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Diary of a Sarajevo Hospital Visit

September 1, 2010

My daughter is obsessed with cats. She found a sweet kitten in the Bosnian bush and carried it around with her like a blankie for two days. Unfortunately, this gave her the misconception that all cats like to be manhandled by zealous 3-year-olds and she gets scratches and bites from a Sarajevo cat unimpressed by toddlers.

My husband’s aunt immediately douses it in Rakija (a local hooch that no germ can survive), but there’s a fair amount of blood and another aunt swears she saw teeth break the skin. A call to the neurosurgeon uncle sends us to the local doctor for a tetanus shot (plus, I have what I’m sure is a raging case of pink eye and am hoping to get a prescription while I’m there).

The aunt “knows a guy”, which is how a lot of things get done around here, so we head to the clinic where her guy gets us in an examination room ahead of everyone else. Alas, even her guy can’t persuade the doctor to see a Canadian patient, so we’re sent to the hospital.

We find many buildings on a remote compound that wouldn’t look out of place in a World War II movie. Our aunt, a fantastic lady with a warm smile and steel spine, marches to the doctor’s lounge in the pediatric wing, demanding to be seen.

They hear we’re foreigners and send us to the ER. The ER people send us to the surgery building, which makes me nervous until we find out it’s only to get documentation for someone else to see us. In the surgery building, I see bullet holes have gouged the walls of the exam room and hallway. My stomach turns as I wonder what kind of hell happened here during the war.

I suspect we’ve interrupted a staff meeting, or little blonde girls are a rarity, because we soon have three different surgeons working on her: one typing up the paperwork; one cleaning and dressing the “wound” (which by now looks suspiciously like a couple of harmless scratches); and another holding the piece of tape that will be used to close the bandage wrapping her forearm.

At each stop, our name is manually entered in to a logbook that tracks patients. It’s very old school, but the equipment looks modern enough and the doctors are fantastic. They send us to infectious disease (a building that is an unsettling distance from the others) for the needle, but I’m more concerned with catching something other than rabies.

In this desolate building, we’re told to return to pediatrics and as we’re leaving, I glance into a room, where the creepiest sight ever awaits me: four people are lying in beds, all in fetal position, all with gauze shrouds covering their faces.

We hustle to the other building (did I mention each department was in a separate building?) and finally doctor sees us. I’m sure she took one look at my red eyes, my daughter’s excessive bandages for a little scratch and concludes that I’m a neurotic, hysterical Canadian – which I usually am, but not about this.

The doctor speaks to my husband for five minutes while she gestures towards my daughter and me. My husband then turns to tell me, “The doctor says she’s fine and she’ll give us medicine just in case.” (This is indicative of my husband’s translating technique.)

I do manage to get the doctor to look at my pink eyes – she declares it to be allergies and suggests some drops. Despite running around Sarajevo, our experience has been kind of – dare I say it? – kind of fun. Even when they couldn’t help us because of bureaucracy, people were still helpful.

We pick up the medicine from the smoking (as in cigarette, not hot) pharmacist and I brace myself for the cost. I pay $6.00 for two bottles of medicine and some eye drops, but the cost of encountering Bosnia’s health care first hand, with all of its Clockwork-Orange-style elements, is priceless.

A fairly accurate depiction of 'the killer cat', as my son calls it...

7 Comments leave one →
  1. The Perfectly Imperfect One permalink
    September 2, 2010 12:24 am

    It’s amazing what helpful people there are out there in the world. (Crazy kitty cat) 🙂

    • September 2, 2010 9:54 am

      I’ve promised my fellow restless writers not to hold this against all kitty cats…and my daughter has since befriended a dozen new ones in croatia…

  2. September 2, 2010 2:16 pm

    This story reminds me of my first year of college. I’m from South Dakota but I wanted to get as far away from home as possible for school so I went to Oklahoma (that was as far as I could afford to go). IT was pretty great and they have AMAZING trees there.

    The trees on campus positively bloomed — and I mean there were actually flowers on them.

    Well one day I woke up and I could barely open my eyes — we are talking swollen and crusty and nasty. I mean I could barely open my eyes and I could barely even see. Well, Pink Eye is very common in dorm living so I was sure I had conjunctivitis. I went to the school nurse and told her what was up.

    She gave me 2 generic Sudafed (pseudophedrine) and 10 minutes later I was human again. I couldn’t believe it.

    So…maybe you need some Sudafed?

    • September 3, 2010 8:57 am

      I will try that, Crystal…thanks! I’ve been taking Alleive (sp?) since we landed in Europe but it’s doing nothing for me…

  3. September 9, 2010 5:00 pm

    I always say, vacations/holidays/special occasions/days when I get to sleep in aren’t complete until someone vomits, spikes a fever, or we take a trip to the ER. Sounds like yours was relatively painless. Cat bites can be serious though – you definitely made the right call having the scratches checked out. My mother just spent a week in the hospital from a bite (her cat.) (long story.). Your daughter sounds like she was a great patient through the ordeal!

    • September 10, 2010 4:26 pm

      Yes, I’m pretty impressed with how both kids did – we look back now and wonder what we were thinking taking off for 3 weeks, but would do it again in a minute…


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