Serega obtained the disease due to carelessness. God, parents and nature had rewarded him with excellent health: Serega did not care about Him. He worked, ran in the gym, had fun at parties with friends, or wasted time at the computer: he did not think about the regime or his health. And he had become infected with disease.
When Serega left to work in Moscow, he took a few things with him. He thought: I will buy there what I need. Autumn began; it got colder. But Serega worked indoors, he was not afraid of frost, and only when his legs began to freeze in thin shoes when he rode public transport, he decided to go to the store to buy warm shoes.
Riding the trolleybus did not take a lot of time. Serega jumped into the salon. There were few people: he saw a free place near the heater, but the heater was cold. He guessed that it was turned off so the transport authority could save money on electricity. His legs became numb, and to keep from getting colder from the icy floor, Serega raised his feet and kept them in the air, but it did not help. Finally, the trolleybus arrived at the required stop.
Serega rushed to the store and was dumbfounded: it was closed. He have not been here since the summer, he kept putting off this purchase for later, and he had waited for a convenient time. Where else could he find such a store? Size 48 shoes weren’t easy to find.
Serega looked longingly along the street: the trolleybus was not visible. Serega could not leave on foot because of the cold and the shops were all closed: he wanted to come in and get warm but all the doors were locked. His legs continued to freeze and he, unable to tolerate it further, began to stamp his feet. It seemed to make his legs warmer. The trolley bus came up. Serega jumped into it, but this salon also turned out to be cold: the transport workers were really being cheap with electricity
The train stop was a bare platform with a pair of iron benches. Electric trains in Moscow leave frequently. Serega did not have to wait long, just some fifteen minutes. But his frostbitten feet completely lost sensation while he was waiting, and Serega, moving his numb feet with horror, slowly entered into the railway carriage. Here, he was lucky: the salon turned out to be warm and the heaters worked. Serega sat down on the bench next to the air heater and put his frozen limbs down. His legs began to thaw out and pain swept through them. His feet began pinching, and he wanted desperately to scratch them. But in the presence of others, he would not do it, and Serega endured, clenching his teeth and overcoming the pain.
The train came to the last stop, Serega came out, and his legs again dived into the frost. But here, the train stop was near a bus lot, and he was lucky again: after a few minutes, the bus arrived and Serega went home. At home, he immediately climbed into the bath, but his feet began to ache more than before. He rushed to the refrigerator and drank a glass of vodka, feeling better. Back in the bath, he began to feel as if he were in a dream. He moved to his bed, wrapped himself in two blankets, and fell asleep.
The next day was Saturday. Serega did not want to get up, but he needed to go to the market. On Saturdays, Serega had been buying products for the whole week: he did not have time to walk into the bazaar on weekdays. Serega lowered his legs from the bed to the floor and froze from fear: his feet were bloated and swelled up. Horror stabbed into his heart: his feet were frostbitten, but the skin had not lost sensitivity, his fingers still moved, and there was no pain. It will pass, he thought. He began to dress, but could not put on his shoes. The swollen feet did not fit into them. He had to put on sneakers: there he released the lacing, even though both feet went in one sneaker at once. Went! Has come back!
In the evening, he began to take off his socks and looked: the tumor had not gone away, but he had gotten a runny nose and cough. Serega measured his temperature: 37.6 degrees. He had no appetite. He drank a glass of vodka, chewed a sandwich, and went to sleep again. On Sunday, Serega went to the supermarket, buying raspberry jam and a new bottle of vodka. All day, he drank tea with them, tried to get rid of the cold. But on Monday, the runny nose and swelling had not gone way, and he was forced to work in this condition.
Serega cherished his work. The little children and ex-wife left him without an apartment, and he, as best he could, made money for a new flat. He asked colleagues where there was still a store for tall ones. They said it was on Novoslobodskaya. After work, Serega went there, and surely, it was there and open. He chose huge shoes with fur inside. He put on the shoes and his feet immediately felt warm and cozy. Serega threw his sneakers in a bag, paid for his new shoes, and drove home.
His runny nose and common cold stayed unusually long: a whole week. The tumor was even longer: it lasted until the end of the month and did not simply go away. As Serega’s cold persisted, his feet continued to swell, and when wearing his new shoes, Serega had to loosen the lacing to stick his feet into them.
