Tag: medicine

Look after your heart. A peek inside the NAS hospital in Kyiv

‘At least they have a healthcare infrastructure’ explained Anna, who works for thye World Health Organisation, as we stumbled home after England’s EURO 2012 win over Ukraine.

‘In Indonesia and Thailand’ she said, ‘nobody has ever built one’.

It might be old and outdated, but this is true – Ukraine does have an extensive healthcare system and, at least in Kyiv, those with money can be treated in what Ukrainians would call ‘Western standard’ hospitals.

Sadly, those without money don’t have that luxury. If you are a teacher for instance or a boffin with a bad heart, you might end up in the National Acadamy of Sciences hospital in Podil.

A spooky doctor watches us from a balcony of the NAS hospital in Podil.

Actually, I don’t know if it is in Podil, but it sits on a hill that links Podil to the city centre and I’ve always wondered what the view would be like from the top floor of its tall concrete buildings.

I mentioned this to Monika, a Polish couch-surfer who was staying with me a few weeks ago. We were walking up the hill at the start of my well trodden ‘tour de Kyiv’ and without hesitating she said ‘lets go’.

‘OK’ I said,‘why not’…’
‘but I think they have security’

This wasn’t a problem, because he (the ‘security’) wasn’t securing anything. I’m not even sure if he was alive.

So, we walked straight on in, through the back door and into the lift. It was quite an adventure (if you like weird old buildings like me) and a sobering insight into the realities of Ukraine’s less-than-healthy hospitals.

Here’s what we found…

The rooms, like the patients, are in need of treatment.

The reception service wasn’t too ‘hot’ …but had it been better, we might not have been allowed in.

There are two old lifts. One for the doctors and one for the patients.

The lifts worked (albeit with a loud noise) but the buttons were quite grim. This one had a hole in it.

As you exit the lift, the windows have been painted with images/graphics to indicate where you are. On this floor there was a gym.

…for your heart?


There were people in the hospital, and nobody seemed to mind us being there. Two foreigners with a camera wasn’t a problem.

This is my favourite picture. Two cult-like figures float in a blue forest behind a flower pot. I’m curious why/how they were semi-defaced?

Outside, someone with a sense of humour but very little imagination has been expressing themselves.

…and finally, the view from the top. Yes, it was amazing.

Podil, as seen from the top of the NAS hospital.

The rest of the pictures are available here:

Why do Ukrainians fear drafts?

A few weeks ago my eye started to hurt. Actually, it was the bottom part of my eyelid – the soft part where tears well and where flies always end up if they get into your eye.

It wasn’t a bad pain, but I kept rubbing it and it swelled up a bit and went red. It was a small infection and it looked funny.

However, the funniest thing about my eye infection wasn’t my puffy face, it was the ‘medical’ advice I recieved from my well-meaning and genuinely concerned Ukrainian friends.

Apparently, in Ukraine, small eye infections can be ‘cured’ in the following ways:

  • holding a hot egg against it
  • eating bread crusts in the toilet
  • Some kind of Ukrainian voodoo spell performed by an old woman
  • washing it with tea
  • taking a thread (preferably white) and tie it around the middle and ring fingers (fix with a knot) on the hand opposite to the side where you have the infection. Then bury the thread.
  • Strapping up (criss-crossed) two fingers (third and fourth finger after thumb) on the opposite hand

You don’t believe me? well, I can’t confirm or deny any of these medical ‘facts’ because I walked across to the pharmacy, pointed at my eye and said ‘u menya yest problema’ (I have a problem) in my best Russian accent and walked away with some ointment.   This seemed to fix the problem in less than 48 hours.

However, the episode did inspire me to gather as much info as possible on Ukrainian medical advice, beliefs and fears. Trust me, there are many.  I will write them up as soon as I have all the info.

In the meantime, here’s a great article about drafts. Yes, those deadly breezes that Slavic people fear so much. It was posted by a guy called Christopher who’s living in Eastern Ukraine. You can read the original here.

Why do Ukrainians fear drafts?

Ukrainian drafts can kill you. Seriously

Last summer, in the August heat, I was on a bus with two other volunteers on our way to visit our friend in Novaazovsk. People were packed into this bus like sardines in a can, many standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the aisle way.

The three of us occupied most of the rear bench seat. The temperature outside was somewhere near 40 degrees, putting the temperature on the bus somewhere near an unbearable 43 degrees. The trip would take about five hours.

The minimal free-flowing air on the bus came from a ceiling vent positioned near the front. It felt like our only lifeline. Leaning toward the center of the bus, into the airstream of that vent, was all I could do to keep from inhaling what felt like everyone else’s exhalations.

An hour into the trip, the vent was shut, my lifeline closed. Hot, moist, stagnant air. I felt panicky, overwhelmed with a feeling similar to that of being trapped under a dense pillow. Slow suffocation.

I wasn’t sure during the bus ride, when the woman closed the overhead vent, why someone would choose to cut off the only fresh air supply to a bus full of sweaty, overheated people.

Later, I told the story to a Ukrainian friend of mine. What she said to me made very little sense to this American.

“A cross breeze can make you ill,” she said. “It’s called skvazniak.” It might be an old Ukrainian superstition, but a lot of people believe it can make you sick and lead to death.”

Death? I was shocked. Letting your hair blow in the wind while driving down the highway is what many Americans live for. I looked forward to doing that very thing each summer while cruising Oregon’s Highway 101, tracing the curves of the Pacific coastline, chasing the sun.

I guess that doesn’t cross over into this culture.


In the same vein as skvazniak is the idea that drinking cold water will make you ill.

In America, we prefer our drinks cold, often times with ice in them. Iced tea, iced lemonade and iced coffee are just a few examples.

In my time in Ukraine, I can recall seeing ice just once (the kind used in drinks, not the stuff that forms on the streets in winter, which there is plenty of) and it was when I was at the apartment of another American volunteer. Her parents had sent an ice cube tray to her as a gift.


To my surprise, as miserable as it was, I didn’t die on that bus. In fact, no one did – not from heatstroke, or skvazniak.

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t prove whether gusts of wind can cause illness, just like I can’t prove that when that woman closed the vent on the bus she saved my life. All I know is that I haven’t died from driving in my car with the windows down yet. Perhaps I just have a strong immune system.


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén