Dr Last then told me to go with the nurse to the adjacent room for preparation to treatment. Although he spoke English fluently, still his expression was very unusual, to say the least. For example, when I went to the adjacent room with the nurse, while Dr Last attended to Faisal, the nurse gave me a pitcher of translucent water. She gestured me to drink from that pitcher. I looked at the turbid water and asked her: “What is this?”
She explained something and then she again explained something, before going to the door and calling Dr Last from the other room.
As Dr Last came in I asked: “What is this? Should I drink it?”
He said: “Yes. You have to drink this whole jug.”
I asked: “Why is this water so turbid?”
He answered: “This is special water. You have to drink it to make you feel better.”
I nodded in agreement and as Dr Last turned around to leave, I drank the first glass of this special water. As the water went in, it readily made its way out. This was water with baking soda probably, used to clean the stomach.
As I vomited, I thought the preparation for treatment was done. But then the nurse gestured me to drink more. My stomach repulsed every glass of this special water. After a hard time of it, I finally finished the whole giant pitcher.
Then we returned to the first room. Dr Last and another doctor were discussing something. As I came back Dr Last introduced me to the other doctor: “This is Dr Sergei. He will be treating you.”
We exchanged greeting nods with Dr Sergei, and the last doctor continued with me: “You have to stay at the hospital. Your friend is also sick, but he does not need hospital care. But you have to remain in hospital, because you have some serious sickness.”
I thought to myself that I already knew about the serious sickness, without Dr Last’s educated guess. My whole body, inside and out, was crying out loud about some serious trouble.
I did not tell Dr Last about my thoughts. Instead of that I just nodded in understanding, and the good doctor continued: “So we will now put you in big bedroom. If you have any friends here Mr Faisal can go to them or to a hotel if he wants. He can come back in the morning for further examination.”
Faisal and I looked at each other, and I said: “Do you want to go to the hotel?”
He said: “I don’t know if I will find any hotel here. This is also a small town. Maybe we can arrange for me to stay here also! I think they will not keep you here for too long, and anyway hospital bed will be cheaper, and better than what we had in Tashkent.”
This was in fact my idea as well. I tried to talk the doctor into admitting Faisal also. I told Dr Last: “Well we do not have any friends here, and Faisal is telling me that he is feeling worse than he was feeling a couple of hours ago. So maybe his disease is just progressing slowly. I think it will be a good idea to keep him under observation till the morning.”
The doctors talked to each other, and Dr Last got back to Faisal: “What exactly is disturbing you?”
Faisal said: “I have this continuous pain in my stomach and I am feeling nauseated.”
The doctors again consulted each other, before Dr Last told Faisal: “We think you should also stay at the hospital then. Please go with the nurse to prepare for treatment.”
With this he said something to the nurse and she took the empty pitcher, and signalling Faisal to come with her, went to the adjacent room.
As Faisal was getting up to go one on one with the nurse, I told him: “Don’t even think that you are going into that room for a lap-dance. She is going to wipe clean your dirty interior.”
He probably did not understand what I meant, but he disappeared behind that door, saying: “Let’s see who will touch whose inside!”
Poor guy must have regretted economizing on hotel costs, after drinking that giant pitcher of special water.
While I was secretly enjoying the sound of that special water play sado-mazo with Faisal, Dr Last asked me to give him my passport and my friend’s as well if I could. The passports went from my hand to Dr Last’s hands and then to the old staff nurse, who readily started filling some form.
As the passports passed through his hands, Dr Last understood that I was from Pakistan. He asked me: “Which part of Pakistan are you from?”
I said: “I am from Lahore. My friend is from Peshawar.”
He asked: “So your friend is a Pashtun?”
I said: “Yes. You seem to have good knowledge of Pakistan.”
He replied: “Well I had some Pashtun friends.”
That was interesting. How could he, living in central Russia, have Pashtun friends? I enquired: “Are there any Pakistanis here? In this town?”
He said: “No.”
“So have you been to Pakistan?”
“No. In fact I had Pashtun friends in Afghanistan. I served in Afghanistan.”
Alright, so our good doctor, who had told me earlier in his introduction that he could be the last Dr I would ever see, had served in the Soviet army.
My next question was: “Is this a military hospital?”
Dr Last said: “No. This is a public hospital. I left the army many years ago.” And then he asked me a counter question: “Have you served?”
