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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Eight-Doctor Medical

Foreign medical procedures have always been of concern to me. Having lived and traveled abroad, I feel I know much more than the average person regarding health care in remote regions of the world. You can imagine my surprise when Russia began instituting a little cottage industry for the sole purpose of impoverishing adoptive parents: the Eight-Doctor Medical Exam.

We had already undergone numerous pokings and proddings in order to adopt. The powers that be needed to know that we were free of TB, HIV, ABC, and 123. In essence, we were to prove that we are much more healthy than any normal specimen of a parent, which makes absolutely no sense to me, since most couples adopt due to infertility or other health issues.

Not us. We are healthy… and had once been wealthy, and wise, as well. But, international adoption had a way of reducing prospective parents to the lowest common denominator. More and more requirements were being put into place to disqualify any but the most determined, those willing to visit sometimes up to five referrals of children, occasionally take four or more trips to Russia, and finally submit themselves to eight specialized doctors in country.

The fact that we have seen our own doctor every three months to get updated medical verification, along with every family member under the age of 18 (or was it over the age of 18? can’t remember, it’s all running together) living with us, must not hold much weight in a Russian court of law. Many regions or agencies are now insisting on a psychiatric exam, usually incorporating the MMPI-II exam, asking every bizarre psychological question known to man. The doctor verifies that we are not interested in doing bodily harm to ourselves and to others; it was the very least he could do. The cost of $1,500 was the very most we could do. Which is exactly what the Eight-Doctor Medical would cost us in Russia, another $1,500.

How convenient to have the money flow out in exact increments. Made bookkeeping rather simple. Maybe we could get a book of ten coupons to rip off for every new variation on a medical exam, psych exam, blood test, urine test, chest x-ray, and airline ticket:  “That will be $1,500, please.”

Our first Eight-Doctor Medical happened last year in the spring. We got word from our informants that the Ministry of Education in our irrational region was going to refuse to see us without such an exam. Naturally, it’s needed for court, and not the MoE, but details, details. We had it done (and then the MoE changed our appointment three different times, to three different days, trying to give us the slip, but that’s another issue with drama all its own).

Arriving in Moscow, our facilitator has dollar signs in his eyes when he greets us.

“I will now take you to President Putin’s clinic,” he tries to impress us.

How much?” is my travel-weary refrain. We could wait for the “Pleased to meet yous”.

“Two thousand dollars,” he replies.

I firmly tell him no, we are going to where I knew other adoptive families had had good success, for $1,500. He actually has the nerve to put a supposed doctor from the first clinic on the phone, who tells me that my clinic has closed down several months before and no longer performed adoptive family exams.

“Well, that’s indeed amazing, given that I have reports from families who were seen there last week,” I comment, mentioning to the facilitator in the car, “He’s a liar,” and clicking off the phone. I order our driver to take us to my selected place, or drop us at a nearby metro. I make the appointment myself, walking in off the street, not in the best mood after flying for 14 or 15 hours, our bags still in the car. The thought crosses my mind that he might drive away with our suitcases. He is furious that we have rejected “his” doctor, who would probably never work with him again. I turn it right around, saying it is his problem with whom he chooses to associate, not mine.

The next day we go through two and a half hours of medical appointments. Most last all of five minutes, but there is lots of waiting inbetween. I need a breast exam for some reason, requiring me to disrobe in front of an open window, where a man is found smoking outside-? Medical gowns are apparently unheard-of in Russia. The x-ray technician also insists that I stand unclothed in front of her machine, as though the x-ray does not work through simple clothing. I have never heard “Strip to zee vaist” so many times in one afternoon.

Most of the exams are conducted solely in Russian when they learn of my grand linguistic abilities. But medical terms are fairly beyond my repetoire. I have no idea to what medical conditions I may have confessed.

And here we are, a year later, adopting again, necessitating the Eight-Doctor Medical. While we brought blood and urine results, along with a chest x-ray, none of these foreign tests are any longer admissable in most regional courts, they claim. More sticking and jabbing, along with the parade of doctors. The general practioner of dark brown hair combed forward, slightly parted in the middle, and moustache, leads the way.

“Aspirate,” he instructs me, as I mentally run through a list of ideas concerning what this might mean. Now I couldn’t understand English in the Russian capital city.

“Excuse me?”

