but I didn’t see anything of that sort. It did, however, look like a pretty typical run-down Russian office building, not much like the way I think of medical clinics.

I found the room I needed, knocked on the door, heard nothing, opened the door, and got yelled at by the clinician for 1) opening the door when she SAID she was BUSY and 2) for wearing my coat and shoes. OK, so those of you who’ve never been to Russia need to know that Russians are obsessed with two things: coat-checks and slippers. The slippers thing is understandable. (In the US, when you go to someone’s house, you may or may not have to take off your shoes, depending on the degree of anal-retentiveness of the host. Here, you always take off your shoes, and there are several pairs, if not dozens, of extra slippers in the entryway for guests. If you say you are fine in your sock feet, you will be looked at strangely.) You don’t want to track all this Petersburg dirt into the house, and you want to keep your feet warm. Anyway, it’s not only in people’s homes that you have to wear slippers. Sometimes you have to wear them in museums, historical places, etc, to protect the floor. And at the kindergarten we wear slippers or shoes that we never wear outside, so that the kids can crawl around on the floor and stuff.

Now, have you ever heard of a medical clinic with a coat check? Well, I hadn’t, but it didn’t really surprise me. I suppose the reason for the Russian obsession with the coat check is pretty much the same as for the slippers — you don’t want to drag your dirty coat into a museum or a theater, and certainly not a medical clinic. So I went downstairs, checked my coat, paid three rubles for plastic booties to cover my shoes, and went back upstairs. The woman took my Personal Medical Book, took an ummm, sample, and gave me a little piece of paper which I was supposed to take to another office downstairs to get my blood drawn.

In my American blood-drawing experiences, they always take the vial, seal it up, put a label on it, and put it in a designated place to be taken to the lab. Well, the blood-drawing room looked like an ordinary office, except there was a rack of bloody test tubes sitting on the desk. She used a clean needle to prick my finger, thank god, but the little pipettes she used to suck up my blood, though labeled “sterile”, were loosely wrapped in brown paper. She put my blood in a test tube next to the others and wrote my information down in a notebook that looked like it was manufactured in 1973. So, you know, be sure to wear those plastic booties for hygiene, Megan.

I went back upstairs and my Personal Medical Book was stamped and ready to go. They certainly hadn’t tested my samples yet. But, the whole process only took about 25 minutes, and I was grateful to be on my way.

PC Disclaimer! In telling this story, I would like to point out that I am just doing that: telling a story, primarily for my North American friends and family. I realize that most of the people on this planet, even many people in the US, do not have access to the type of medical care which I have been fortunate enough to have for most of my life. I’m not trying to be snooty or insensitive, OK?