It took me little time to grasp the essence of his question. I replied: “No. I have not served in the army. Especially if you mean the Afghan war, I was too young to serve at that time.”
I had no idea about the conscription system in the Soviet Union. The country, where I came from, had no system of compulsory service. But for Dr Last it might had been very natural to assume that since I was a man I must had been conscripted.
In the meanwhile, Faisal came out of that orgy room. Now he was looking sick. His eyes were telling the story of the sadism that he had been subjected to. The staff nurse had already filled out our data with Dr Last’s help, and we were set to go to our hospital beds, which we anticipated to be better than the fat man’s hostel in Tashkent.
Before we could leave, Dr Last issued the final instructions: “The nurse will give you both a bottle of special water. You can only drink that water. You must not eat anything till the morning. In fact you should not eat anything except for what you will get from the hospital.”
While he was talking, the word “special water” started ringing alarm bells in my head. I was wishing I had died on that train better than dying of vomiting out my intestines with the help of that “special water”.
As Dr Last finished his speech I asked him: “Is it necessary to drink this special water?”
He said: “Yes this is a part of your treatment. You must drink this first bottle within 2-3 hours.”
My inside was crying for help: “Kill me right now. Please kill me right now, before subjecting me to this special water fetish.”
Dr Last continued: “You must take rest now. Dr Sergei will see you in the morning. Till then you should not want anything, because I am going home now, and no one will understand you anyway.”
Saying this he smiled. His smile indicated his sense of humour. This was probably my first introduction to the specific Russian kind of humour.
Then a petite young nurse led our way to the ward. The ward was quite big, and extremely clean. There were 8 beds in it, but apparently we were the only patients.
The nurse put one bottle each of special water on the tables by our beds. Unlike the special water which we had vomited downstairs, this special water was transparent. It was packed in transparent glass bottles.
Then she showed us the way to the washrooms, which were outside the ward, down the corridor. Back in the ward she gave us both a couple of tablets each, and signalled us to take those tablets with special water. We obeyed her command, and hence started drinking that special water, which this time around was just water with glucose. After making sure that we needed nothing else, she left.
The tablets were probably meant to put us to sleep, because either thanks to the tablets or due to exhaustion, I soon plunged into dreamland.
The special water, and that painful stomach washing, had in fact helped a lot, because I slept like a baby, until I was woken-up by the nurse in the morning, to take a blood sample.
Soon we were served tea with porridge. The porridge was sugarless and cooked in water only. It was not such a tasty feast, but after many long hours of not eating, taste was the last preference in food for me.
Soon the doctor came, accompanied by soldier Last. It was during this visit that Dr Last told us that he in fact was a bone healer, and was just assisting the doctor on duty as an interpreter. He told us that his office was on the first floor in case we needed anything.
The first time we required Dr Last’s services was at lunch time that day, when we were served potatoes with some kind of meat. I tried to ask the server about the type of meat, but she could not comprehend that I was trying to make sure that it was not pork.
On this occasion Faisal went down to Dr Last’s office for the first time to ask for assistance in clarifying the food. The good doctor came up to our ward, and very generously assured that our plates had conserved beef in them. He told us that thanks to his service in Afghanistan he knew that Muslims did not eat pork.
For the next few days, I mostly remained in the ward, except for occasional visits to the washroom. I was still very weak and had no energy or desire to roam around.
On the fifth day, I went down to Dr Last’s office for the first time. Entering his office I noticed the name plate, which carried his name. I could read Alexander, but the next word was not “Last”. It was a longer word, with a few letters, which differed from the Greek alphabet.
The good doctor was glad to see me up and wondering around. Before anything else I asked him about his name. He was surprised to know that I could read his name in Russian, being aware that I couldn’t even say “hello” in Russian. I explained the Greek connection, and he seemed impressed.
That was when I first knew my Last doctor’s full name. His name was Alexander Lastunshky. I figured that “Last” was probably the short form of “Lastunshky” as Sasha was the short of Alexander.
Dr Last was working on some kind of magnetic field treatment project. He showed us his work and explained the ins and outs of his clever device. It turned out that Dr Last was not just an ex-military doctor, and interpreter, but a researcher developing some sort of new treatment method.
He explained that his machine was designed not only for treatment of joint pain, but could also help in countering erectile problems.
I joked: “So some 50 years from now if I would experience erectile dysfunction, do you want me to come to you?”