“As-pee-rate,” he makes breathing movements, so I follow suit. He seems to think that I have an enlarged thyroid and that my husband has been shot in the army. For all I know, we are on a Russian type of Candid Camera program. It is 4:00 in the afternoon, but the wall clock is stuck perpetually at 8:27. The window is thrown open on a beautiful summer day in the low 60s, high 50s. Painters sit at easels in the garden beyond, their brushes dancing to depict flowers of every variation.

Next enters the neurologist, sporting mod, rectangular glasses and a Moslem-sounding name. He bangs on our hands and knees with his little hammer, telling me to puff my cheeks. If the next doctor tells me to flap my wings, that’s it. On Benedetto he uses what we might call a dog-grooming slicker, an apparatus full of pin-like needles, pricking him on his forehead and the backs of his hands. Benedetto is unsure if he is supposed to make a howling noise to indicate pain, or whether that would be held against us.

A male nurse pops in, who is actually studying for pediatric surgery. He is here for blood. I look at the girls’ photo in my notebook: what we do for love. He cannot find our veins very well, and I try to encourage him, while thinking he is the worst blood-drawer in Russia’s bloody history. Our facilitator also arrives simultaneously, explaining that the requirements have changed in the last few weeks, and now all but the chest x-rays must be done in Russia.

Happily presenting our chest x-rays on disk, it turns out that their computer cannot “read” them. Off we go to radiology. She looks me over, determines I must remove my suit jacket, bra, and necklace, but can keep on my tee-shirt-like top. A kinder, gentler day has dawned.

The dermatologist comes on the scene, young and blond, and asks us about annual dermatological exams-? How do we say in Russian that we are too busy gathering paperwork, going to our doctor every three months, having documents notarized and apostilled, and writing big checks, that we really don’t have time to stand stark naked before a dermatologist and have a full body exam? She is amazed. She thought that every American cared this much for their health.

“We’ll get right on it,” I assure her, noting for the record that I did have one such exam before when a suspicious mole was found to be benign. She feels my scalp and determines that I have some sort of allergic rash on my head. This could be distressing except that I don’t believe a word of anything that they say. My own doctors laugh off every “diagnosis” that I report back to them.

“Take off your shoes and socks,” she instructs my husband, a rather risky move after having traveled for the better part of one day and coming here straight from the airport. She has great interest in his toenails, while I wonder where I could get one of those pins and needles contraptions to stick myself to stay awake.

The oncologist appears, a Joe Cool kind of guy, in olive cargo pants and tee-shirt. These doctors were predominantly younger than those who examined us last year.

“Do you have any complaints?” he begins.

“Complaints?” we glance at each other.

I think back to our trans-Atlantic plane flight of a few hours’ previous. Yes, I have a complaint: there was no choice of food on the plane. I got pasta and really wanted the chicken.

“Okay, if you are absolutely healthy…” he concludes during the sounds of silence, “good luck!” he smiles and walks out of the room, finishing his exam of one minute max.

We sit there for long periods of time in our examining room, waiting for each doctor to arrive. This is spare change for them, minor moonlighting after their regular hours elsewhere. I finally drop off to a deep sleep, my head bobbing in the straight-back chair. Benedetto lets it rip, snoring as though there is no tomorrow. We are exhausted and these exams are not making us any more healthy.

The TB doctor shows up to read our x-rays. She holds the black and grey images to the light. Other than their unmistakable lung-like shape, they could be sonograms for all I know. She takes her pen as a pointer, scanning each image and declaring that all is well.

We know. That’s why we got so many x-rays in the US before we came. We must be irradiated to the point of glowing in the dark.

The infectious disease doctor is the most puzzling. A middle-aged man, he stays with us for all of about 15 seconds, again asking if we had any complaints. He asks something that I really could not understand, but my hesitancy disturbs all those around me, so I try to recover quickly. Let… me… sleep…. Surely, this is some sort of torture routine left over from Soviet days and involving sleep deprivation.

The narcologist/psychologist is the most delightful doctor, a wonderful way to end our interview process. She tells us of other returning adoptive parents, and how their earlier children acclimated so well. She knows it will be just the same for us, and wishes us well with our darling children, after we share a picture of the boys, and the impending girls.

Following more than a few adoptive parent horror stories involving gynecological exams done in sleepy backwater clinics on ice and mud-rutted roads, I am happy that ours was so non-invasively intrusive. It could have been worse.

Four-and-a-half hours later, we emerge, $1,500 lighter, supposedly stable in mind and body, although at this point, we are having serious doubts.


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