In Moscow, it was easy to catch a cold. As soon as the frost started, the subway turns on the heat guns, and a person entering the lobby can enjoy the flow of hot air. After a minute or two, sweat begins streaming down his back, and after an hour’s journey with two train changes, the body becomes sweaty and sticky, like in a bath. The exit of the metro blows a dank, icy wind in the passengers’ faces.
In the spring, the edemas passed and the problems were forgotten. Serega postponed his trip to the hospital for the future. And he paid again: next autumn, in November. The common cold came suddenly, after the party. Serega met a former military colleague on Friday evening: they decided to go to a restaurant to celebrate their meeting. Serega met a former military colleague, Friday, evening – they decided to go to a restaurant, to celebrate their meeting. He got out hot, unbuttoned, and got into the wrong train with a drunk: he mixed it up. While standing on the platform and waiting for the opposite, Serega was chilled to the bone. In the morning, he had the usual bouquet: high temperature, runny nose, and swelling. He sent his son to the market; a big boy, he saw repeatedly what his father had bought in the past. The son returned with nothing: he had been robbed. Serega had to drag himself to the market. It turned out that he now had shortness of breath. A hundred meters unhurried steps and: stop! Break and rest. The hike to the market took three hours instead of the one and a half it ordinarily took. On his way to work on Monday, it was even worse. From the second floor, he went down and sat on a bench near the entrance to rest. The air was not enough: his open mouth was flexing like a fish’s. Before the bus arrived at the stop, the same thing happened: he crouched on a bench near the bus stop and waited for a half-empty bus, so as not to hustle. Half of November and all December, Serega fought with his symptoms, but could not win. The New Year came. The son, a student, went on vacation with his mother, Serega’s former wife, and Serega was left alone. He bought a bottle of skate, yearning, and drank alone. He went to bed, and woke up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. He sat down in the armchair, caught his breath, and went back to bed, but woke up again after the suffocation began again. He fought this symptom until the morning, sitting dozing in the chair, but after going to bed, he began to suffocate again: there was not enough oxygen. It was hard to even go to the toilet: two or three steps and a stop, rest. In the morning, Serega could not stand it and called an ambulance. The carriage arrived quickly. The doctor made the cardiogram, examined Serega, and quickly said, “Get dressed, we go to intensive care!” And in the car, the doctor added, “Another week, and I would have had to take you to the morgue, not to the intensive care unit!”
The examination room was large, like a military barrack, only instead of the orderly on the podium, there was a medic; a nurse, or a medical man. They can see all the sick, about thirty people. Men and women are in the same room. The slightest movement among them, and the doctor on duty concentrates all attention on the mover. From clothes to patients, it was possible to have only one: cowards. And when a seventy-year-old matron, worn out by illness, moved with small shuffling steps towards the toilet, her charms, hanging like ears spaniel, did not cause any interest. Rather, on the contrary, it was felt more strongly that Serega was on the threshold of death. But there were not only old people, there were young, more and more: with hearts.
After a while, the ambulance delivered to the intensive care unit an alcoholic in the stage of white fever. At first he sang songs, then began to ask for drink. Of course, doctors did not give him a drink, and in retaliation, he tried to escape. Physicians summoned the chief doctor on duty and he came with the orderlies. They fixed a bully, doctor made him a soothing injection, and the alcoholic fell silent. A hush came across the room.
Near to Serega, on the next cot, lay an old man. He was almost motionless, and only his wheezing indicated that he was still alive. When he exhaled, snot flowed from his nose with the dark clots of blood. The chief duty doctor went up to him, looked, read the epicrisis, and asked the physician in resuscitation why the old man was brought here. He shrugged his shoulders and replied: “And where to?” “Take him away from here, he is moribund and on death’s door,” the chief gave the order. After a while, the old man was taken away.
At the beginning of the evening, Serega was again attacked by asthma. Suddenly, a sharp stroke from inside pierced his head, lightning passed through his nose, and Serega felt something beginning to flow from him. He ran his fingers over his upper lip, looked at them, and saw blood. Still, when Serega had been going to the toilet, the nurse advised him to use the duck.* But to pee in sight of other people was humiliating, and the vessel stood untouched under the bed. Serega pushed himself with his foot, bent down, and the blood began to stream down in the thin, continuous trickle, into the duck.
The look fell on the hospital hours hanging on the wall. They showed up around fifteen minutes to seven o’clock in the evening. Physicians on duty came running. They began to make injections, gave him a handful of tablets, and then laid Serega under a dropper. The blood stopped flowing almost as suddenly just as it commenced. The pain went away, so much so that he wanted to get up and leave. Serega said this to the nurse on duty, but she only brushed his comments aside.