He replied: “50 years from now it might not help. But if sooner, you are welcome!”
Then we had tea in his office, accompanied by his nurse. Back then I did not know the significance of tea ceremony in Russia. Later I learnt that tea was the day time conversation driver. Of course evening chats usually flow with vodka, but in the day time, when Russians want to build a conversation they sit down to take tea.
During that conversation we had our first glimpse of Russian humour and sarcasm, bundled together. Dr Last shared a lot of his Afghan experiences with us. He told us that Afghans and Pakistanis were known as “Dushman” in Russia. At first I could not grasp that this was the same word as Urdu for “enemy”. But upon my asking Dr Last explained that this term came from Afghanistan and it exactly meant enemy.
He also exchanged a few common words of Pashto with Faisal. Dr Last’s demeanour was very impressive. One thing, which I noted readily, was that there was no sense of politically correct speech among Russians. Dr Last was calling things by their names. It seemed a little awkward, but it was pleasant to know that there were people in this world, who preferred honesty over hypocrisy.
We enjoyed Russian hospitality for seven days in that hospital. By the seventh day, we were already saying good morning in Russian. We had also learnt how to say hello in Russian. One good phrase, which Dr Last taught us, was “Ты красивая.” (“You are beautiful”). By the seventh day we had praised the beauty of every young nurse, and lady-doctor of course, in that establishment, in Russian.
On the seventh morning, when Dr Last and Dr Sergei came to our ward, we were told that it was our last day at the hospital. Dr Last asked us, what we wanted to do after discharge from the hospital.
We told him that we wanted to leave for Moscow right away. He offered to take us to the railway station and put us on a train to Moscow. We happily accepted his offer, and began to pack-up our belongings.
After lunch we went down to Dr Last’s office once again. We gave him a neck-tie as a token of appreciation. I had bought that tie from Peshawar airport. So we thought it would make a good memorabilia.
Dr Last told us that he had asked a friend of his, who had a car, to give us a lift to the station. The friend was due to arrive at around 3 in the afternoon.
So, as soon as Dr Last’s friend came, we left the hospital, after thanking everyone for their humane treatment and for taking such good care of us.
Dr Last informed us before leaving that we would be stopping at the administrative block on our way out of the hospital to collect all the paperwork. I had spent many years in western countries before that. I knew that paperwork was another soft term for bills.
Having spent seven days with all inclusive service at a hospital, I was expecting a really healthy bill. As we were leaving the hospital I said to Faisal: “I hope the bill will not exceed the amount of money that we have right now. Otherwise all these smiles will soon disappear!”
It was half a joke and half-truth. All we could do now was to keep our fingers crossed, and wait for the bill. As we got to the administrative block, Dr Last got off and went in with our passports.
While he was gone, I kept joking with Faisal that if the bill would be more than what we could pay, what would we prefer to do to work our way to freedom? What would be better, mopping the floors in the same hospital or sweeping the streets of Ryazan!
Soon the good doctor came back with a sizeable heap of papers in his hand. Sitting in the car, he handed over the pile of papers to me and said: “It is for both of you.”
Yes dear doctor, I could understand that it was a collective packet of disgrace.
I quickly shuffled through the papers to find some numbers, because the rest was in Russian, and made little sense to me.
I went through the whole pile, but the only numbers that I saw were indicating body temperature, and results of blood tests, and stool tests. After being unable to find the amount of disgrace, I decided to ask the good doctor. I said: “Dr Last, I cannot seem to find the amount of money that we have to pay.”
He turned around and said: “Money for what?”
I said: “The hospital bill. The amount of money we need to pay for our treatment.”
He smiled and said: “You do not have to pay anything. Medical services are free in Russia.”
Neither Faisal, nor I could believe what we had just heard. Not only that we were spared of community service, we were treated, and fed, and provided with medication, all for no charge. Wow!
The uneasy gut feeling just vanished. I rechecked with Dr Last, and he assured that it was no mistake.
We went straight to the platform, where the train was already parked. We went in together with Dr Last.
This was a local suburban train, with no seat numbers. So we found two vacant seats and stowed our bags on the overhead shelves. The train was about to leave, so we thanked Dr Last once again, and after a very warm handshake, and wishing us good-luck all through the remainder of our stay in Russia, he alighted.
The train started off, and waving goodbye through the train window, I saw Dr Last for the last time in my life.