November 4, 2008

Crippled CouchSurfer: Romanian X-Ray Experience
Apoldu de Sus, Romania

Stephan looked at the pale-skinned, disheveled version of my former self and asked how I was doing. "I've had better days," I replied.

I'll be kind enough to spare you the bulk of the details, but something has funked up my stomach and bowels to the point where I'm considering have a mattress moved into the bathroom. Intense abdominal pain, nausea, and pissing out my ass every 10 minutes for hours on end—all with a pair of painful, busted feet that keeps me from moving at the necessary speed to the bathroom—has left me looking pretty worse for wear.

I filled up the bathtub and took a hot soak. Tatiana blames the pain pills that I've been taking on the stomach shredding, and asked if I wanted to go home (she always does much more than I, even at this particularly low point in my days). She's quite sick of too few clothing items, dry skin, frazzled hair, cold weather, cooking instead of restaurants, unsafe baby zones, and a general lack of things that make her happy these days. As bad as I feel, the thought of setting up camp to heal in the U.S. (or any place other than where I'm at) doesn't even once cross my mind—I suppose I'm just hardened not to think that way, even in the worst of times.

But Stephan and Tatiana have taken my weakened condition as an opportunity/excuse to step up a trip to the hospital. Tomorrow was apparently going to be the day, but a scheduling conflict on Stephan's part has pushed it up to this afternoon. Looks like I'm finally getting an x-ray.

Broken Heel Bone

Well, that was certainly an interesting healthcare experience. I got irradiated without a lead vest, told my right heel bone was fractured, and a partial cast placed on said foot.

It was supposedly Sibiu's primary hospital/ER clinic, but from what I saw of the place I would've never guessed as much. With one arm over Tatiana's shoulder and the other bracing a wooden hiking stick, I hobbled from our parking spot into what must have constituted the bulk of the facility: A 30m-long hallway with a few doors, six occupied plastic chairs, two stretchers, and no reception area. The short-coated doctor that was eyeing me up from the entryway (chatting with a pair of nurses) as we approached was to be mine that evening (and the only I saw working there). No wheelchair was offered.

I didn't stop to listen to Stephan's conversation in Romanian, instead seeking out a place to sit to get the weight off my feet. No one offered up their chair, and I was halfway through pulling a wheelchair out for myself when I was ushered by everyone into an examination room. The doc gave my left heel a couple of painful squeezes and ordered an x-ray.

Separated from Stephan, Tatiana and Aidric, sitting on a table waiting to get x-rayed, I yearned for some company. The minutes seems like hours as I waited and wondered how old the equipment was, why I wasn't getting some sort of protective vest, and how much this would all cost. The x-ray technician turned out to speak some intermediate English, and it was with this that I corrected her attempt to only x-ray my left foot. Again the doctor was retrieved, gave my right heel a painful squeeze this time, and gave the okay.

I lifted my feet up and a tray was placed under them (containing what I figured to be the film). There was no buzz or sound of any kind, just the instructions to "remain still", the retrieval of the tray, and then the waiting. More time passed. I got up and snapped a photo, and returned to my table.

I would've paid to see the look on my face when the woman came in a bluntly told me that I'd broken my right foot. That actually came as a surprise. I believe this was first non-dental x-ray, and certainly my first broken bone (despite some fairly horrible sprains in my time).

Still no wheelchair, and off I went, hobbling, to the prior examination room after some more waiting in the hallway. Tatiana and Stephan were rather shocked to hear the news.

There was a flurry of activity in the small room as nurses and doctor talked with each other, with Stephan, and instructions were given and while casting materials were prepared. I explained that I wanted to see the radiograph, and to have the doctor show me exactly where the fracture was before any cast was put on.

My broken right heel, and more than you ever wanted to see about my feet

The doctor eventually obliged, up went the black and white image, and there, quite clearly, was a dark lightning bolt jutting inwards from cusp my heel. I really did break the thing, and I really did injure my right foot more than my left (as I had previously suspected).

And there, written on the radiograph, was perhaps the worst spelling I've ever seen of my first name in a foreign country: "CRYN". Wow. I made sure to take that one home with me as a keepsake.

Chatting with the doctor

There were a lot of smiles happening and positive energy flowing in the cozy room, despite my concerns about the bill. I still didn't want the cast going on before we had an idea of how much all this was going to cost (prompted by the doctor's inquiry of insurance coverage, which I most certainly don't have). I was also asking the doctor questions about the necessity of the cast, its purpose, and what the outcome would be for the injury should I opt against the wildly inconvenient object soon to engulf my limb from the mid-shin down.

I was relieved to hear that my two-week delay hadn't resulted in any problems for the fracture, and that the treatment would've been the same on day one as it was now on day 16—I would heal up just fine. Another round of gut-wrenching heel checks to my left foot for good measure (perhaps for asking too many questions), and my right started to be turned into an alpine-white mummy.

We were laughing and talking while the pair nurses did their thing, and the doctor asked me about today's elections. I said the he probably knew more than I did, and if any of the results were in. "Yes," he said with a heavy accent while chuckling, "it's close, and today you get either first catholic president or first nigger president!"

I could hardly keep from laughing. This is an Orthodox country and I'm sure he's never even seen a black person before (lord knows I haven't in Romania, with a total of five for Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland combined). Quite entertaining, though. Besides, I believe JFK was the nation's first Roman Catholic president.

In the end the bill turned out to be smaller than expected (for a country where healthcare still comes at a premium for its citizens), just 50 lei (about US$20) for the cast and labor—apparently the x-ray was a freebie. We were also fortunate that there was hardly any wait for us—not long ago Stephan had to take an elderly woman here and ended up waiting over five hours to be seen.

We all actually had a pretty good time with the entire process.

I'm told the cast should stay on for three weeks, but I really don't see the point of the thing. It's only a partial, so there's just gauze on the front and cotton and plaster wrap on the bottom and back (the same type of stuff I used for Tatiana's belly cast about 11 months ago). It somewhat restricts the movement of my ankle (keeping me from flexing it down too much), but I really don't see the purpose. The bone doesn't need to be immobilized, and if this thing is for protection, I gotta tell you that the padded sandals that I've been wearing offer up a whole hell of a lot more than the thin strip of plaster and cotton against the hard surfaces of wood, stone, and concrete I've got to walk on (not to mention is going to make travel a real pain in the ass).

I was told that I could buy something from a pharmacy to put on or around the sole of the cast to make it possible to walk around without getting the gauze wet or dirty (picking up dirt and debris along the way). Nuts to that, I just did what any good traveler or American male would probably do: I fixed it up with duct tape.

Update: November 6

It was late last night that I had an epiphany of sorts. This is why you should always carry some rubber bands with you:

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