“Lie down! Try to fall asleep.”
“Yes, it would be good to die in a dream,” thought Serega, “without pain, hassle, and bustle.”
A shift came to the physician on duty. They passed near the beds. The previous doctors handed the patients over to the next shift. Serega lay with his eyes closed, but did not sleep: he heard what they said about him. “He had a ‘blow’ and open bleeding. If it were internal, then the man would already be gone. Look after him carefully.” The nurse made a restful injection for Serega, and he fell asleep.
In intensive care, experienced doctors returned Serega to life. Two days later, Serega was transferred to the general therapy room. He felt better, but the doctors did not let him go home: what are you doing, man? Thank God that you survived. Lie and get well! Serega called his son: come, take away the computer and the TV. If we will not pay for the apartment, the owners will throw them outside. A few more days passed. Instead of his son, the former wife and daughter rushed to him. They yelled, they cried, they loved Serega, they tried to persuade him to return. “Women came by, their mistakes became clear to them,” thought Serega. He forgave past grievances and wrote a statement to the doctors, hoping they would let him go home. He came back to his family.
When he crossed the threshold, his ex-wife stunned him by her first message: it turns out that on the day when doctor brought Serega into intensive care, Serega’s own brother died. This was at the exact time when he felt the pain in his head and blood began to flow. Serega remembered: in the evening, at around fifteen minutes to seven o’clock. Furthermore, he told this to the doctors: they were not surprised. On the contrary, they said that this happens occasionally between relatives and close people. Science does not yet know everything. The love of his relatives ended as soon as the money accumulated by Serega in Moscow ran out. They had bought a car; the son drove with his friends in the village, got in an accident on the first day. His daughter did not show her father her nose. The former wife started repairs in the apartment, but the finances were not enough to finish them: the wallpaper was dangling from the walls. Moreover, she came with a little grandson, and when Serega went to the store, he began to jump on the bed until it collapsed, and the mattress fell to the floor. Serega did not have the strength to repair the bed, therefore Serega slept in a broken bed on a mattress lying on the floor. In melancholy, he again began to smoke, venting his loneliness via tobacco smoke throughout the smashed apartment.
Serega was rescued by a stranger. He made friends with her on the Internet; the woman seemed decent. She invited him to visit at her home. Serega warned the woman that he was sick right through. She answered: she is a doctor, a midwife, she will cure him. And Serega went.
Afterwards, the ex-wife cried drunkenly: you’ll come to me on your knees, you’ll beg me to forgive you and let you back in. But she was secretly happy: Serega had left the apartment, so it could now be leased again.
A new friend really turned out to be a midwife. More than thirty years of experience in the same maternity home, assisting in more than ten thousand births. Serega’s treatment had a steep cost: they called all their connections, friends, and acquaintances. And the case went on to the amendment.
They went to the south for a couple of years: the sea, palm trees. Ten days passed like one. They started to prepare for the return home. Serega went to the refrigerator: there was an almost-full bottle of water. The refrigerator was excellent: in the soda water, even ice was formed. Serega very much wanted to drink. He took a sip, another, a third, and drank half a bottle. His wife—by this time, they were already married—saw and began to swear, “You must not drink the cold water, but here, you drink with ice!”
His cough returned that night. Serega immediately recognized it: dry, without phlegm, turns out the lungs, flashes into the head, and darkens the eyes. His wife went to another room; the hotel allowed this. Serega tossed and turned until the morning; a cough did not make for good sleep.
In the afternoon, the disease went away somewhat—his wife had gone to the sea to swim—-and in vain, Serega again began to cough. After dinner, they boarded the train to go home, but the cough got worse: it tore Serega apart, him and his neighbors around the compartment, and again it did not let him sleep all night. And when they arrived home and put a thermometer in his mouth, it showed more than thirty-eight degrees. To call an ambulance, Serega did not allow: the memories of his resuscitation were still fresh. His wife gave him pills for the cough and temperature. The heat lowered somewhat, but it stayed above thirty-seven. The next morning, Serega went to the polyclinic.
The hospital was good, a military one: the staff was attentive and caring. The people are few, and along the walls, the benches were enough: it was not necessary to stand. Serega’s number came up: he went in, told the doctor everything. The doctor measured his temperature, took his blood pressure, removed the cardiogram, and looked: and immediately called an ambulance, sent Serega to the infirmary.
The military infirmary is huge. Sick people from all over the garrison. And the garrison is great: military academy, three military schools, a pile of military units. Serega was put into the ward for the people with diseased hearts. The ward—twelve people—was certainly not what is in the intensive care unit, but the sights were similar: one old man stops to cough, another begins, the third snores, the fourth farts, the fifth groans. What do you may take from starpers except analysis? The beds were creaky, as if they were specially made to track each movement of the patients. The cacophony was such that Serega was barely able to fall asleep in the depths of the night. At six in the morning, the orderlies began to run, they thundered with buckets, carts, and swore among themselves. The nurses began to turn on the lights: they were going to give out medication and make injections to the sick. The sleep interrupted. During the day, Serega walked like a somnambulist: his eyes wanted to close because of his desire to sleep. But he could not sleep for the same reasons.
The toilet was shared in two compartments. Going into it, there were two toilet bowls without a partition between them, and accordingly without doors and fences from white light. The patients stand, smoke, and look. The toilet bowls had no seat: either you climbed with legs or sat on a naked, dirty toilet bowl. Through an open door from the hospital corridor, people could see who perched on the toilet bowls.
Serega suffered as much as he could. He waited for the moment when the smokers were almost gone: Serega climbed on a bowl, lowered his pants. “As a mountain eagle on the top of the Caucasus, I sat proudly on the edge of the toilet bowl…” Serega remembered a ditty. But for a long time, he did not seem fated to enjoy life: he just started “bombing,” and a nurse with a bucket of filth came into the toilet and, without looking at Serega, poured out the contents into a nearby toilet bowl. The spasm seized of Serega and his “bombing” ceased. He understands: he needs to sit on the bowl paired with other men and late at night; then he will be less noticeable and will not be bothered.
After a couple of minutes, there was a cry from the corridor: “Why are you carrying him forward with your feet? He’s still alive!” There was a crash in the corridor. Serega, by that time, had already gotten down from the toilet bowl and washed his hands. He looked out into the corridor: a wheelchair lay on his side, and an orderly from convalescing soldiers tried to lift the downfallen patient. It is evident that, turning the cart on the move, he hooked on the couch standing by the wall and overturned the wheelchair, dropping the person lying on it. Serega looked back at the toilet room and told the smokers, “Guys, help him, please!” Two came out, put the wheelchair on the wheels, and put the sick man on it. One of them hit the orderly on the ass, and that rolled the cart further.
Serega gradually adapted to hospital conditions, adapted for enough sleep, and even the adventures in the toilet room became not so depressing for him. The course of treatment was completed, Serega was discharged. His wife came and took him back home.
At home, a solemn dinner was waiting for—the salads are all different, first and second, juice—peach, pineapple and a bottle of champagne—Crimean, Muscat, semisweet, pink. Serega drank two glasses of wine: his stomach warmed, as if the Lord God walked with barefooted legs. It became easy and pleasant. Life again played all the colors of the rainbow. He could not eat much: he was still weakened by the disease. Serega sat with his wife, talking, laid down on the bed, turned on the TV, and began to watch a movie. The evening gradually passed, as sleep set in imperceptibly.
Serega woke up from the fact that light began to stream from above. He opened his eyes and looked: the chandelier was turned off and the light emanated from the ceiling itself. Surprised, he got up and came to his feet. Serega turned to look at his wife and was dumbfounded: near her lay a man. Looking closely: ba! Yes, it was he himself!
He touched his recumbent body: the hand went through the body, not feeling it. He tried to turn on the ordinary light, his fingers went through the button of the switch, and it did not work. He decided to go out into the corridor, but the door handle did not work either. He the discovered he could simply walk through the door.
In the corridor, too, the light was streaming. He went up to the mirror: his reflection was not there, but he saw a mother, a father, a brother, grandfathers with grandmothers, even both mother-in-law and both father-in-law in the looking-glass. They also saw Serega: they began to wave their hands; go to us, to us, to us…Serega remembered: they had died long ago, but they invited him, as if they were alive. “I’ll go talk to my relatives: how are they there?” And he stepped into the mirror…
* Duck: a Russian slang term for a portable urination vessel for medical patients.
Serge Clause was born on March 24, 1955 in Donetsk, Ukraine and is a citizen of the Russian Federation. He graduated from the Military Academy of Strategic Missile Forces named the “Great” Peter (Moscow), specializing in electronic computing machinery. Serge has written for numerous arts and sports publications in Ukraine and Russia.